Romana Shah

We caught up with TBF alumni Romana Shah to ask her to share with us her journey from PR Trainee to where she is now - Account Manager at Fieldhouse Associates.

Where did you go to university? What did you study? When did you graduate?
It feels like another lifetime - I graduated back in 2015. For both my Undergraduate and Masters I studied at Sheffield Hallam University. I studied English Language but wanted to learn more about what PR is as a career choice and decided to study a masters in PR & Communications.

What did you do afterwards?
During my Masters, my dissertation tutor was asking me about my career plans and I said I would like to work in London but spoke about my concerns in being able to burst into the London bubble. She mentioned that a previous student of hers went on to the Taylor Bennett Foundation programme and that I should look into it. It kind of went on from there...

Did you always know you wanted to work in PR?
Throughout the years my dream career has changed. A lot of it is based on the tv series I have been watching at the time. So from watching The Bill, I was hooked on wanting to become a police officer/ detective.  My passion for expressing myself through fashion and having watched Ugly Betty I wanted to become a fashion journalist..

In all honesty, I didn’t know what PR was. It was only when I was reading a book where the main character worked in PR that this prompted me to look more into it as a career choice. I realised this is a bit of me!

How did you hear about the Taylor Bennett Foundation (TBF)?
It was from my dissertation tutor during my Masters back in 2015.

What year did you take part in our programme? Who was it sponsored by?
I was on the 2015 Finsbury programme so largely steered toward financial PR. However, during the 10-week course, we visited consumer PR agencies and companies which specialised in Public Affairs.

What was the highlight of your time on the TBF programme?
My highlight on the course was the close bond I made with my fellow trainees who I am still in contact with today. Heather McGregor who founded the programme is a big advocate for networking and I feel being a part of a close-knit team ,who have then gone on to do their own amazing things in PR was the start of my web of connections in the industry. It’s great because you have a ready-made network of alumni who you can lean on for advice and guidance.

The Taylor Bennett Foundation has a special place in my heart because it was the first chapter of my life in London. It is coming up to 4 years and I don’t know where the time has gone! The Taylor Bennett Foundation really opened my eyes that PR went beyond the glamour and schmoozing portrayed in shows such as Absolutely Fabulous and Sex and the City. Public relations goes beyond fashion and celebrities; it can be used to raise the profile of anything from a man and his dog to a big conglomerate worth billions!

Were you able to put into practice what you learnt on the PR Training programme?
I think compared to other Junior Account Executives at the start of their career, what I learnt on the Taylor Bennett Foundation was really valuable. Whilst my Masters was useful on the theoretical side of PR & Communications, the TBF Programme gave me a glimpse into what the day-to-day working of a PR professional is. It’s only a 10-week programme, but I feel the way it has been designed, it squeezes a lot into a short amount of time which can be further nurtured at work.

Tell me about your current role.
I am an Account Manager at FieldHouse Associates which is a PR agency working with several fast-growth technology companies, VCs, corporate innovation arms and accelerators.

Alongside all of this we're also involved in initiatives like The Silicon Valley Comes to the UK, Global Corporate Venturing Symposium, Investor Allstars, The Europas and Founders for Schools.

What really excites you about your role? 
I love pitching to the press, especially broadcast because nothing is more satisfying than getting the green light from a journalist to have your client on their show or featured in their story. The level of creativity involved e.g. knowing what's on the news agenda and what is happening down the track, understanding what added value and credentials your client has to add weight to the story and getting in touch with the right people!

FHA is always about the power of networks. The reason I went into PR is because I don’t shy away from speaking to anyone and everyone. In fact, I enjoy it! I love the fact that I have the freedom to go out and meet new people, whether that is journalists, investors or entrepreneurs to increase my knowledge of the industry and embed myself within the entrepreneurial ecosystem.  Working on accounts like Silicon Valley Comes to the UK (SVC2UK) and the International Women's Day event is really exciting because I get to expand my knowledge on topics I enjoy - such as women in tech, Artificial Intelligence & ethics and the latest tech trends shaping industries - but also meet really inspiring people.

I recently came across a tech community for Muslims called Muslamic Makers in a Sifted article which I have now joined and I am really keen to offer my expertise to the community but also learn from others and expand my network.

Are there any challenges? If so, how do you combat them?
I am beginning to build a specialism in cybersecurity which is really exciting as I like the idea of becoming an expert in a particular field. Based on the nature of cyberattacks, along with more forward-looking planned PR activity, a lot of the day-to-day stuff is being prepared for breaking news which myself and my team need to jump on. It can be challenging in the sense that you can plan to work on one client and this can just steer you off course. I feel having a to-do-list which you are not wedded to that separates activity by days can make things seem less overwhelming.

What advice would you give to someone just starting out in the industry?
I would say that as scary as it is, really get to grips with pitching journalists on the phone early on. The longer you avoid it you can end up falling into the trap of just sending out mass emails which do not help if you want to build relationships and contacts in the media.

Do not be scared to ask journalists for coffees’ even if you do not have a story. I have had a lot of good responses from journalists just asking them for a coffee once they start their new role. It’s a good way to build exposure and knowledge which you can share with your team -  trust me it will get you noticed!

There are 3 basic things you need to know without fail:

  • Know your client, their messaging, their objectives and any sensitives.
  • Know the industry landscape which your client operates in so you can flag up comment opportunities for your client to be positioned as industry experts. Trends reports from analysts, research houses, think tanks and consultancies are really detailed as they plough a huge amount of money into them ,so really valuable sources to read.
  • Know the media landscape: different publications, tv and radio shows, sections in those publications, times of shows, right journalists to contact

What do you think the industry can do to encourage more diversity?
I think what is needed are more programmes like Taylor Bennett Foundations which are not just providing lip service to the diversity debate, but actively trying to bring more people at a junior level to grow from the ground up that are of ethnic background in PR.

I do believe agencies are waking up to the commercial benefits of a diverse workforce. For example, according to a report by Deloitte when employees ‘think their organisation is committed to and supportive of diversity, and they feel included’, their ability to innovate increases by 83%. Having native speakers from different regions and cultural backgrounds who understand the landscape and language will make PR activity more authentic and resonate with audiences of different markets. Having said this, it’s important to not use diversity as a check-list exercise, employees need to feel welcomed and valued for their contribution.