A business is not just about a vision but also about inculcating your values and experiences to form the core principles that make this world a better place through your own struggles !
Sumit Agarwal, our next pathbreaker, Motivational Speaker, Inclusion Rights Activist and Founder of PR Signal, runs a firm that handles PR specific activities for organizations through partnerships with major publications, influential blogs, and opinion leaders, to maximize client’s benefits in a cost effective way.
Sumit talks to Shyam Krishnamurthy from The Interview Portal about never ever backing down inspite of facing insurmountable odds in his endeavour to carve his niche in the professional world !
For students, always focus on the positives and ignore what is outside your control, because that is what hope is all about !
Sumit, tell us about Your background?
I remember not having many friends while growing up. Born prematurely at seven months, I was diagnosed with cerebral palsy, which significantly impacted my motor ability.
I would watch my classmates play during recess knowing I could never join them. Being ‘absurdly lonely’, I developed a love for books and learning, primarily due to my father’s encouragement by discussing various subjects at great length with me.
My mother was determined that I should compete confidently with my peers and fought to convince one of the best schools in Kolkata to give me admission. I remember being mocked and isolated by both my teachers and classmates, who would either taunt me or doubt my abilities to progress academically. But my mother refused to let me give up.
She quit her job as a successful lawyer to fight to keep me alive. I had four surgeries as a child and every time I went into the operation theatre, the doctor would tell her that I might not make it. She single-handedly braved every odd coming her way with very little support. She was determined to have me educated in the best schools that would fortify me emotionally and instill a confidence that would enable me to make the difference.
What did you do for graduation/post graduation?
After graduating with a bachelor of business administration degree from Techno India Saltlake, I joined ICFAI Business School in Kolkata for a Post Graduate Programme in Management where I got a 9.05 GPA. I then did a post-graduate diploma in mass communication from Jadavpur University where I graduated amongst the top of my class. I also achieved several certifications and degrees.
What made you choose such an offbeat, unconventional and unique career? Tell us about your career path
I grew up absurdly lonely, a product of cerebral palsy, 4 surgeries, 70 percent movement restriction, and two incredible parents – who never gave up on me even when they could. Growing up, I looked different, talked differently, walked differently and because of my condition – I was judged, mocked, laughed at, and I didn’t have a lot of people I could call friends. That’s where my obsession with people, and relationships, and what drove human beings, began. I spent many months in the hospital – and with death looming over my head every time I entered the operating table, I found comfort in the hospital staff and other patients around me and their company. Social interaction was limited, I had to work hard to move to be, and become “normal”. I understood why people do what they do, what matters to them when they’re inches away from death, and why, in the end, we’re all just striving to achieve our own individual definitions of “normal”. From there, honestly, PR was a natural transition. I define PR as dealing with the crucial dynamics of deeper connectivity with people across all sections of society. That’s what I did then — surrounded by people fighting death, struggling to outrun my loneliness, and isolation — that’s what I do now. I understand human beings behind a brand, create narratives, and then use my network to help them share why they do what they do, their struggle to find their definition of “normal”, and how they’re striving to make this world a better place through this struggle — their business, start-up, organization, and non-profit. Human connections, the bridges that they rest on, and their why, form a core principle for me and my company.
How did you get your first break?
Despite all my achievements, I was unable to find a job and no employer in Kolkata wanted to hire me because of my disability.
During interviews, people cared less about how good I was at the job, or the ideas I had, or my qualifications. From the moment they laid eyes on me, their perception about me was already created even before I could say a single word. It’s not entirely their fault; the corporate world needs more inclusion and role models to look up to with respect to the differently abled community.
Once I realised that people are just striving to achieve their own individual definitions of fitting in, PR became a natural course for my life.
Rather than wait for employment, I decided to start my own company and founded PR Signal, a public relations firm.
What were some of the challenges you faced? How did you address them?
