Atul Sharma, Managing Director, Ruder Finn India talks about his 'First Job in PR'


What was you first job in PR like? What lessons do you remember from that time?

And who better to have this conversation with than Atul Sharma, managing director Ruder Finn and president, PRCAI. 

Let's dive straight into our twice monthly column, 'My First Job in PR'.

PRmoment India: What was your first job in PR?

Atul Sharma: My first job in PR, was with Clea Public Relations, also known as the world's best little communication consultancy. Armed with a degree in business economics, when I set out to find a job in 2000, the picture wasn’t rosy. By the end of two tiring weeks, I was spoilt for choice, between an ad firm, research house and a PR consultancy. Surprising the decision was rather simple, despite the fact that PR industry was at its nascent stage compared to advertising and research. The then Delhi head of Clea PR, Nikhil Dey (executive director, Adfactors now) came across as a person who would be genuinely interested in my professional growth. And I wasn’t wrong, I learnt a lot from him, not only about PR, but also about people management, new business development, storytelling and the art of finding joy in small details.

Atul with his mentors Nikhil Dey and Prema Sagar

PRmoment India: What did you do with your first salary and how much was it?

Atul Sharma: I don’t know if I was short changed but if my memory serves me correctly, it was around Rs 6,000. I thought a lot about what could I do with it, but then finally like an adarsh Indian beta, I handed the money to my mother, who like every Indian mother returned it to me and told me to spend it on myself. So no sacrifices were made, but yes, I did buy her a nice saree.

PRmoment India: One lesson from your first job you still carry?

Atul Sharma: The biggest lesson that I carry with me is that you need to look inwards, and not find reasons to blame for failing. Your career progression will be dependent on how self-aware you are, how invested you are in your growth.

Introspection holds the key, and more often than not, you will always have the answers to your questions. Did I learn something new this week? Did I do something different? Did I try something extraordinary or go into spaces that would otherwise make me uncomfortable? Can I do something to change things that I don’t like? These parameters aren’t limited to work, it extends into interpersonal relationships, culture, teamwork.

Over the course of last two decades, I’ve worked with all kinds of people, environments, managers, teams, clients, media, partners and peers. That’s where I learnt that an individual contributor goes only so far, but if you learn how to work with all kinds of people, it’ll go a long way in your career growth and development. 

The public relations industry is brimming with the best of people, clients, culture. Learn how to work with people and invest in yourself and always have a spot on the learning curve. Knowledge is power, it will never go waste.

PRmoment India:Your biggest dream then?

Atul Sharma: At that time Public Relations wasn’t perceived as an attractive professional choice, most of us landed in this profession by accident, and I am glad I did. PR for sure needed some PR for itself. Like any other aspirant out of college, the idea was to get some diverse experience, delving into advertising, research, branding, and eventually have enough knowledge and skills to become an ace marketeer. Whilst working in my first job, I realised that the industry wasn’t invested in building its own reputation and image, despite growing at a furious pace. 

We were able to attract talent but it wasn’t the best of it. That’s when I sensed an opportunity, around the same time global agencies started coming down to India, some setting their own operations, some buying out Indian firms, changing the public relations landscape in India for good.

In addition to this, throughout my journey I had fabulous mentors—right from Nikhil Dey, Rajesh Lalwani, Pradeep Wadhwa to Prema Sagar, I am super thankful to each one of them.

5. One PR tool you remember from then?

Public relations of yester years focussed on one fundamental aspect—the media. By that virtue, earned media was the beginning and end of it all. This meant one had to be close to the movers and shakers who were thick in the middle of action. Through media rounds, one made new friends, connections and the real time touch and feel, made even acquaintances, friends for life. 

A cup of coffee gave you a glimpse into the life and thought process of an individual. In a matter of time, coffees became lunches and dinners and relationships were not only built but nurtured over the years. In fact some of my closest aides—both professional and personal –are business contacts and professionals who I’ve met on several of these meetings. Through the last two rather difficult years with Covid, that sense of touch and feel has diminished.

 As for a comms tools, I miss the fax machine, it is pretty difficult to believe today that the communications and media world ran on that machine. The entire process of sending and following up with journalists, faxing press releases, ensuring they’ve been received, constant follow-ups. 

Now the news cycle has drastically shifted to the ever-evolving social media and emails. Fax machines have become vintage collectibles.