As the managing partner at the country’s leading lifestyle PR agency Very Truly Yours, Pareina Thapar is a revered name in industry circles. With elite clients like Sabyasachi, Sunita Shekhawat, Cartier and Forest Essentials on her roster, there is no denying that this boss lady is in a league of her own.
Despite being a PR maven today, Thapar started out as a journalist. She believes that advertising, marketing and journalism are part of a fascinating inter-connected universe that shapes how we perceive things, where we see value, and what we dismiss as frivolous.
In her career as a business journalist, Thapar initially wrote about marketing trends and successful brand case studies. She then moved on to lifestyle journalism where her role widened to interact with publishers and marketing teams. She slowly learnt to see the magazine as a brand., and realised that she wanted to sit on the other side of the table, and see the blueprint in the making before it is presented to the world.
Thapar took a break from full-time journalism 15 years ago when she was expecting her first born. She started working on project assignments, and eventually joint her business partner Neeta Raheja (who founded VTY) to focus on the “business of lifestyle brands” specialising in the “universe of good living”.
Aashni + Co engaged Thapar in an exclusive conversation about her journey, career advice, and a whole lot more!
You have been a pioneer in the fashion and lifestyle PR space in the county. How have you seen the industry evolve?
Brand story telling has many exciting platforms available as possibilities today. As the canvas gets bigger, the industry is getting more professional and dynamic. ‘A picture is worth a thousand words’ was never truer than now. Social media has redefined how people look at your brand. They see the visual and form an impression, and then read the feature in long form. Hence, that visual has to communicate the story of your brand as the first step.
The narrative you create visually sets the context — be it in the online or the offline world. And then the story is written by everyone to interpret what you are doing. PR today plays a much more influential role today by helping brands in curating that narrative. Successful agencies have a seat on the client’s table — they are an extended arm of brand’s marketing and strategy teams.
What is the role of traditional PR in the times instant digital gratification? How can brands adapt to the changing times while also being true to the traditional nature of PR?
Brands definitely need to think harder about what makes for a good story in print three months after when the story has been splashed and optimised in the digital world. And therein lies the excitement and innovation too. Change is always good. Who is your circle of influence may be different than it was a decade ago, however third party validation will always have a big significance and shape influences. Therein lies the challenge. Brands today can be much more victims of trends than before. You still need to think about how to lead the change rather than just be reactive to what is trending. Traditional PR tools help you to find your own story and voice. New-age PR sometimes forces you to only fit into templates on what works and is popular.
Tell us about a client or project that was a turning point in your PR career?
A chance to work with one of the most prestigious luxury brands, Cartier, for a significant global event that takes places in India — the second edition of Cartier Travel with Style, Concours D’ Elegance that took place in 2011, was challenging and rewarding. We learnt to manage scale (a guest list database of 3,000, presence of more than 20 internationally renowned vintage auto cognoscenti flying in from around the world, and helping Indian media realise the importance of such an event) was a very satisfying campaign. We received deep appreciation from Richemont International, and the event is one of the best media campaigns for the brand in any market across the world. We also recently worked on the fifth edition of Cartier Travel with Style that was hosted at Taj Faluknama in Hyderbad in February 2017.
Tell us about some of your clients who have had a major impact on you personally and professionally?
Before clients, it would be my business partner Neeta Raheja. She founded the agency, and the strategies she created as a consultant to Ritu Kumar for 15 years paved the path for my early learnings in fashion communication.
It is tough to pick favourites. The impact on me personally has been absorbing and learning the great team skills of entrepreneurs who know how to hold their own, and yet can truly respect other’s opinions plus have the ability to be calm under pressure.
AD Singh of Olive allowed a free hand to explore and experiment and hence I have learnt a lot from him as he is one of our oldest clients (14 years and counting). Sabyasachi, on the other hand, is never ever afraid to speak his mind, and he hence made me introspect a bit more on not being afraid to stick to what you believe in.
When you work with Abraham & Thakore and Mrs. Mira Kulkarni of Forest Essentials, you get reassured that less is always more. The incredibly cool work partnership of best friends Kabir Suri and Rahul Khanna (founders of Mamagoto) is a lesson for all entrepreneurs looking to grow by utilising each other’s strengths. Raul Rai and Simran Lal of Nicobar passionately believe in the importance of culture.
Some of my youngest clients are Palak Shah of Ekaya and Niharika Shekhawat of Sunita Shekhawat — they both are leading the vision of brands founded by their parents into the future. There is so much pressure on the young to excel and display success early in their 20s today. I think it is not easy to listen to so much advise and learn to filter the essence of what adds value.
How do you balance work and family life?
I enjoy both immensely, so there is no conflict in my head on priorities. And a bit of humour solves the worse of situations. If you take yourself too seriously then everything tends to overwhelm.
What is your secret to mastering the art of small talk?
Ask a question, be curious about other person’s interest, and most of the times you will get a clue on which thread of conversation to follow.
If you know their interest, begin the conversation from there and be nice to ask how things are going — be it for a hobby, or somewhere they recently travelled . Else notice the setting you are in and seek a view to draw participation and move from there.
What would you advise someone launching a fashion start-up?
Please try and be original, and have a definite point of view. Clarity of vision is most important. Media has seen and heard much more out there than you care to believe. While the art of packaging is important, and an army of consultants are out there to help you get it right, focus that much harder on your product and be ready to answer tough questions. Spend time on your business plan and outlay your budget along with your wish list. You do need to balance art with the commerce.
Tell us about your personal style.
My personal style is more classic. I am a bit of a purist, and not a fan of anti-fit or Indo western fusion wear. There is a thin line between being fashion-forward and a fashion victim. Designers most likely to be found in my closet are Abraham & Thakore, Sabyasachi, Patine, Nicobar, and Bodice. All this is mixed with good ol’ Zara and high street brands picked up on the internet.
When wearing Indian, I like to pick up beautiful saris, often from labels I have worked with and love (Ekaya, Swati & Sunaina, Sabyasachi, Abraham & Thakore — I am truly spoilt for choice!).
Every time I intend to save money and buy jewellery, I land up spending it on holidays! A month in Japan currently sounds like heaven.
Read other interviews from our #BossLady series here.