Tell us about your leadership style and philosophy.
ChatterBox is a homegrown, family business run by my husband and I. We make a great team as he brings great business acumen and I possess the expertise. While we both have our own leadership styles, ChatterBox is a direct reflection of our shared core values, which is integrity, dependability, perseverance, and passion for our work. These values are embedded and reflected in the work we’ve been doing for clients over the years. Our aim is to not only deliver the best of services but also to be of value to our clients – irrespective of size.
A priority for us is to constantly be proactive and follow best practice in everything we do; it’s what makes us better in a crowded space. Being a small consultancy lends us the flexibility and accessibility to our clients even after official working hours and weekends if required. Add to this our strength in the technology sector which makes us more than just a consultancy that ticks boxes. We always go beyond expectations, and this is what our clients have always highly appreciated.
When I formed ChatterBox ten years ago, the idea was to build a company that our clients would be proud to be associated with and value for our strong relationships, market expertise, and innovation. Today, ChatterBox PR & Events are trusted communications advisors to the world’s leading technology vendors and channel players operating in the region. We are also immensely proud to be listed with Dun & Bradstreet as a globally influential standard-setting organization. It is an outstanding achievement considering we’ve reached so far in such a short time. We are immensely proud of the professional set-up that we are.
What made you choose PR and advertising as a career opportunity?
My first career choice would have been being an economist, but a call for an interview from a PR agency back in 2003 is what led to what I am today. I was interviewed for a junior position at Asda’a PR by none other than Sunil John. The PR industry was just beginning to pick up the pace then, and I believe Sunil saw in me the potential to grow in the industry. His support and encouragement were instrumental in helping me shape my career in PR. I was lucky to start my career in technology working with some big brands– it was a new area for me, but one I found immensely intriguing and interesting.
I started to perfect my writing skills and get more involved in the technology practice. It was no turning back and I continued to advance my skills after working with a number of leading consumer and enterprise tech companies at various PR agencies.
What really set me apart was my unique skill set of being able to understand the technology sector and the media landscape. I understood very early how to build compelling narratives, and this is what I believe was the crux of my career in tech PR. I am perhaps among the few women who specialize in technology PR, and I am immensely proud of this. I’ve had the opportunity to represent and work with CEOs and founders of some of the world’s largest technology companies. Some of them even personally thanked me for the good work and sent across notes of appreciation, which is such a boost to my morale.
While working with PR agencies for close to 6 years doing technology PR, I worked on building my strengths. I took an intensive course in news writing and journalism and completed two master’s degrees – one a master’s in economics and the other an MBA in Finance.
When did you set up your company? Tell us about the initial days.
Working in PR, I would often hear from the media and clients about how much the industry needed solid and dedicated technology PR professionals who knew the pulse of what was required on both sides. So, in 2011 when my senior role at a large PR agency was made redundant, I decided that I’d only work for myself and put my expertise to use. I set up ChatterBox PR & Events with my friend Andrew D’Souza who was an electrical engineer looking for a change in career.
The aim was to make PR a better experience for clients and the media, and we registered the company with the Creative City in Fujairah. Bootstrapping was the way to go and the initial days were overwhelming. It was difficult to sign on that first paying client. As a matter of principle, I refrained from poaching any of my clients from the agencies I worked at, and instead focused on building my own portfolio with my own efforts.
Our very first client was a pro-bono project for the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund and The GoodWill Journey. We worked with them for a year promoting their cause while working on our own shoestring budget. Our first big break came in 2012 when we signed on a large consumer electronics brand that was referred to us by a journalist friend. After an intensive round of pitching, we won our first client.
Then we got a couple more clients signed up through referrals, and then there was no turning back. After Andrew left the business to return to Canada to take care of personal matters, I managed ChatterBox on my own, servicing clients, multitasking, and growing the business at the same time. My client portfolio started growing and I was now working with some of the industry’s largest tech players. So, I put together a small team to support our growing portfolio and included an Arabic resource as well.
