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OAK Consulting: Being Your Own Boss, Paving Your Own Path and Succeeding in it

Nirmala D’souza, the Founder of Oak Consulting, speaks about her entrepreneurial journey, the challenges, the opportunities and future plans

Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
“The giant oak is an acorn that held its ground,” someone once said. OAK Consulting is rooted in strong values, where integrity, hard work, and commitment to our clients are at the core of everything we do. ‘Leading by example’ is the style I follow, as I believe it is magnetic and definitely inspirational. ‘People, Possibilities, Passion’ is my philosophy of life and the mission of OAK Consulting.

OAK Consulting is a flat organization, where every single team member is an entrepreneur who takes complete ownership of their work. We believe in encouraging, motivating, and using our strengths to work together as a team, bringing out the best in each other. Most of all, we are passionate about our work and explore every possibility that would benefit our clients. We strongly value our relationships with our clients, journalists, media partners, and industry peers – it is ‘A People’s Business’ after all and they are the ones behind our success story.

“Talents wins games but teamwork and intelligence wins the championship,” said Michael Jordan. Team OAK is an incredible team of experienced, seasoned, and talented people – a dream team, who always have the company’s best interests at heart. Humour, cheer, and laughter bind us even closer. We are always in it together – be it good times or in challenging ones too. Today, OAK Consulting is highly recommended because each member works with our philosophy ‘People, Possibilities, Passion’. Anyone who has worked with us will vouch for that.

The OAK Consulting Team.

What made you choose PR and advertising as a career opportunity?
My career path was shaped by my life’s experiences. My leadership roles as the President of my local youth group called Jubilant Orlem Youth (JOY) in Mumbai and as the Chairperson of the Students Union Council (SUC) at St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai, gave me hands-on experience in conceptualising, strategising, and executing several leadership programs, entertainment, and sports events. My experience in securing sponsorships and doing publicity for these events was my stepping stone into the world of advertising and PR, which also got me my first job in Indian Express in media sales.

My need for constant learning, innovating, and exploring new possibilities, is what drives me. My strength of creating customized solutions for clients, while I was working at the Times of India, marked my foray into technology. My pursuit for knowledge and information led me to delve deeper to know the IT industry better. I conceptualized supplements on various technology trends in the Economic Times and earned the reputation of being an IT specialist within the company.

At my career high, I left the Times of India and joined Trade Fair and Conferences getting into event management for large IT exhibitions. In 2001, I set up a PR firm in Mumbai with Joyce Arora, my ex-boss, mentor, and best friend. My journey into Public Relations sparked off then. My father’s golden advice ‘Don’t be timid with your talents, learn to trust them; Your wings already exist, all you have to do is fly’. I took his advice seriously, spread my wings, and landed in Dubai seeking greener pastures.

When did you set up your company? Tell us about the initial days.
I set up OAK Consulting in 2004, a month after I lost my job. I was new to Dubai and low on finances. However, I refused to take this lying down. I wouldn’t let someone else decide on my future ever again. I had a single-minded determination to be my own boss, pave my own path, and succeed.

My family stood strongly behind me in my decision. My brothers, Vincent and Avinash, and my sister-in-law, Lovelyn, were my pillars of strength at that time and supported me in every aspect of setting up my business. They spent days ideating with me, working on business plans, planning finances, researching free zones as well as working on OAK’s brand identity. They had tremendous faith in me even more than I had in myself then.

I have to also thank Sharon Divan for being there for me as a friend, guide, and becoming my PR guru when I started OAK Consulting. Friends like her are rare to find. The initial years were tough as I was in a new country and I had no PR credentials to show. As an entrepreneur, I was responsible for every function of my business from business development to account management, writing, admin, accounts, operations to even picking up the cheques.

Being new to Dubai, I decided to network a lot and met a number of interesting people along the way. I worked very hard, did free PR for friends and fellow entrepreneurs I met, and in the process, I gained valuable experiences and long-term relationships. My closest friends in Dubai, Sharon Divan, and Michelle Silva joined me at different phases in this journey and took the agency several notches higher with their valuable PR expertise and big agency experiences that have enriched OAK. I have learned so much from them over the years.

The business grew purely on recommendations from our clients, editors, and media friends we have worked with. Our extensive work with technology companies, earned us the reputation of being a specialist Tech PR agency although we also have clients across lifestyle, consumer products, travel & tourism to name some. In 2015, we bagged the Best PR agency award from a leading technology publishing house.

I am proud of every member of our team including Shaina D’souza, Sana Lababidi, and Deena Moghrabi, who are an integral part of OAK’s successful journey. OAK Consulting is where it is today due to the invaluable contribution of these five incredible women.

