Please tell us about yourself. How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
Suhasini Mitra, the Media Relations Head and Athlete Manager at PlayRight Consulting Pvt. Ltd. hangs out with the likes of Olympic medalist Sakshi Malik, footballer Sunil Chhetri and the U Mumba team as a part of her job! We caught up with the super woman for an exclusive interview on the sidelines of the Pro Kabaddi League, where she is working with the Haryana Steelers.
When I was at Commits, I wanted nothing more than to become a sports journalist. All my efforts were dedicated to writing about sport, be it in the college newspaper, in my class assignments, or in my news bulletin story for which I got an exclusive with former badminton ace Prakash Padukone (yes, Deepika Padukone’s father)!
But as life would have it, I ended up becoming a sports publicist — not that I am complaining, oh no!
So what does it mean to be a sports publicist?
To put it in the simplest terms, I get athletes and sporting brands and organisations to feature in the various forms of media: print, online, and electronic. I am a storyteller for my clients and my aim is to get them out there.
It all looks easy when you handle athletes like Olympic bronze medallist Sakshi Malik, javelin world-record holder Neeraj Chopra, South African cricket star AB de Villiers, but some days that involve 16 hours of back-breaking work are tough.
It is the challenges, though, that keep me going every day. During these four years at PlayRight, even when I have worked months without weekends, there hasn’t been a single day when I have woken up and gone, “Ugh, office again.” Honestly for me it is a case of doing what I love and loving what I do.
What did you study?
I did my Bachelor’s (English Literature) from University of Calcutta and Masters (MA) in AudioVisual Communication from Commits, Bangalore (Convergence Institute of Media, Management and Information Technology Studies).
Tell us about your journey
Let me take you to a time when I was among the last of my classmates to get a job. That was a difficult period for me, as you can imagine, but I had made up my mind to become a sports journalist, and I was willing to compromise on my dreams only if I got to stay in sport. I went to 18 job interviews, got rejected by 11 — some because I have a severe stuttering problem and some because I just wasn’t lucky enough, I guess. But mostly it all happened for the best. They say it’s always darkest before the dawn. So true. Just as I was about to give up and go home, PlayRight came along.
PlayRight built me up, day by day, piece by piece, and call by call. My boss, Nayantara Pani, told me to look beyond the stammer and get things done by talking. Today I am happy I took the advice because not only have I worked with some of the biggest names in the country, but sports journalists across the country know my name. My personal relationships often govern how many of my stories get picked up. Of course, forging these relationships has taken a lot of effort and almost two years. Being on call till 11 p.m., assisting journalists and clients in ways that went beyond what my role required, taking their feedback in the right spirit — these are a few things that helped me get it right.
How does the job role of a PR professional in sports differ from that of other verticals?
When it comes to sport – you need to be a little more passionate because your audience is mostly made of passionate fans and you need to respect that. Also, there is a dearth of quality content in sport and that’s where you need publicists to come in to channel it in the right direction.
One of the challenges has been to be a women in a very male dominated field. For the last year or so I have been extensively working in and around Haryana and needless to say it’s been a task. But you need to have a lot of patience to be a publicist because ultimately that’s the only deciding factor when it comes to planning and execution.
Passion. Apart from that we need to understand it’s not all about the glamour, there are unending hours of desk work behind it. So while Sports PR may have a lot more scope for field work, there is ample amount of desk work as well. The only perk involved is that you get to work during/ watch live sport.
Could you describe your experience of working with teams like Bengaluru FC, Haryana Steelers, etc?
It’s been an absolute journey. We have been involved with both and most of our clients since their inception and every bit of work we do for them stems out of the love and respect we have for the staff, the players and the management. All the players have become like a family and when you work for family and people who mean that much to you – the result is undoubtedly better.
What is the source of job satisfaction that comes your way being in this vertical which is so demanding and fast paced at times?
I have been on the road for 2.5 months now and I had packed for only 3 days -while it may sound hectic, when I count the stories I have done against the boarding passes I have, the satisfaction cannot be put into words. I always loved sports but because of certain reasons I could not pursue it as a career and doing what I do takes me closest to that love. I don’t really mind the hours or the travel because the passion for my work surpasses it all.
What is the way forward in this industry? In terms of, opportunities of growth or any area that needs more professional requirements, etc?
We need to understand the need for specialized PR skills for sport. Unless we understand that, we cannot position athletes in a manner akin to FMCG goods using the same techniques- thus developing professionals with these niche skills should be the roadmap for this industry
Your advice to students?
Finally, if you are thinking of becoming a publicist, forget the glamour involved — that is a very small part of my job. Envision a future for your client, believe you can get there, and be prepared to give it your all. At times, go beyond the “all”. Remember a story well told is always a memory embossed.