Meet the SHEROES - Valerie Pinto

Published on 15 Sep 2015 . 7 min read

Valerie Pinto, the current CEO of PR firm Weber Shandwick, India speaks to us about how she entered the field of Public Relations and what it takes to get to the top. Read on for some interesting insights,

Tell us a little about yourself. Especially how and why you ventured into the field of Public Relations.

My life work journey started at a very early age. I lost my dad when I was two and my sister, my mum and I had to really get into action very quickly to sustain and manage the house. My sister being the eldest took major responsibilities along with my mum and before I knew it I had to support the family as soon as I could. I did some work as a sales representative with Cadburys, selling chocolate, and then with Standard Chartered when they first introduced credit cards in the country.

But I needed a better job so I started working at the Taj Mahal hotel in Colaba, Mumbai in the marketing department as a trainee. As you know in marketing in those days all the menial jobs were relegated to the junior most which was writing brochure content, and press releases etc. this really was my introduction to PR. I then decided to pursue this as a career and joined UTV in their communications department. Again purely writing press content, and managing press interviews.

It was there that one of my mentors advised me to move to an agency if I really wanted to learn and grow in PR and I joined an agency. This is when I joined “Perfect Relations” in the financial communications and investor relations division. For the love of me I hadn’t a clue about finance. But then I had to get it right and make it happen as Perfect Relations was an entry point for me into the PR world. I worked hard and there before I knew it my hard work was recognised and I went on to lead their branch in Mumbai. They possibly had only three people at that time. From there on it was no turning back. I was determined to make it happen and we grew, grew and grew over 10 – 15 years to become one of the largest agencies in India.

I attribute this success to what I call a passion. One must find their passion and work with a focused mind towards it. Nothing can stop you then. Dedication, focus, determination, and drive to deliver were the key aspects that shaped me while I was growing in my career.

What is your average work day like as CEO of Weber Shandwick, India?

At Weber Shandwick, we are rebuilding our world of PR brick by brick. In such a scenario nothing is certain. Every team member including me has to roll up their sleeves and just deliver the task for the day.

I start at 9:30 with team round up meetings to ascertain key tasks for the day. We prioritize and ensure we have a method to the madness that drives us in our industry. We then regroup post lunch to assess if we are on track and then head on into the rest of the day. I encourage people to leave by 7 as work life balance is the value we hold very passionately within Weber. Unless you have a work life balance you can never be a great performing employee.

If we do have a new business pitch or so, most of us spend long hours just trying to get it right! The adrenaline rush when you win a pitch on a great creative idea rather than fee is just amazing and increases the team love amongst us!

What top qualities are required to 'get ahead' in the field of PR?

In the field of PR, one must have a natural quality of inquisitiveness. If you are not inquisitive don’t join PR. Interest to know more and the hunger for learning and understanding is intrinsic to what we do at PR.

Secondly, the only way you can feed this hunger for learning and inquisitiveness is by reading. That’s the foundation of the role of PR. Unless you read, know and understand what’s happening in the world around you, you can never be a good PR person. Read with a view of the world and understand contextually your relevance in the world around you and you have your success mantra for PR.

As a woman CEO in the Indian market, what are the top 3 challenges you face?

I don’t see women and men differently. I think we equally face the same challenges.

Today family time is so important, as at the end of the day those are the people who you need to cherish for the rest of your life. So managing that work life balance and keeping a discipline to maintain that balance is the biggest challenge all CEO’s face. Women and men.

We live in an “always on” world and as a CEO one has to be always on! So how can you be available for everyone? One must prioritize. But that’s often hard to do.

Lastly, India is not one country. Its many countries within a country. So if one has to succeed in India one has to travel constantly as every market within India behaves and reacts differently. Cultures are different, people’s reactions are different, clients are different. So balancing and managing all these various aspects is critical as a CEO. But the biggest challenge is travelling between these cities, and giving enough time to all. I am sure all CEO’s face the same challenge.

Where or from whom do you draw your inspiration?

I always maintain, I draw my inspiration from my mother. She has been a symbol of strength, solidity, and stability in my life. Without her support, encouragement, and nurturing I would not have been where I am.

What is your take on the commonly debated but largely accepted factor - 'Women can't have it all?'

Well, if you look around we really are getting into a better space compared to men. All the benefits are women centric, tax benefits, maternity, work timings, etc etc I think it’s the men that are slowly getting the raw end of the stick.

Having said that, I think it’s the choice each one of us as individuals must make. What is the meaning of “having it all” – if I choose to have a family centric life, I choose a job that allows me to have that and by that logic I will still have it all. If I choose to have a career focused life, I choose to adjust with my family and seek their support to allow me to have a career focused life. It’s the choices you make. It’s your life and you make your own destiny. Anyone can have anything if only one can balance, prioritize and focus. The hardest part is disciplining oneself. So it’s not a men and women thing, it’s the choice each one makes.

What professional advice would you give young women aspirants in the field of PR?

Research has proven that the second most stressful job I the world is the job of a PR person. So if you do come into the world of PR be prepared to give it more than your all. The initial years are tough when you are figuring out what this profession really demands of individuals but once you get it, there is no stopping you. READ, Read, Read and don’t ever stop reading that’s the secret of successful PR professionals. They know everything. And that’s the best part of our job. We must know everything about everything. Knowledge is supreme.

Late nights, and working weekends are part of what we do as media and PR professionals. But if you prioritize and focus you will learn very quickly to balance this aspect out as well.

So don’t be afraid with what the world tells you, the PR industry is dominated by women and there is a reason for it. Either women are extremely good at communication or are the best at multitasking! Core to what the PR industry demands of its professionals.

Valerie Pinto 2015
Paroma Sen
Paroma Sen is a professional content and creative writer.

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