I had to prove that I could do what anyone else could do, and my condition wasn’t a disability, so that someone else out there, facing the same situation, could hold on to hope. That they could do what I do, today, tomorrow, and just because you don’t fit into people’s definition of ‘normal’ doesn’t mean you’re bad at your job or less than someone else society would consider “normal”. Looking back, it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made.
Where do you work now? Tell us about PR Signal
I am a public relations entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and inclusion rights activist.
We study the ways in which companies build relationships with the public, to reinvent the dynamics of making it better or do necessary course corrections. We leverage our contacts with major publications, influential blogs, and opinion leaders who matter in public relations. We have, in our ambit of expertise, social media marketing and strategic magazine collaboration for special press coverage and brand communication support services to maximize client’s benefits, cost effectively.
In short we solve business challenges with insight, ingenuity, determination and teamwork
My agency has handled the publicity of various events including Digi-Ability 2018, TiECON 2018, Siege Art & Wine Carnival, Elite Conclave Launch Party, Inclov Social Spaces, Hair Pro Product Launch. We have also formulated advisory PR planning for NGOs such as Kalyani Life Institute, Shishur Sevay, and Artemis Fountain Foundation.
I am an advisor to and a member of several esteemed organisations in various capacities such as Rotary International, Newspapers Association of India (NAI), Public Relations Society of India (PRSI), International Human Rights Organisation (IHRO), and Rotary Means Business (RMB), among many others. My life has taught me that it is very important to give back to the community. When you help someone, it always finds its way back to you. Besides, these connections are necessary to engage in offline networking – which is a fundamental part of growing one’s business. Offline networking platforms can provide opportunities to form business connections that can help in the furtherance of one’s business. This helps grow the business, and also allows you to give back to the community at large. That’s also why I’m the founder of Indian Disabled Entrepreneurship Forum, a not-for-profit to further the cause of entrepreneurship in the disability sector – a cause close to my heart.
How does your work benefit society?
I define PR as dealing with the crucial dynamics of deeper connectivity with people across all sections of society. That’s what I did then — surrounded by people fighting death, struggling to outrun my loneliness and isolation. And that’s what I do now. I understand human beings behind a brand, create narratives, and then use my network to help them share why they do what they do, their struggle to find their definition of “normal”, and how they’re striving to make this world a better place through this struggle
Tell us an example of a specific memorable work you did that is very close to you!
“Shishur Sevay”, opened by Dr Michelle Harrison, was one of my first clients. At the care home, I met Ganga — a lively child. Because of the severity of her disability, she had been rejected by everyone except Dr Harrison. I helped the organisation to raise funds through an art and craft exhibition spanning over a length of three days. Today, Ganga and other girls at Shishur Sevay can communicate their thoughts and needs to their carers using the Tobii Eye Tracker, a device that tracks eye movements across words on a screen.
Your advice to students based on your experience?
My advice to other disabled people would be to concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well, and don’t regret the things it does interfere with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically.
The human spirit is one of ability, perseverance and courage, and no disability can steal that away. As Stephen Hawkins puts it – “My advice to other disabled people would be to concentrate on things your disability doesn’t prevent you from doing well, and don’t regret the things it does interfere with. Don’t be disabled in spirit as well as physically”.
Public relations nowadays has been completely revolutionized by the digital age and everything is much faster and more easily accessible. Over the past decade, with the evolution of technology, growth of the Internet, and the exponential rise in the use of social media, the world is literally at your fingertips at all times. We now get an instant transmission of live news and any matter can be broadcasted within seconds. With this instant access, it is important for brands to stay on top of every news and topic, to ensure an effective public relations strategy, at a moment’s notice. The digital age provides an easily accessible platform for brands to engage with their target audience, and easily rectify any errors or propagate any new ideas. This industry is no longer the simple, laid-back sector that it was – it is buzzing live, at every second.
Without a doubt, it’s only going to be more exciting moving forward.