Lessons learned with... Preena Gadher, co-founder & MD, Riot Communications
This month we interviewed co-founder and MD of Riot Communications Preena Gadher. Preena discusses navigating the sector as women of colour, launching an agency in her twenties and the lessons learned, as well as providing insight on Riot’s objective to put diversity and inclusion at front and centre of company culture.
Can you briefly share your professional journey which has led you to your role now?
Like many, I fell into PR starting my career in the Penguin Books press office. Although I had a wonderful time at Penguin, I had a nagging feeling that I think may people of colour have, which is that if I wanted to get to the top, I had to take matters into my own hands rather than wait for someone else to promote me. In my twenties, I decided to start my own PR agency – having never worked in one before – and made myself the MD. Riot is still thriving 12 years on.
What has been your career highlight?
At Riot, we specialise in culture and entertainment PR and so over the years we have helped launch the careers of many people. My proudest is Yuval Noah Harari, the author of the multi-million selling non-fiction book Sapiens – a sweeping history of humankind. Harari now has the ear of many world leaders and influencers. If you haven’t read it before, do it. Books as good as this only come along once in a generation.
I’m also proud of the fact that I started my agency in the first place and have grown it over the years. Given the make-up of both the PR industry and the culture sector, I feel proud to have navigated both areas successfully as one of the few brown women of colour in my position. That said, I find it ridiculous – but sadly not surprising - that I am often the only person who looks like me in the room in the 2021.
How has the communications industry been impacted by the COVID pandemic?
We found that clients were in need of greater counsel during the pandemic as the constantly shifting sands meant that people needed clearer communication around how COVID was impacting their employer, their work and their industry.
Obviously working life has changed forever, and at Riot, we have embraced the flexibility that has come from being able to work from home as well as in the office.
How do you think comms will evolve over the next three-five years?
I think the pandemic has shown the value of comms and it will rightfully play more of a role in business planning and strategy. We have also witnessed an increased need for crisis comms with the rise of so-called “cancel culture”. And with the increased awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement – finally - companies are realising that it is no longer enough to do nothing or remain silent. People want to see proactive action and organisations operating on a values-based system.
What important lessons have you learnt throughout your career?
From working with a great coach, I learned the importance of identifying what you value, and using those values to guide your decisions, including career choices. It ultimately leads to a more purposeful life, which helps keep you motivated and resilient when things don’t always go to plan.
I also learned to surround myself with advisors who have more experience than I, and that asking for help is always ok.
What skill sets do you think businesses will be looking for in the coming year?
The past 18 months has shown that change is the only constant and those who are able to adapt to change and embrace it will be most successful.
What is the best advice you ever received?
Stay true to your values and the rest will follow.
What are your company’s objectives for Diversity and Inclusion?
One of our values at Riot is “disruption” and what that means for us is embracing difference, since we know being different can provide a powerful advantage. As part of our recruitment process, we always ask ourselves, what difference does this candidate bring that will make us even better at what we do? And while we perform well on certain protected characteristics and have undergone a fair amount of formal training, our current objective is to formalise our diversity and inclusion charter to ensure that it is front and centre of our company culture in terms of our employees, but also what we expect from our clients.
What do you think companies can do to drive diversity and inclusion within the workplace?
Look at themselves and scrutinise the make-up of their organisation at all levels, especially at Board level since change comes from the top. If you know your stats fall below par, work with D&I consultants to create a clear roadmap to change with timelines and a communication plan. It’s not rocket science.
Posted on 21.09.2021