Farzana Baduel, founder and CEO of Curzon PR, talks about being an ambassador for the Oxford Foundry’s L.E.V8 Women programme, how women can become PR leaders and combining a “boutique” agency with international clients.
Congratulations, you have been chosen as one of seven ambassadors for the L.E.V8 Women programme as well as the resident PR expert at the Oxford Foundry. What do the roles entail and what is your reaction to being one of those selected?
Firstly, it’s an honour to have been appointed as one of seven ambassadors.
The L.E.V8 Women programme aims to challenge commonly held preconceptions about leadership, entrepreneurship, and gender, by providing Oxford’s future female leaders and founders with the knowledge to build and scale their ventures.
The position requires me to spend approximately one day a month at Oxford teaching masterclasses in PR and having one-to-one mentoring clinics with groups of Oxford University students who are on an entrepreneurial journey.
In essence, I teach the students about the history of PR and its present-day value to businesses, leaders, and organisations. PR, as an industry, can often be misunderstood and requires a much deeper understanding to highlight the industry’s practical benefits to business and society.
It is a delight to be able to share my knowledge and experience with the young leaders of tomorrow. I am particularly thrilled as I, myself, did not finish my degree at university because I left after my second year to start my first business. I remember receiving a lot of criticism for dropping out of university, so it is somewhat ironic that I am now teaching at one!
As an agency CEO, what is your view on the leadership opportunities available to women in the PR industry?
The CIPR’s annual State of the Profession Survey shows a gender pay gap of £6,725. More surprisingly, the industry is 63% female, which makes the discrepancy even more prominent.
The PR industry is dominated with a high proportion of female practitioners, yet the average gap between male and female earnings rises dramatically to more than £18,000 for senior practitioners with 17-21 years of experience.
Like myself, a number of women struggle with the demands of raising children and caring for elderly relatives in addition to their employment demands. I am lucky that I have a supportive husband and we have a partnership which enables me to pursue activities such as mentoring, further education and networking – which allow me to build my leadership credentials.
If women have a strong support network around them, they will be able to flourish in leadership roles. Perhaps due to gender conditioning in society, some women admit a fear of failure, or of imposter syndrome and low self-esteem which prevents their rise to leadership positions.
Leaders are often stereotyped as “old, pale and male”, how were you able to overcome this?
I am not old, pale or male, and I figured that when I started out in PR, I needed third-parties to endorse me in order to overcome any biases people might have.
I naturally focused on thought leadership, gaining chartered PR status, speaker platforms, social media, awards, and the media to build a personal profile which is reinforced by credible third parties to influence people’s perception of me, allowing people to go beyond my gender and race to see me as a credible professional.
In light of this, I welcome diversity across all leadership positions but only on the basis of meritocracy. I am uncomfortable with tokenism because it undermines the whole concept of diversity. We should create a society of equal opportunity that is not dictated by equality in outcome, but rather allows for all to achieve according to their talents and work ethic.
While Curzon PR has core specialisms, these cover quite a varied range of areas. Why did you select these areas to specialise in?
It made sense for me to work on behalf of governments and corporations due to my work as vice chair of the Conservative business relations department. Whilst I was there I built relationships on behalf of the party with the business community with a special focus on international trade and investment.
At Curzon, we started looking after arts and culture projects when I began to realise how important arts and culture was in society at large. It is often underfunded and overlooked so we offer a more accessible fee structure for arts and culture projects, which is indicative of how important we think their contribution is to society.
Curzon operates as a “boutique” agency but has a range of international clients. How are you able to satisfy clients across different markets while working as a boutique?
Our clients often seek London-based strategists with a global mindset. Because London is a world city and transcends national borders due to its diversity, many of our clients want a team that is located in London.
In order to service our clients effectively and efficiently, we have a global network of senior consultants that we work with on client projects. However, our international clients often come to us specifically for our core specialisms such as strategy and capacity building.
Whilst our delivery work often takes place within the UK on behalf of international clients, we are able to position our understanding of the intersection between global growth markets and developed markets, which allows us to work effectively in multiple regions as the communications issues of emerging markets are somewhat similar.
Are there any issues which working across a number of markets present?
Every time we work in a new market, there is a natural learning curve. However, as we have started to increasingly work in markets such as South Asia and the Middle East, we have built considerable insight, expertise, and relationships that have enabled us to bypass the learning curve.
Our clients often come to us in addition to other retained agencies in their local markets because we deliver strategic global insight to their communications instead of the siloed thinking that often operates in market-specific specialists.
How do you look to measure your PR output?
We always want our work to benefit our clients in tangible ways. We use KPIs and metrics to focus on outcomes rather than just outputs.
We often start client projects by aligning PR objectives with their organisational goals to ensure all objectives are smart and realistic.
Finally, how can PR agencies and practitioners have a better “diversity mindset”?
Brexit has become an eye-opener where we have seen a number of ‘remainers’ who were shocked by the referendum result when they saw many of their friends and contemporaries also voting remain.
Looking at the Brexit/Trump results on a map, it reflected schools of thought and political persuasion who were grouped geographically.
This has been compounded by social media algorithms which in turn, created echo chambers and which suggest content based upon existing preferences.
As a result, it is all too easy to become narrow-minded and intolerant of alternative viewpoints. It is important to champion diversity in race, gender, age, sexuality, political viewpoints, and educational background to encourage news consumption from media outlets which often give opposing viewpoints.
I try to read Russia Today, the state news of Iran as well as The Times, BBC and New York Times to get a 360 take on a geopolitical position on any given issue.