In 2018, my husband Zayyen Ahmed Haider came onboard. With his solid experience in the IT channel business in the region, a decade of banking experience, and a passion for driving growth, we’re now focused on taking ChatterBox from strength to strength and expanded our operations to key markets like KSA and Pakistan. Together, we expanded our service offering in line with the changing communication trends and added social media support and 360-degree marketing service.
Our work has been widely appreciated and we’ve been awarded the EMEA PR Agency of the year by leading tech vendors, in addition, to be regularly recognised by our clients for the outstanding work we do on a regular basis.
Are there unique challenges women entrepreneurs face?
Being an entrepreneur is being brave, and I have a lot of respect for those who take the leap. Every entrepreneur has their own set of challenges, but as a woman in technology, I believe a key challenge is overcoming perceptions. A lot of people I met in the early days of being an independent agency didn’t really take me seriously when I said I specialized in technology PR and that we were a small set up.
But all that changed when our work spoke for itself and converted the skeptics into believers. Also, being a hands-on mom, a homemaker, and a business owner presents its own set of challenges which begins with creating an efficient work and life balance. But with determination, efficient time management, and planning, the most difficult challenges can be overcome.
What advice would you give to women looking to break into the field of PR and advertising?
PR is a serious profession and is unlike what you’ve seen on a popular sitcom. Businesses trust your advice and expertise to help them build and manage their reputation with stakeholders. The one priceless piece of advice I’d like to give young women is to never stop learning and trying to be better each day. Perfect your professional writing skills and focus on what you do best.
But most importantly, remember that the key to a successful PR career is not only relationship building, but also knowing how to adapt and roll out effective strategies. A lot of women I know in the field do not have professional degrees but have learned through experience. You learn a lot from being in the field, so take up internships when you can, and gauge if this profession is for you.
What is your advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs?
Do what you believe in and don’t be afraid to fail. Starting a venture on your own can be daunting at first, and many times you will want to throw in the towel. The only one to stop you will be yourself. So be tenacious and go after what you want. Hard work and persistence always pay well! Don’t forget to pat your own back one in a while – it works wonders!
How according to you can PR help companies get their message across to the audience, especially during the current work environment?
Communicating in a crisis – big or small- is something companies need to prepare for. It is a known fact that with the onset of the pandemic, a lot of companies went into damage control mode, and the first thing was to cut or drastically reduce marketing and PR budgets. But the global pandemic has also clearly proved how effective PR can be in helping companies communicate with everyone – from employees to investors, supplies, customers, and partners, in a crisis.
What really stands out in the current situation is that technology has been a key enabler of business continuity across sectors. As with every crisis, there are stages, and we’ve crossed the phase when business continuity, and enabling a remote workforce were hot topics. We identified the right opportunities for clients to provide regular commentary while being mindful of not shamelessly just promoting our narrative.
We also advised clients not to overdo webinars as journalists were and are facing webinar fatigue. We are being selective in making webinars a mode of connecting regional journalists and international spokespeople – this discretion really works. We are also seeing media conversations moving from business continuity to business sustainability, impact on the economy and various sectors, and technology trends that will shape the industry post-COVID-19.
A well-planned PR strategy will take this into consideration and prepare for the change in conversation. There is no better time than now for companies to show their real commitment to stakeholders and demonstrate how their solutions are enabling businesses to continue functioning. What we’ve done is take control and be proactive – it’s what made all the difference.
What are your future plans with your company? Any new markets/target audiences you plan to reach?
ChatterBox’s growth over the years has been steady and well planned. We’ve made sure we expand our presence to crucial markets such as Saudi Arabia and Pakistan that are also key growth markets for our clients. In other parts of the Middle East, Africa, and South Africa, we are expanding through strategic partnerships with agencies that share the same expertise and values.
We’ve undertaken our own digital transformation initiative, incorporated a solid social media practice, and added film production to our portfolio to help clients deliver more interactive and visual content. Growth is continuous, and while we’ve built a prestigious tech portfolio over the years, there could be potential to explore possibilities across business verticals as well. We’ve already set the growth wheel in motion, and all I can say is that there are exciting times ahead!