I recently shared a cup of tea with Reesha Rajani, Group Commercial Director at Golin & Virgo Health, to hear her thoughts on commercial finance within PR & discuss her career to date. Reesha is a CIMA qualfiied accountant and BME PR Pro Mentor with over 20 years’ experience in the industry, and has worked with clients such as Unilever, Mondelez, EE, AB InBev and Adobe.
Can you tell me a little bit about your career to date?
After leaving university with an economics degree I was looking for a finance training contract, but knew that I didn’t want to work in an accounting practice. My search seemed to naturally gravitate toward creative companies, and that’s when I landed a role with a study scheme at an Interpublic (IPG) agency. It felt right straightaway, and that was 20 years ago! I’ve been with the group ever since.
What I’ve been able to do is make the most of working across different agencies within the group, not just PR but also Branding agencies. In that 20 years I’ve worked my way up from a junior accounts assistant to Finance Director.
I currently work for Golin UK and Virgo Health, which are the PR agencies within the Group, as their Group Commercial Director. I work with agencies to ensure they are fairly and equitably paid by new and existing clients, help to drive revenue growth and to operate a viable and sustainable business to invest in and attract the best talent. I also support the agencies’ new business tendering process from start to finish, making sure we are able to qualify for tender from a compliance, contractual and commercial point of view. I also take part in negotiations to help seal the deal.
You transitioned from a Finance Director role to Commercial Director role. What have you found to be the key differentiators within each position?
When I was working as a Finance Director for Golin or Futurebrand before that, a large chunk of my time was already spent on the commercials. So I felt that actually, the FD role was quite broad and I was being pulled in all sorts of directions.
On returning to work after my second maternity leave, Golin had grown significantly and it was clear that the commercials and financial reporting were too much of a responsibility for one person. The Commercial Director role was created for me to just focus on the commercials, which worked perfectly for my new part-time hours. The role is typically seen in other media businesses, but this was a first in our group. I feel very honoured that they were able to do that.
What is it that you enjoy most about your current role?
No two days are the same, there is no typical day! The type of work I do is very much project based, and in most instances you never know what’s round the corner. This means that I end up engaging with people from all sorts of backgrounds and disciplines inside and outside of the Group – that’s one of the aspects I truly enjoy. That, and actually seeing the campaigns that I’ve partnered on, come to life. Seeing the tangible outcome of the campaign, the activation or event is something I take real pleasure in.
Are you still working part-time?
Yes, I deliver the Commercial Director role on a 3-days per week basis. It’s interesting because clearly clients don’t work on a 3-day week. Deadlines do hit on a Monday or a Friday, and sometimes I’ll be sorting out a talent deal with an A-lister based in LA on a Saturday night. It is a real juggling act, but with all the other positives and plusses in the role, it’s something I don’t mind because I know it’s helping to deliver real value to the agency and the client.
What do you make of the marcomms sector currently?
The last 20 years has taught me that the industry never stays still. Specifically for PR, the sector I know best within marcomms, the nature of it has changed, and agencies have had to adapt, evolve and reposition themselves in the face of increasing competition whether as generalists or specialists.
With that, agencies and holding companies have had to come up with different operating models to deliver services to fit client’s needs.
Getting under the skin of each client brief to find the right structure to meet those requirements in the smartest way, has been the biggest challenge. I think the way we’ve got there, particularly in my agency, is by working in an open and transparent way. It’s all about being real. Ethics is also a hot topic in PR at the moment, and I was proud of my contribution to Golin winning this year’s inaugural PRCA Ethical Champions award (large agency category). It truly is a reflection of our business practices, and highlights the progress we are making in moving away from the old school perception of the industry. Ethical business is becoming increasingly important for talent and for clients. You want the best people to work for you, and you want for them to work on campaigns that they feel proud of.
What do you see as the main challenges for PR for the future?
In a saturated market we need to make sure we’re making our USP clear, and that we are fairly and equitably remunerated by new and existing clients to continue to help drive revenue growth, that we are able to operate a viable and sustainable business model so that we can invest in and attract the best talent. We need to make sure clients understand that we are partners, extensions of their internal team. We are here to add value and we are not a commodity.
Some clients are more advanced than others in their understanding of the need for agencies to run sustainable business models. But ultimately procurement are there to drive savings for their businesses. There has to be a balance between driving those savings and finding an agency who can deliver the right quality. I think that’s where the main challenge is, on one side you’ve got ever more demanding clients, on the other side are agencies with escalating costs and it’s understanding the breaking point. At what point does servicing a particular client become unsustainable? That’s the real challenge.
How do you view the role of commercial finance within marcomms currently? And in the future?
I’d say commercial finance has an ever increasing importance. It’s a recognised specialism, a skill set that sits between finance, operations, business affairs, the client teams and the client itself. If you can imagine a venn diagram, we are somewhere in the middle like the eye of a storm.
One of the reasons this specialism has come into its own is that marketing procurement has come in to its own in parallel. The marketing procurement specialists that sit in that space understand what is on offer. That marketing is beyond that of a commodity and that the right agency or group will add value. They are savvier and are working more closely with agencies and holding companies.
Due to the increasing power of procurement in decision making, agencies have recognised that they need someone agency side to support that element of the client’s partner selection process. With that comes building relationships with marketing procurement, fostering trust with transparent upfront dialogue, engaging with them, understanding the clients’ objectives and how their procurement teams works. On the flipside, we need to help them understand the value we can add.
What is it that you look for when hiring for your team?
If I did need to hire, there are a lot of criteria that I’d be looking for. A down to earth personality, adaptability, entrepreneurship, energy, quick thinking and problem solving and you need to understand how the business itself hangs together.
You need to be ready to work with all different type of personalities and skill sets client side and within agencies. You need to be willing to hone your negotiation skills and I’d be looking for someone who is constantly learning, staying up to date on trends and latest developments, keeping up to date on what is going on in the industry. You need to know the latest trends in operating models within the industry, and how we can build the best structure to deliver services to our clients.
Finally, what advice would you give to someone who wants to get into commercial accounting within marcomms?
If you are someone coming from a finance background, think of commercial finance as an extension of that. Think about the transferrable skills you gained from working in finance. Understand who the big players are, the challengers, the movers and the shakers. Understand who is leading in the procurement industry and what the main developments are there as that will directly impact you, particularly if you work on larger clients.
You’ve got to also have a passion for the industry. If you’re trying to strike the best deals with clients, you’ve got to believe in the work that the agency and industry is doing. You’re going to become very embedded in the business and organisation so you’ve got to love it, you’ve got to love seeing the impact materialise.
Golin and Virgo Health are global multi-award winning PR Agencies, part of the IPG family. Recent awards include Golin’s PRWeek’s Global Agency of the Year and PRCA’s Ethical Champions (Very Large Agency Category).
Interpublic Group (NYSE:IPG) is a global provider of marketing solutions with 54,000 employees in all major world markets, specialising in advertising, digital marketing, communications planning, media, public relations and specialty marketing.