The ever-changing world of marketing has everyone navigating the world of PR and communications with a magnifying glass. It seems the norm to wonder what your brand needs most or to face crossroads that leave flummoxed. PR used to be all about media relations. Today, it’s a hand-in-hand mix of media outreach, marketing, and collaborations. While the key is to focus on a multi-pronged approach, no one knows it better than Gauri & Reyna Jagtiani of Twain Communications.
In conversation with TC46, Gauri & Reyna share the basic building blocks of their enterprise, recognising the benefits of bootstrapping and how important it is for communication agencies to widen their client base.
1. What’s your educational and professional background?
“I’ve been in the luxury lifestyle and hospitality PR industry for almost two decades. We launched Twain Communications, a full-service PR, Marketing & Communications firm, in July 2014. Prior to this, I spent four years as the Director of Communications for The Oberoi Group in Mumbai. I began my career with a leading travel PR firm in Manhattan, working on clients like the Waldorf Astoria, Mandarin Oriental, MGM Grand, Relais et Châteaux, and many more. I went to Cathedral & John Connon School in Mumbai until Grade 12, following which I moved to the United States, where I completed my undergraduate degree from Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.”, says Gauri.
Reyna states, “I previously worked with PR giant Edelman, in both their New York and Mumbai offices, working as lead liaison with Edelman International on IPs and Processes for the Mumbai office. During this time, I spearheaded Edelman’s India Trend Forecast Report in the Consumer/Lifestyle verticals. I also worked independently on a project for Soho House Mumbai, prior to their launch. I went to Cathedral & John Connon School till the 9th grade, and then moved to the Kodaikanal International School. I completed my Bachelor of Arts from Denison University in Ohio.”.
2. What prompted the idea for Twain Communications?
Gauri explains, “It was actually a pretty serendipitous moment that led us to form Twain. I was working at the Oberoi and beginning to think of the next big thing in my career. I was introduced to Reyna by a common friend, who said she was looking for a new job herself and wanted to meet to see if I could suggest any potential leads to her.”.
“We met for a coffee, and instantly clicked. We both knew that we wanted to do something in the Communications space, and committed to possibly starting something together in the New Year, which was about 7 months away at the time. However, once Gauri officially left the Oberoi, we began freelancing on some projects together. The response was so great, and the immediate enquiries from potential clients and brands started coming in so quickly, that we realised we couldn’t wait 7 months to get started. That’s how Twain Communications was born, 7 years ago”, Reyna chimes in.
3. Did you always know you wanted to work in this space?
“No!”, says Gauri, “I always thought I would go into publishing. I had done a summer course in publishing at New York University and even received a job offer from a very prestigious publishing house, for their New York office. However, visa restrictions didn’t allow me to take the job. My roommate in New York at the time was in the PR space and suggested I look at similar opportunities. I applied to the firm that I ended up spending four years at, on a whim, and then fell in love with hospitality and lifestyle PR”.
Reyna didn’t either. She says, “I would have wanted to be a lawyer if I hadn’t ended up in PR. What I do love about this space, however, is the creativity and the brainstorming that I get to do on a daily basis. Helping brands find their most authentic voice, and developing brand stories is something I really love doing. Also, the client relationships that we end up developing feel more like family than formal. It makes showing up at work each day a real pleasure.”.
4. What was your first milestone and how did you get there?
Every company is bound to have many firsts – like your first set of business cards, your first office space, your first signed client contract, and so many more. We consider each step in our journey at Twain to be a milestone, as each one has contributed to our growth. We wouldn’t have been seven years strong if it hadn’t been for each success – be it big or small – that has paved the way. Hard work, passion, dedication, teamwork, and sometimes just simply showing up, have all contributed to our journey so far.
5. What are your tips for someone who wants to start their own PR agency?
Gauri states, “First, identify your niche. Know what you love and what you think you will be – or are – good at. When we started out, we tried our hand at everything, however, we kept coming back to clients in the lifestyle space, as that’s what we know best, and love the most. If you feel strongly about a certain industry, it’s almost granted that you will do your best work for clients in that field.”.
“Also, it’s important to identify whether you want to go down this road alone, or with a business partner. It depends entirely on your personality type – do you work better solo, or in tandem with someone? Identifying this, right at the get-go, will be crucial to your success. It’s also very important to be aligned – either internally or with a partner – on the vision you have for your company. Do you want to grow into an empire? Do you prefer to remain a boutique? Spend some time identifying your company’s vision and create a clear roadmap for how you plan to chart your course. It will be of great help, especially in times of business uncertainty, of which there will be a lot!”, adds Reyna.
