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Procre8 Creates Dialogue and Engagement Through Public Relations

Colin Saldanha, the Managing Director of Procre8, speaks about his startup journey, the challenges faced during the initial days, and the recent accolade from Forrester Research

Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
As a family business run by three brothers, Procre8 has found success in building our business on the values of integrity, proactivity, humility, and a deep commitment to delivering the very best service for every client – irrespective of the size of the account.

We always mention to potential clients that this isn’t a nine-to-five job for us. Since our intention has been to build a company that each of us can be proud of, we have consistently gone the extra mile –overachieving on contract deliverables, providing expertise in matters like internal communications, media planning, and more.

The end result is that the journey has been extremely exciting, with each of us developing truly personal relationships with our clients and the media. At the end of the day, PR is a highly relationship-oriented field and these meaningful connections are rewarding on both a professional and personal level.

What made you choose PR and advertising as a career opportunity?
I guess the publishing industry chose me rather than the other way around. I had just finished my marketing management studies in 1999 in Mumbai and the Times of India was the first company that came to our Institute looking to recruit fresh management graduates. I was lucky enough to be one of two students to be recruited by TOI and I spent three memorable years in the International Marketing department. I then moved to Dubai and worked in advertising sales for reputed publishing companies like Al Khaleej, Gray Business Communications, and ITP Publishing.

While I was division head of ITP.net, the region’s leading technology portal, I had an inspiring conversation with Nirmala D’Souza who runs a successful PR agency in Dubai, who convinced me to quit my 9 to 5 job and join her company. I believe fortune favours the brave and I took a leap of faith into the world of PR. Having the backing of my wife and family and the support of Nirmala, who taught me the ropes in those initial days, made the transition easy and I have never looked back ever since!

When did you set up your company? Tell us about the initial days.

While working at ITP and during my initial foray into PR, I used to constantly hear from editors and tech vendors that the quality of tech-focused PR agencies in the Middle East left a lot to be desired. Seeing this gap as a big opportunity, in March 2008, I decided it was time to venture out on my own and build a company from the ground up, with a vision to set the benchmark for technology PR in the region. Procre8 with the tagline ‘Birth of New Ideas and Infinite Possibilities’ was incorporated in Hamriyah Free Zone, Sharjah. The inspiration for the name, funnily enough, came from the fact that my wife was expecting our first baby.

I am a great believer in the concept of ‘bootstrapping’ and didn’t rely on any outside investment. I ran the company as a ‘one-person organization’ from the confines of my home and wore several hats – business owner, client servicing manager, content writer, accountant, and media relations manager. After four years, Procre8’s portfolio of clients had grown and I decided I could do with an extra hand. Around this time, providentially my brother Ian, a computer engineer who was working for Infosys in India was looking for a new career path.

With his technical background and exemplary writing skills, he was a perfect fit for Procre8 and joined me in the business. Over the years he has blazed a name for himself as one of the region’s top tech PR professionals. A couple of years later, another brother Vernon, an electronics engineer based in the UK was down in Dubai on vacation. Over one of those conversations that alter the course of your life, he decided to quit his job in the UK and join the firm.

He was passionate about turbocharging the company’s growth. His operational brilliance and keen business acumen (not to mention the fact that he is a workaholic and finds it difficult separating himself from work even on weekends) has contributed in a big way to Procre8 being the award-winning company it is today!

What were the challenges you faced during the initial days?
There were several big-name PR agencies in the region. For a start-up, one-person organization, the challenge was getting clients to trust Procre8 with their account. I decided that Procre8 could not be ‘everything to everyone’, so I took the decision to create a niche and focus only on technology PR. This laser focus combined with the single-minded vision and passion to be the best in the market yielded gratifying results.

