Farzana Baduel, MD of Curzon PR, grew up in a family of entrepreneurs – her mother, sister, aunts and cousins all set up and ran their own businesses, meaning she was exposed early on to strong female role models and entrepreneurship came like second nature to her. After setting up a tax business in the dot com boom, she turned her attention to public relations, and started Curzon PR in 2009. A boutique strategic communications and public affairs consultancy working across sectors in growth markets, Curzon PR’s areas of expertise include arts and culture and government relations.
Winning our first government-backed project in 2011. We won the brief to promote the inaugural Biennale of Ukraine and promote its capital, Kiev. This in turn opened the door for us to work with other political and government-related projects including Russia, Malaysia, India, Azerbaijan and Pakistan. We’ve also recently partnered with the Culture Company in Mumbai, part of our focus on emerging and growth markets. Finally, we’ve just launched Curzon Strategy, a joint venture between Curzon PR and Global Strategy to provide thought leadership and develop ‘soft power’ strategies and solutions for governments, countries and corporates – this has long been an area I’ve wanted to focus more on, as it’s an emerging discipline on the world stage.
I haven’t really celebrated my successes yet as I’d still like to do better. For example, one of my goals when I set up Curzon PR was to have a second agency after three years in India and I haven’t done that yet, so I’m a year behind. Maybe next year, when Curzon turns five, if I get that second office opened and reach a number of the other goals that I set for myself, then I may give myself a party.
It has taken me a lot longer to establish Curzon PR than I had originally thought it would. I set up a business in 1999 in a different sector and it flourished within 12 months and became profitable within the first year, expanding quickly. I approached my second business with the same expectations, but due to the economic climate and the different nature of PR business development, it took longer than I expected. I have learnt to be more patient and adjusted my expectations accordingly as a result.
When I set up I had never worked in a PR agency before, so I partnered with my then business partner James Ollerenshaw, who had extensive PR experience. He was wonderful and taught me a lot.
PR is a stressful industry to be in as clients want tangible results, and PR is one of the most intangible industries. Our work and our efforts are the same regardless of whether a client’s story gets into a magazine/newspaper or it doesn’t. Unfortunately the client only sees whether you got the article for them or not.
PR is also changing – the rise of social media has changed the whole positioning of PR, which has traditionally been perceived as earned media (mentions in newspapers, for example). It is now moving into owned media (such as a client self publishing a newsletter and producing content for their own website). It’s a constantly changing landscape and we need to continue to share the messages of our clients on new platforms (eg Facebook, Twitter, Instagram…) often without increasing budgets.
I wasn’t nervous when I started out, as I had a successful business already and had already experienced a downturn, which many people fear. Once you’ve gone through the highs and lows of business and made mistakes, you then think ‘so what if I fail again’. I know how it feels and did it kill me? No. Did it upset me? Yes. But, I’ve learned from my mistakes and got a thicker skin this time around so it has become a lot easier. Also, I didn’t have any agency PR experience, yet here I was setting up a PR agency.
We recently took on a client project that constituted a high profile week-long festival with an extremely short lead time. As you can guess, in addition to the sheer scope of the project, having to work on a tight timeline added its own pressures as well. The team and I worked hard and were smart with planning and daily regroups to ensure we were all on the same page. We managed to get double the press coverage in terms of quantity and quality than the client had previously achieved – results like that are really rewarding and make it all worth it. To celebrate we took the afternoon off and went retro bowling, dressing up in 1950’s-inspired outfits.
I do have a weekend. I worked really hard for the first three years, but now I’ve taken my foot off the pedal and put a bit more focus back on my family life. I work one day a week from home and the rest in the office but make sure my weekends are absolutely sacred for my family. That said, when their backs are turned I’m on my Blackberry checking my emails and social media. I’ve spent the time investing in the business framework and hiring the right people to allow me to relax a little more.
The fact that I have a passion for PR does not take away from the fact that it is extremely difficult. I sometimes feel burnt-out. We recently ran a food, music and literature festival with 120,000 attendees in Trafalgar Square and we only have eight employees. It can be challenging at times, but I find it extremely rewarding nonetheless and enjoy the personal challenge.
My background in politics, as Vice-Chair of Conservative Business Relations, naturally led me into PR. Both politics and PR focus on messaging, communication and reaching target audiences, plus I had knowledge and experience of running events. I wanted to work in an area that I was really passionate about, and PR is that for me. I also love the fact that PR was a learning curve, as it was a new industry for me at the time.
Many women in my family – including my mother, sister, aunts and cousins – have set up and run their own businesses, so I have been fortunate enough to have extremely strong female role models and I grew up surrounded by entrepreneurs. Because of this, entrepreneurship came almost like second nature to me. I also wanted a job that provided me with the flexibility to juggle motherhood and work, as I have a young child at home.
It’s quite seductive to have your own business, I’d recommend it – it’s your own thing and it’s very creative.