Turn Up PR, which recently turned one, has been taking the Bangladeshi public relations and communications industry by storm. At the helm sits Umaila Akhter, co-founder and CEO of the PR firm. In an exclusive interview with Dhaka Tribune’s Zisan Bin Liaquat, she describes her journey from working as the PR head of a tech start-up to starting her own PR firm, and gives us an in-depth look at the state of the industry
Tell us about your role in Turn Up PR and how it started?
Turn Up PR was founded in September 2020 out of a desire to be different and impactful, but the idea started back in 2015, when I used to work at a tech start-up as the head of PR and communications.
During my spare time, I started journaling my thoughts and built a case-study, almost like telling a story from start to finish. And while I was writing my business plan, I needed a “make-believe” name for the PR firm and the first name that came to my mind was Turn Up PR.
Fast forward to five years later, I met my friend — the co-founder and Chief Creative Officer Naina — and pitched my idea to her.
She was equally psyched to contribute to the PR scene. I told her about the name, and she loved it so we decided not to change it.
During the ideation stage, I started to ask myself what change I wished I could make in the PR scene of Bangladesh. I wrote down a few questions before I could think of ways to bridge the gap.
Is this idea unique and powerful?
Does it resonate with people?
Does it communicate how the service fits into consumers' lives or work to make them better, more productive, happier, more fulfilled?
Does it stand for values above and beyond the service itself?
And lastly how do I wish to address those needs and meet people’s goals?
The role of PR actually goes far beyond just helping a business or individual cultivate a positive reputation with the public through traditional media, social media, and in-person engagements. When you represent a company or person, you are not just an extension of their team, but also a part of their support system. You are at a position, where you make sure that their potential is not left unfulfilled. You have to learn about their fears and doubts. And in order to do so, one must delve into the person’s life in order to build a deeper connection and mutual trust.
I wanted to feel more empowered and empower others by finding a way to contribute to changing lives by honouring the general needs of people — their voice, belonging, status, participation, and impact.
This yearning to feel something real has led me to where I belong, i.e., Turn Up PR.
Can you tell us about your journey through this market? Given that the PR industry is still in its infancy in Bangladesh, can you help us understand how and in what areas the industry operates?
The internet is the largest source of the shifts we now see between the complementary trades of journalism and public relations. The ease of access to it and its vast memory make all activities more transparent, pushing all organizations to greater openness.
In addition, social media is increasing transparency and opening up an infinite demand for engagement at every level, from mighty corporations to the individual.
A promising new area has opened up for public relations in protecting and elevating the reputation of companies, institutions, and individuals. New techniques of guarding reputation on the internet have been developed. Corporations and people now take part in more authentic conversations that concern them and speak about their business, including issues in the political and social spheres.
In recent times, media outlets have become cluttered with pitches on a daily basis, which can be overwhelming for both journalists and readers. In this digital era, we have countless ways to share our stories. From infographics and GIFs to memes and interactives, it can be unsettling to implement multimedia elements into a story, and more is definitely not always better, but if you start with the basics, and take a hard, analytical look at the story you want to tell, the right multimedia additions will become clear.
Inevitably, this makes it crucial to pay attention to what people are talking about, and tailor your story to the current times. Making your story relevant is what adds power to it. Ethical, accurate and honest — three values that are profoundly important to PR and to journalism. They are imperative to our work and to the relationship between our given fields.
Both PR and journalism share the responsibility of protecting and promoting the truth. We know that you do not earn trust with anything less than the truth.
Brand and individual reputations are no longer won or lost in a daily dialogue between PR teams and their media counterparts. Instead, in this day and age, both sides are redefining their roles and their business models for a new information age in which neither exercises the strategies and tactics they deployed in the past.
For years people have turned to stories to find meaning in things, and for this reason storytelling can be a very potent business tool in both PR and journalism. In the past, journalists controlled much of the storytelling efforts of brands, often deciding what messages and images the public experienced.
However, PR needs to be more broadly defined, and that the discipline is becoming more closely aligned with journalism, advertising and a brand’s overall marketing mix. This very well may be due to the growing realization that public relations, journalism and digital storytelling are all more important than ever.
As PR professionals, we are in a unique position — we are an ally in the storytelling process. Our professional relationships with our clients do not cloud our judgement in regard to the quality of news we distribute about them. Objectivity is paramount to our work, as it is in journalism. The fact is, our goal is to represent our clients and share their news truthfully and authentically.
So, Turn Up just turned one! How has been the journey so far? How has it been different from others in the industry?
Throughout the past year of small and big milestones, the one thing that we are most grateful for and proudest of is the collective community that we have built — our beloved team, our clients, and well-wishers.
We worked on a detailed analysis of the opportunities, challenges, and changes the sector is facing. While we found out the limitations of traditional media, it also gave us a huge opportunity to enable people and businesses to take advantage of digitization. To bridge the gap, we curate and integrate traditional media with digital PR strategies, thereby creating more direct and authentic connections.
