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#BossLady: In conversation with Farzana Baduel

Award-winning PR entrepreneur Farzana Baduel is a tour de force to reckon with. As the CEO & founder of Curzon PR, a strategic marketing communications agency (clients include the likes of DLF, Apollo, Good Earth, Russian Art Week and more), she has carved a niche for herself not just as a PR maven, but also as a thought leader, entrepreneur, and campaigner.

F5It was whilst working as the Vice Chair for Business Relations for the British Conservative Party that Baduel discovered political communications. And she was hooked. The blend of media, messaging, brand positioning, personal branding, polling, advocacy, amplification, content and third party endorsement was fascinating to her. It was also then that she discovered that she had an innate talent for PR. She went on to launch Curzon PR in 2009 as a young mother with a one-year old baby. The rest, as they say, is history.

Baduel is also currently the Co-Chair of TiE Women (London)—the largest entrepreneur network in the world, and previously sat on the London board of Institute of Directors (YDF). All this while balancing her professional commitments with her family life. As a woman who wears many hats, and stylishly at that, she is a definitely a #BossLady by our definition. We catch her in an exclusive conversation.

What is your favourite aspect of PR? Which is the part you enjoy least? 

My favourite aspect of PR are the results of a successful campaign and seeing a positive impact through our PR work. PR can change lives and transform society and it is particularly satisfying when campaigns go viral. The least enjoyable aspect of PR is managing client expectations and aligning expectations with budget.  It is very important in PR to under promise and over deliver, setting KPIs and success metrics from the outset.

What is the role of traditional PR and marketing communications in the times of social media, bloggers and instant digital gratification? 

Traditional PR was focused on securing positive editorial coverage in print and broadcast media for clients using the principle of third party endorsement as a means of building trust and credibility between the brand and the consumer. It was ‘earned’ media. Now PR has moved beyond ‘earned media’ and has entered into ‘owned media’ and ‘paid media’ where we are focused on creating engaging content for multiple channels including brand websites, social media channels and are pitching to bloggers and instagrammers as they have historically only pitched to print and broadcast media.

PRs are also catching up on the increasing ADD affecting most consumers where their attention span is shortening and we are focusing more on video content which is an effective means to communicate, engage and change consumer behaviour. Content is becoming shorter and more visual. We used to create five-minute videos and now are delivering 30 second videos for Instagram audiences.

Farzana at the Mayfair Times Indian Edition Party

Farzana at the Mayfair Times Indian Edition Party

Tell us about client that was a turning point in your career? 

 Winning the Ukrainian government as a client was a turning point, as it opened the door to other government projects including Russia, China, Bahrain and Canada. I believe in women helping women in business and was lucky to have a strong support network of women who helped me win my first government client.

You work with clients across UK, New York, Dubai, and India. How do these markets differ? How do you maintain a synergy in your efforts? 

The UK and New York are both highly developed markets. It is somewhat easier to collaborate and build successful campaigns as the understanding of the importance of sufficient timelines and lead times to ensure a quality campaign is there. The downside is that clients have rigid brand guidelines and therefore, there is less room for creativity due to the high level of control over the brands. 

Dubai and India are developing markets so there is a lot of time taken to educate the client and set realistic expectations. The marketing and PR industry in these regions is relatively less developed. I gain a great deal of satisfaction from working in developing markets as we are often involved in capacity building and transfer of best practices to make a meaningful impact on brands and their development. Dubai and India are also more relationship-oriented and clients often become family.

The challenges arise when an emerging market brand enters into a developed market and vice versa. It is important to ensure the brand translates into the new market with the right positioning. As I am a British Asian and product of two cultures, I am well placed to understand the nuances and insight needed to craft compelling campaigns that succeed in both developed and developing marketing.

Tell us a little about some of your most cherished clients, especially those who have had a major impact on you. 

Working with design house Good Earth design in India was a highlight as I was touched by the authenticity of the founding family and their business values and ethics. I visited their factory and offices where their staff all eat lunch together with no sense of hierarchy. I was also in awe of the care taken to ensure the craftsmen were paid well and that they passed on their skills to the next generation.

Good Earth's London launch at the V&A museum organised by Curzon PR

Good Earth’s London launch at the V&A museum organised by Curzon PR

Also working with Israel on a cultural project was an eye opener. As a Muslim, I had a number of preconceptions before I started the project and ended up making life-long friendships with Israelis. I am a big believer in communication across borders and barriers to resolve conflict and build bridges of understanding.

PR is a 24/7 job, how you do manage that being a working mother? 

My husband is my secret weapon. He is supportive of my career and gives me the confidence to pursue my dreams. I also live with my mother-in-law which helps, as my daughter has many trusted caregivers in our home. It is tough and gruelling at times but my passion for my business drives me.

Farzana at a VIP private view for her client Hermann Meija at Sophia Contemporary Gallery in Mayfair

Farzana at a VIP private view for her client Hermann Meija at Sophia Contemporary Gallery in Mayfair

Any advise you would like to share with working mums?

Choose your partner wisely and ensure you build a network around you that supports your goals in life. Eat healthy, exercise, meditate, sleep eight hours, limit alcohol and late nights. Most importantly, be around positive people. Negative people will drain your energy.

You are a champion of female empowerment and entrepreneurship. Feminism has become an abused buzzword today. Even in these modern times, why do we need a movement to recognise our worth, especially when it comes to gender equality?

I find it disappointing when young women say they are not a feminist as they believe there is nothing left to fight for in terms of gender equality. We have so much to do before we achieve gender parity in terms of equal opportunity. In the PR Industry which is dominated by women, there is a gender pay gap of over £8,000 and as you look at the senior levels in PR roles, they become increasingly pale and male!

There are glass ceilings and glass walls and we are a long way away from gaining the equality we deserve. Just because equal rights is enshrined in law in some countries does not make it a reality. Also, it is our role to ensure women around the world are also supported in their quest for equality. Sue Unerman’s book Glass Walls explores work strategies for professional women and female entrepreneurs. I highly recommend it.

What is your personal style like? 

I tend to combine designer brands with high street brands, and also mix Western brands with Asian and Middle Eastern brands to arrive at my own signature style.

I like clean lines in accessories such as handbags so I favour brands such as Céline. For ankle and knee high boots I often buy Ferragamo and for fun shoes with character I head to Christian Louboutin.

I buy jewellery from my friend Mita Vohra who has her brand called Ortaea in Harvey Nichols for distinctive pieces. My coats are from Maxmara for their warmth and luxe finish, and cashmere scarves are from a Middle Eastern brand Annada Online. I turn to Vanessa Gounden in Mayfair for occasion wear and Sweaty Betty in Chelsea for gym gear.

You are also known to be passionate about art. How was the interest born and who are your favourite artists?

I am married to an Italian and they have a cultural affinity for art, so I couldn’t escape the art world. Also London is a mecca for the art world so it surrounds my home and work life. My husband taught me to train my eye when I look at art and architecture, and therein began the love affair.

I love Rostislav Romanov who is a young Russian prince who lives in Sussex and paints seascapes and orthodox churches, and a Kazakh artist Annya Sand whose Study of Russia is both evocative and haunting.

There is a Chennai based artist called Bhanu Palam who creates Mantra inspired work from her meditation which I often use to calm my own mind. My favourite all time art work is Femme Arabe by Van Dongen. I literally dream of the painting, it haunts my dreams. Once you connect to art, it is a life-long addiction, you simply cannot live without art.

Bhanu Palam's Mantra series

Bhanu Palam’s Mantra series