6. What were the 3 best business/financial decisions you made?
“We learnt pretty quickly that launching an agency could be a mostly low-cost initiative. Our main expenditure is on our team members and the overheads of running an office space. However, the pandemic has taught us that working from home or from flexible spaces is eminently doable. The future of Twain may well be working from our homes and spending that time that we would have otherwise used commuting, on learning how to constantly better our remote working skills, for ourselves and as a team.
Another decision we made that has proven to be very effective is spending time on our accounting and other housekeeping processes. It sounds like a real bore, but choosing the right accounting firm and knowing your own business in-depth (even if numbers don’t come naturally to you) is invaluable. It puts you in a place from which you will be able to confidently make business decisions and do what’s best for your company’s growth. Don’t forget to build this foundation right from the get-go, as it’s really the base from which all your growth will come”, explains Gauri.
Reyna sums it up well with, “We also learnt that having a large team doesn’t always mean it’s a more productive team. We’ve had several ‘purges,’ if you will, over the years, where team members have left. At the start, it was always a bit disconcerting, however, we’ve come to realise that being leaner makes us more efficient and focused than having a more sprawling team that requires all the more supervision. This has also been better for our bottom line, of course. Trimming the fat is something we’d recommend all agencies to do, periodically.”.
7. How does one acquire the big, prestigious accounts in this space?
Gauri shares her advice, “It’s a combination of having strong personal and professional networks, and growing a credible, word-of-mouth reputation. When we started out, we were lucky to have friends as clients – the trust factor was already there, and we were on the same wavelength as far as how they wanted to position their brands were concerned, and how we wanted to take them to market. As we grew, the backing and recommendations of our friends-turned-clients proved to be invaluable. We remain grateful to them to date, as they played an integral role in helping us get off the ground.”.
“What is also very important, beyond the very hard work of course (!), is building your own PR, for yourselves and for your agency. You need to ensure that you’re always in front of the right audiences – it takes time and effort, but put yourself out there, let your work shine, and do the talking for you. Ensure that your LinkedIn profile is always updated, your Instagram page reflects the kind of work you do, and your web site, if you have one, holds the relevant details that a potential client would need. The PR space is all about first impressions – ensure you make a good one”, Reyna says.
8. Are you looking for funding/have-acquired investment/intend to bootstrap your business?
While we aren’t actively looking for funding, we do recognise the benefits of bootstrapping the business, by way of the kinds of new opportunities this would afford us, to grow further. We are very committed to developing a high-quality team and to expanding into new cities and markets, all of which could be aided by the right kind of funding. However, this is currently a thought for the future – we feel good about how we have grown the company so far, and the tasks we have at hand, to steadily continue on this trajectory.
9. What’s a great place to meet new clients and network for a PR agency?
“Pre-Covid, attending industry events was always a great way to network. This meant restaurant openings, fashion shows, book launches, art galleries and much more – for us, all within the lifestyle space. With time though, the number of events we could attend began to decline, due to personal and family commitments. And then of course with the lockdown, actual face-to-face interactions became impossible. We decided instead to spend our time remaining as prompt as possible to media requests, and to proactively reaching out to media, past and present clients, and potential others within our wider networks, to keep Twain top of mind”, Gauri states.
Reyna shares some invaluable insight, “This is why our personal networks continue to be such a valuable resource. We are lucky to have friends – and friends of friends – who run young, thriving businesses, or are keen to partner with an agency of a similar mindset. We also really appreciate the kind of client who respects what we do and gives us the space to make decisions as the communications experts. Those are the type of agency-client relationships that really work the best.”.
10. How do you intend to expand your portfolio/services in the next 5 years?
Like most businesses the world over, Twain has also had to learn how to ‘pivot’ during this extraordinary period of the pandemic. We’ve always been personally interested in the space of wellness, health and fitness, and we find that these are areas where potential new clients now exist, more than ever before. With people becoming more conscious about their holistic health, we think there will be greater opportunities to work with clients in the wellness space, something which we are excited about.
We’ve worked with international brands looking for India representation in the past, and we’re planning on widening that client base, this year and moving forward. Over the years, we have also seen how traditional PR has declined – the kind of buzz-building and exposure for brands that PR once provided is now fast being replaced by marketing. We’ve already integrated marketing into our core competency for clients, and plan to further develop that offering, as we progress and grow.
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