Our vision at Turn Up PR is to integrate traditional PR with our own innovative strategies and unique approach. We have a growth mind-set and our mission is often fuelled by our client’s mission. We treat our clients’ business like our own, and will never stop being their biggest cheerleaders.
We are smack at the centre of the transformation, but socially conscious at our core. Our mission is to pave the way through a crowded media landscape so our clients get the visibility they need to make a lasting impact. Turn Up PR was launched with the vision of making a global footprint.
Using that ambition, we are also working with prospective clients who live outside Bangladesh – we are helping them connect with local talents and artisans of Bangladesh. We are culturally aware and have the resources to relate positively to people from a diverse range of cultural backgrounds and appreciate the contribution that different groups make to a dynamic society.
What gaps, if any, does the local PR and communication industry have compared to the global arena?
PR and communication (marketing) are often used together to enhance a client’s brand. However, they are not the same thing. The main difference is about the final goal. Marketing aims to sell a product, service or idea, while PR builds mutually beneficial relationships with key audiences. PR creates an environment that fosters marketing efforts.
One misconception we should address is that PR is not just publicity. It only uses it as one of its tools for creating awareness for organizations, their products or services, and shaping opinions of stakeholders towards them. There are several other aspects of public relations such as internal employee engagement, employee relations management, community relations and corporate social responsibility, crisis management, to name a few.
PR uses the mass media and several others it can control, such as blogs, websites, internal company engagement, seminars, social networking etc and addresses a wider audience; from the community, employees, government, regulators to customers, activists and industry associations.
We should also know that media relations is only an aspect of PR.
While international public relations takes a local approach by focusing on differences among publics and audiences, global public relations takes a global approach that focuses on similarities. The level of effort that is put into public relations on the local level is far less than the effort required at the global level.
Public relations success in one country does not mean automatic success in the global sphere. There are many reasons for this, but most boil down to cultural and linguistic communication and a difference in ideals. Each country has its own customs, traditions and way of communicating.
How has the pandemic affected the growth of the sector? How do you support minorities, women-led and early-stage ventures who probably do not have big budgets?
Through my time leading PR for a tech company that specialized in start-ups to working as a business lead for a women’s banking segment, I saw how the start-up space was greatly affected, as many companies struggled to raise funds.
However, on a more positive note, most people have adapted to Covid-19 and the protocols put in place, and we have observed investors are more optimistic about investing in new businesses again.
We are helping small business and early-stage ventures by positioning and shaping their stories in ways that promote their brand and its values as trailblazers in our industry.
Rather than just featuring brand-specific stories, we help many brands and talents shift to a thought-leadership approach where the focus is on how the founders were helping their teams deal with the challenges they were facing during the pandemic and kept their business afloat without giving up.
It is difficult to get news published in any media outlet for clients whose editorial budget is limited due to the current economic unrest. And considering that their situations are likely to persist even after the current pandemic abates, we support struggling businesses by providing alternate solutions and media tools to have their stories heard. Taking the current situation into account, our PR pitches are now to be more targeted and tailored.
How is technology evolving the communication sector? To what extent is Turn Up PR integrating technology into its own business model?
Technology is now the most important communication tool for organizations. It has transformed how organizations conduct public relations and marketing, including how they interact with the media and stakeholders.
The rapid development and adoption of new technology has changed the face of communication through traditional media. The “buzzword” of the day is innovation. Media organizations that fail to keep up with evolving communication technology may find themselves swallowed up by other more agile organizations that can.
In today’s digital world where people spend hours on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube, trending topics rise and disappear faster than ever.
News is really moving faster than before while our attention span keeps dropping. We now have so much information available for us to consume, and so little time to consume it in. It has become very clear that the size of the allotted attention time in our collective brains cannot keep up with the amount of information competing for that attention.
This is where the real hard work of publicists takes place. However, usage of social media is only one tool in a publicist’s communication tool box. There are dozens of other elements that go into great PR, from internal messaging to e-newsletters, blogs, media relationships, community outreach programs, brand partnerships, collaborations, events, etc.
Communications professionals across the board are adapting to digital storytelling — from the way we tell stories, to the way we measure success. Just as we, in public relations, are moving away from impressions and shares, to engagement as a metric of impact, so are journalists and storytellers.
Is there any effective communication campaign that you are proud of?
It is actually difficult to pick one effective campaign as they are all unique. It has been an incredible experience to be a part of the end-to-end process — from ideation to execution — for each new brand launch. We have also signed clients whose businesses are over 40 years old and we are helping them re-strategize their PR presence, in order to stay relevant.
On a personal note, I thoroughly enjoy working on personal representation and PR for individual talents. I believe that the thought and foresight that goes into how you present yourself and your business is important to get the recognition you deserve.