Are there unique challenges women entrepreneurs face?
Balancing personal, professional and career development is a challenge women entrepreneurs face. Success comes with values, integrity, perseverance, hard work, and commitment. It definitely is not gender biased. I look at myself as an entrepreneur, who believes in herself and works with passion, grit, and determination.

What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of PR and advertising?
No better words can describe PR than – The pen is mightier than the sword – where every word you speak or write has an impact. The truth is “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories and magic,” according to Seth Godin. If you are a people’s person, with creative writing skills, passion and have the ability to create magic with your words, then this field is one you can explore. Research before venturing into this industry. Your rewards and recognition will come from places you least expect.

What is your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs?
“Everyone has a unique talent but few explore it,” said Sukh Sandhu. The journey into entrepreneurship is not easy but it is incredibly fulfilling. You need to maintain a work-life balance. Many a times, we forget when work begins and when it ends. My advice to aspiring women (even men) entrepreneurs is:

  • Believe in yourself and dream big
  • Be passionate and work hard
  • Think and be open to possibilities
  • Always keep learning
  • Integrity and honesty should be core values
  • Motivate yourself and others
  • Be disciplined especially if you plan to work from home
  • Always think of your client’s best interest
  • Build a strong reputation for excellence
  • Do your best, success will follow

It is great to see many more women today taking the leap of faith into entrepreneurship. It is not an easy decision and I have huge respect for them. I love to share my experiences with them freely and try to inspire them in the process. At times, I also offer fellow entrepreneurs (men and women) a platform and support for their business until they are in a position to set up on their own. And I can proudly say that many of these people are very successful entrepreneurs today.

Tell us about the recent Forrester Research achievement. What does it mean for your company?
Being recognised as one of the top tech PR agencies in the Middle East by Forrester Research, one of the most influential research and advisory firms in the IT industry, is a huge honor and a powerful endorsement for us. It came as a surprise to us as we weren’t aware that Forrester was working on such a story. We are really proud to be included in this exclusive list of top global tech and channel PR agencies.

Our clients have said that this recognition comes as no surprise to them as they have continually praised and appreciated our work over the years. This is also extra special as it was based on our editors recommending us. Recognition like these help agencies like OAK stand out from the crowd and we are sure technology vendors looking seriously at the Middle East region will consider us.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, has your business been affected? How?
This pandemic has created an economic crisis worldwide and impacted businesses globally. Some of our clients are no exceptions. We, at OAK Consulting, completely understand the current scenario and are extending PR support to them. We believe things will get better and they will restart.

Having promoted technology as an enabler for business success over the years, this pandemic has now put this into perspective and action. Technology has enabled our team to adapt to the new way of working – WFH, which has helped the continuity of our business and PR services. We have seen two recessions but each time we have emerged stronger because we refocused and re-strategized.

It’s important to remember that slowdowns are an opportunity to step back for a moment and look at the broader picture. Our business is strong but this pandemic gave us a chance to relook at our business model and rethink ways in which we could make it even more resilient for the future. Many companies are investing more in PR and from our ongoing conversations we can see the words of Bill Gates ‘If I was down to my last dollar, I would spend it on Public Relations’ come alive.

How according to you can PR help companies get their message across to the audience, especially during the current work environment?
“It is not about standing still and becoming safe. If anybody wants to keep creating, they have to be about change,” said Miles Davis. With the global lockdowns, tech coverage was mainly centered around remote working and the technologies behind making Work from Home (WFH) possible. Since industry and marketing events had been cancelled and sales teams weren’t able to meet their customers in person, the most effective way for companies to engage and stay connected with their customers and stakeholders was through a well-planned and thought-out PR strategy.

We increased our PR efforts, understood from editors their areas of interest, and worked closely with our clients on providing content around those topics. As a PR agency, we had to be extremely careful in how we communicate our client’s message, especially during such unprecedented times. We advised clients on what would work and what they should stay away from. Companies have innovated and adopted new ways of doing marketing. They are doing more online events, webinars, digital and social media campaigns, which have been effective too in driving leads.

What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets/target audiences you plan to reach?
OAK Consulting has achieved several milestones over the last 16 years. We are now setting plans in motion for the next 16 years. With the lines between PR, marketing and social media blurring, we will continue to upskill, adapt to the changing landscape and trends, and add qualified resources to offer our clients integrated solutions both in English and Arabic.

We have already expanded our PR services to include markets like India, Egypt and Africa. We will now be looking to strengthen our local presence there through direct operations and partnerships with reputed local agencies. I conclude in the words of Abraham Lincoln, “The best way to predict your future is to create it.” This is the firm belief of OAK Consulting.

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