I enjoyed the flexibility of working from home, but on the other hand, I did miss the corporate environment and ‘water cooler chats’ with colleagues. There was also the downside of not being able to take any holidays (which didn’t go down well with the wife). The biggest challenge I faced was when I suffered a slipped disc in my back in the year 2014 and had to be hospitalized for a month in Mumbai. Having clients on a monthly retainer meant that I had to push through the pain and work tirelessly lying in the hospital bed with my laptop strapped to a makeshift table, ensuring that there was no drop in results. It is this fortitude that has seen Procre8 weather the early storm and power ahead to success.

I must also mention that Vernon and Ian, having given up lucrative jobs at big global firms to join Procre8, also encountered lots of frustration when it came to operational issues in the early days – typical teething problems of a young start-up company. But now we can look back with pride at the way we have streamlined operations and turned the company into a professional outfit.

Tell us about the recent Forrester Research achievement. What does it mean for your company?
Being recognised by Forrester as one of only two PR agencies in the Middle East among the 85 Top Tech PR agencies worldwide is truly an unparalleled honour for Procre8. As we specialise in public relations for the IT industry, our clients and potential customers are well aware of Forrester’s established reputation as a market-leading research company. This no doubt helps validate our efforts and the world-class standards that we hold our agency to. Saying this, I also have to add that we have won several other awards from leading tech publishing houses in the region.

When I first started Procre8, there was a market perception that large multinational agencies were better suited to the needs of enterprise customers. However, I believe Forrester’s recognition highlights that boutique agencies, such as Procre8, can in fact rank among the world’s best for their ability to deliver unique regional expertise as well as a highly personalised, proactive and professional level of service.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, has your business been affected? How?
We are fortunate enough to work with global IT leaders that have been playing a central role in enabling remote working and adapting to the new norm. For these businesses, amplifying their message around how they have enabled governments and organisations to maintain business continuity has been a critical part of their strategy in recent months. As a result, we have had to double down on our PR efforts. At the same time, the pandemic challenges us as communications professionals to be empathetic while telling our clients’ stories.

How according to you can PR help companies get their message across to the audience, especially during the current work environment?
With COVID-19 consuming all the oxygen in the room, executing an effective PR strategy in the region hinges on a couple of critical success factors. For one, given the pace of the news cycles, now more than ever, having a differentiated story and agility will be key – any delays in the content creation and pitching process could easily result in your story being irrelevant. As an example, think back to about a couple months ago, when countries started going into lockdown.

Every news outlet was interested in ‘work from home’ strategies, tips on how to stay mentally and physically healthy, and how to balance work and family life. Today, you will be hard-pressed to find an outlet that is still interested in this sort of content. Conversations have evolved and we are now having discussions around contact tracing, how soon we can open the economy, the potential impact on different sectors, etc.

Building on the first point, there’s also an element of fatigue around the topic of COVID-19. So, while it is understandable that companies need to get their message out, they need to be judicious and sensitive in the content they disseminate to the media. Stay away from using COVID-19 as a hook (unless it is absolutely necessary) and definitely stay away from sensationalism. When it comes to COVID-19 content, a good rule of thumb here is to aim to be an ambulance driver, rather than an ambulance chaser.

What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets/target audiences you plan to reach?
Because of our reputation as being one of the leading Public Relations agencies catering to the Tech industry, we only work with a select number of clients. We are extremely proud of our portfolio, built up over the years, of global leaders in the tech space. We want to keep our quality at the highest levels and service the clients we have to the best of our abilities.

As mentioned earlier, it’s not a 9 to 5 job for us, like PR account managers in other firms. Being business owners, we are constantly thinking of how we can positively impact our client’s business – even after office hours and on weekends! Saying that we will continue to focus on our core ‘tech’ business while evaluating the possibility of branching out into other B2B verticals.

We have also kept a close eye on new developments in the PR industry over the last couple of years and with the rising importance of social media, we have built up a solid practice in this area that compliments the traditional PR services that we offer. We see a healthy growth curve for this side of the business as clients see the benefit and invest more in social media.

Another area of growth that we see is moving into new regional markets through partnerships with agencies that share our vision and passion. Finally, we will continue to innovate and lead the market in best practices. We believe that despite all the awards and recognition Procre8 has received so far, the best is yet to come.

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