Empathy is the hallmark of PR: Neha Mehrotra, Avian WE

Mehrotra, the Executive Vice President, Avian WE, opens up about her journey, learnings, views on empathy & women leadership in PR, COVID and more

e4m by exchange4media Staff
Updated: Jul 14, 2020 8:50 AM
Neha Mehrotra

The life of an intrapreneur is no different from an entrepreneur. Being a part of the organization and witnessing it grow can be extremely rewarding and gratifying. Today, we have one such intrapreneur for our “Women Achievers Series” who has not only seen the firm grow many folds but has been an indispensable part of its growth trajectory.

A progressive leader who has spearheaded several groundbreaking campaigns, Neha Mehrotra, the Executive Vice President, Avian WE, has proven to the industry that communication is her forte. Adding value to the PR industry for two decades now, Mehrotra has numerous business wins to her credit. 

 In today’s edition of Women Achievers Series, we talk to her about her journey, learnings, views on empathy and women leadership in PR, COVID and more.

 Edited Excerpts:

 You have been associated with Avian WE since its initial days. How has the entire journey been for you as a co-founder?

 It has been a remarkable journey of learning, exploring, overcoming hurdles, finding my feet, and growing, both professionally and personally.

I joined Avian WE (then known as Avian Media) in 2004 when it was just a few months old. There was just another employee, Manash K Neog, currently EVP – Public Policy, and two clients. At that time, all Avian needed was someone who would work like they own the place. And, I did just that. I not only handled the clients, but also helped Nikhil Khanna, the founder and now Executive Chair, and Manash put systems and processes in place.

Today, Avian is one of the top three PR companies in India and I manage almost 50 per cent of the company’s revenues as EVP- Client Centricity and National Head – PR. There are more than 30 accounts under my direct supervision. These include Samsung, Amazon, Phillips, Facebook, Pernod Ricard, RB, Lockheed Martin, MBDA.

 I have taken many initiatives like Clients for life, Avian Excellence Awards, and SEED (a three-month-long, on-the-job programme for beginners).

 What have been key learnings for you in the entire journey to work for the PR industry? 

Love your job. I have often heard people saying that PR is a demanding industry, with long hours and no personal time. I beg to differ. All jobs are hard if you don’t love what you do.

Learning should never stop. We must keep reading and learning about new things/trends/business practices/tech tools to creatively strategise PR campaigns for our clients.

Build relationships. The primary purpose of PR is to engage with different stakeholders – clients, their audiences, and the communities they live and work in - and build long-lasting connections.

You are as good as your team. An empowered team would result in more creativity and productivity. So, collaborate with your team, help them when they need it, share your learnings, and enable them to grow.

Be honest and transparent. Our profession comes with the power to engage and influence. And with this influence comes the responsibility to work with honesty. Ethics must be the cornerstone of all our work.

Strive for work-life balance. It's easier said than done, but you must find work-life balance if you want to last in PR. 

According to you, what is the need of PR as machinery for empathy? How is empathy instrumental in the industry for establishing client relationships?

Empathy is the hallmark of PR. What are communicators without the ability to relate to people, imagine their lives and empathise with them? PR agencies that are empathetic gain goodwill and attract talent and marquee clients. Each time we are faced with a situation with a client, I always ask the team to step into their shoes and understand the client psyche.

 Also, we have to understand that a company’s image is just as good as what the communicators communicate. And the responsibility for this lies with what I call the nexus of PR: the client, the agency and the journalists. There are many companies where this nexus works well and that are how it should be.

 Why do we witness attrition in women leadership as we go high above the ladder?

The Global Women in PR (GWPR), a global organisation for women in senior positions in PR and communications, of which I am one of the founding members in India, had conducted its India survey at the beginning of the year to understand barriers to women holding senior positions in PR and corporate communications. Nearly 71% of the respondents said the lack of flexible and family-friendly policies was the primary reason for their lack of progress to top leadership positions. An equal number of respondents said since men were mostly responsible for promotions, their inherent gender bias made them promote only men. Melinda Gates had once rightfully said: “We’re sending our daughters into a workplace designed for our dads.”

Have there been instances of gender biases with you during your professional career?

No, I haven’t faced any discrimination ever. Avian WE fosters a culture of gender diversity. This means we align our policies and work culture towards diminishing the gender divide. Seventy per cent of our employees are women. We have three women, including me, in a 10-member management team. Also, there are various training programmes that ensure that women employees are mentored and groomed to enhance their skills and take on leadership roles.

 How PR as a practice can help businesses reboot post the pandemic? What have been your contribution as a women leader during these unprecedented times? 

This is a human crisis on every level. Now is the time for brands to communicate with their shared humanity and lead with purpose. PR agencies will play a leading role in encouraging their clients to put sustainability ahead of profit and help them find their unique purpose in the world. Brands will also need PR to understand the changing realities of businesses and create empathetic messages to connect and engage with their stakeholders.

 The pandemic has brought our offices into our homes.  None of us has worked from our homes for such a long period ever. The situation is particularly hard for working mothers. Since I too am a working mother, I helped them to create boundaries within their homes. I told them to call me to discuss personal challenges and together we worked out the best time for them to do uninterrupted work.

Many of my team members live alone and the lockdown made them feel unsettled and depressed. I encouraged them to engage with their teams as much possible through video calls and messages. I did video calls with them at least once a day.

How would you support other females in the industry or in your life?

I have consciously been fighting gender imbalance. I am one of the founding members of the India chapter of Global Women in PR. Through this organisation, I aim to bring about a gender balance in the boardroom and groom the next generation of women leaders in the PR industry. I would help every woman have a career in life – no matter what it is so that when there comes a time to choose a path of living on her own, a woman must be able to exercise that option.

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