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Entrepreneur Sumit Agarwal overcame cerebral palsy challenges to open his own Public Relations firm

By 2020, the PR industry is supposed to reach a turnover of up to 2,000 crores.

Published: Mar 4, 2020 11:21:26 AM IST
Updated: Mar 5, 2020 11:56:16 AM IST

Entrepreneur Sumit Agarwal overcame cerebral palsy challenges to open his own Public Relations firm
Q: What inspired you to open your own Public Relations Company?

Sumit Agarwal: I grew up absurdly lonely, a product of cerebral palsy, 4 surgeries, 70 percent movement restriction, and two incredible parents – who never gave up on me even when they could. Growing up, I looked different, talked different, walked different and because of my condition – I was judged, mocked, laughed at, and I didn’t have a lot of people I could call friends. That’s where my obsession with people, and relationships, and what drove human beings, began. I spent many months in the hospital – and with death looming over my head every time I entered the operating table, I found comfort in the hospital staff and other patients around me and their company. Social interaction limited, I had to work hard to move to be, and become “normal”. I understood why people do what they do, what matters to them when they’re inches away from death, and why, in the end, we’re all just striving to achieve our own individual definitions of “normal”. From there, honestly, PR was a natural transition. I define PR as dealing with the crucial dynamics of deeper connectivity with people across all sections of society. That’s what I did then -- surrounded by people fighting death, struggling to outrun my loneliness, and isolation -- that’s what I do now. I understand human beings behind a brand, create narratives, and then use my network to help them share why they do what they do, their struggle to find their definition of “normal”, and how they’re striving to make this world a better place through this struggle -- their business, start-up, organization, and non-profit. Human connection, the bridges that they rest on, and their why, a core principle for me and my company.

Q:Inspite of facing various physical challenges, why did you decide to open your own company rather than going for a job?

Sumit Agarwal:It’s funny, but, I did sit for jobs. But, sadly, during the interviews, people cared less about how good I was at the job, or the ideas I had, or my qualifications. From the moment they laid eyes on me, their perception about me was already created, even before I could say a single word. It’s not entirely their fault either, the corporate world needs more inclusion and role models to look up to with respect to the differently abled community. That’s when I decided to open my own public relations company. The idea was, I had to prove that I could do what anyone else could do, and my condition wasn’t a disability -- so that someone else out there, facing the same, could hold on to hope. That they could do what I do, today, tomorrow, and just because you don’t fit into people’s definition of normal, doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job or any less than someone else society would consider “normal”. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve taken.

Q: Would you consider yourself as a role model for other differently abled persons attempting to enter the employment sector?

Sumit Agarwal: Growing up, my mother quit her job as a distinguished lawyer, to fight to keep me alive. My parents made incredible sacrifices for me even when they could have just chosen not to. Each time, I’d enter the operating room, the doctor would tell my mother I might not make it. Each and every single time, my mother would stay up many many nights, crying desperate tears with no support in sight. That’s why this isn’t about me. This is for brave parents like mine, with children like me. Through my story, my company, the success we’ve had, I want to reach them. Reach them -- show them, tell them, and promise them that it’s possible. You don’t have to give up, people like us can strive to be better than we’re supposedly destined to be. If I reach even one, and my story helps them to hold on to hope, to fight, to not give up on their child, son, or daughter, I’d know my time here, was worth it. My journey here, was worth it.

Q: You mentioned that you are associated with various organisations. How does that tie into your Public Relations work?

Sumit Agarwal: I am an advisor to and a member of several esteemed organisations in various capacities such as Rotary International, Newspapers Association of India (NAI), Public Relations Society of India (PRSI), International Human Rights Organisation (IHRO), and Rotary Means Business (RMB), among many others. My life has taught me that it is very important to give back to the community. When you help someone, it always finds its way back to you. Besides, these connections are necessary to engage in offline networking – which is a fundamental part of growing one’s business. Offline networking platforms can provide opportunities to form business connections that can help in the furtherance of one’s business. This helps grow the business, and also allows you to give back to the community at large. That’s also why I’m the founder of Indian Disabled Entrepreneurship Forum, a not-for-profit to further the cause of entrepreneurship in the disability sector – a cause close to my heart.

Q: What is the scenario and future of Public Relations in India?

Sumit Agarwal:By 2020, the PR industry is supposed to reach a turnover of up to 2,000 crores. Right now if you look at the Indian scenario, the number of people working in the PR industry is slated to grow exponentially as a lot of young people are now joining the Media and Public Relations sector – especially the younger generation as they realize the growing need for this field. However, the platforms of digital PR and data-driven PR is more prominent and effective outside India, and people here still need to hone those techniques and learn how to work with them. Second, there’s still a lot of scope for awareness as to what public relations really is. Many businesses still naively believe that PR is just a series of media features. That’s not true -- never was, and never will be. Public relations should be tied directly to the return on investment. For example, I could feature someone in any newspaper they’d want, but, would it get them clients? So, PR needs to be data driven, and ROI driven, and this change needs to start at the client level to be trickled down to the whole industry.

Q: How would you say Public Relations has evolved with respect to the digital age?

Sumit Agarwal: Public relations nowadays has been completely revolutionized by the digital age and everything is much faster and more easily accessible. Over the past decade, with the evolution of technology, growth of the Internet, and the exponential rise in the use of social media, the world is literally at your fingertips at all times. We now get an instant transmission of live news and any matter can be broadcasted within seconds. With this instant access, it is important for brands to stay on top of every news and topic, to ensure its effective public relations strategy, at a moment’s notice. The digital age provides an easily accessible platform for brands to engage with their target audience, and easily rectify any errors or propagate any new ideas. This industry is no longer the simple, laid-back sector that it was – it is buzzing live, at every second. Without a doubt, it’s only going to be more exciting moving forward.

Q: What factors differentiate your company from others in the industry?

Sumit Agarwal: I cannot speak for others in the industry, but we treat all types of clients – including start-ups, non-profit organisations, individuals and corporates with the same level of respect. Every client is equal in our eyes and the amount of work and respect that is required, is always kept at a constant level. We ensure that the quality of our services do not vary with the budget of our client. We also keep a low-pricing policy for start-ups and non-profit organisations, to ensure budget-friendly options for client satisfaction. I’m proud of the PR Signal team and all that we’ve built, together. Our core USP would likely be – we are ROI and data driven, rather than feature driven which I’ve observed a lot of public relations companies do.

Q: I have noticed the very catchy PR Signal logo. What inspired it?

Sumit Agarwal:The PR Signal catch-line is ‘Bridging Relationships’. In my opinion, that is exactly what public relations are about – human connection, relationships, and the bridges they rest on. Public relations tools are merely subtle prompters towards a particular connection, person or product, thus forming a meaningful experience that the person would remember. These relationships are not only within two persons, but also within a person and every aspect of life, and this exact thought was behind its inspiration.

Disclaimer: The views, suggestions and opinions expressed here are the sole responsibility of the experts. No Forbes India journalist was involved in the writing and production of this article.

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  • Geetika

    Fabulous to read the story. I\'m sure...I\'m one of many who will get inspired by this. Will be a delight to meet you sometime. Looking forward. Warm Regards

    on Mar 10, 2020