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"Someone Just Has To Say You Can't Do It & My God, I Just Have To Do It"

A college dropout, Prema Sagar never believed in doing the conventional.
"Someone Just Has To Say You Can't Do It & My God, I Just Have To Do It"
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Sometimes you know you have to do what you have to do and I always did what I wanted to do says the fiery Prema Sagar, one of Asia’s most influential public relations personalities.

Sagar launched a public relations company in India in 1992 at a time when none in the country knew about the industry and no one dared to enter this unexplored territory.

In those years money was never a priority, says Sagar who started Genesis out of a basement. “The economy had just opened up and I think we were at the right time and the right place.”

Little did Sagar know what she started would only grow so big that a global PR firm as big as Burson-Marsteller would want to acquire it.

Genesis was acquired by Burson-Marsteller 13 years after it began.

Success did not come in easy

In service class families, it is never about not what you get, it is about what you do, says Sagar who started her career as a receptionist at a law firm.

“The more my dad said no to me, the more I did things.”

A college dropout, Sagar never believed in doing the conventional. From a receptionist’s job to starting a printing press and then a magazine called the City Guide, Sagar walked all walks of life with sheer guts and glory.

Born to a mother from Switzerland and Air marshal father from Pakistan Sind, Sagar’s personal life was full of the unconventional too.  

She ran away from home to marry a budding lawyer of the time from the firm where Sagar worked as a receptionist. Now known as one of the finest lawyers in India, Jyoti Sagar has till date been Prema Sagar’s biggest support.

“My mother always said I was born that way. But she felt that I would do what I wanted to do even from the time I was born,” says Sagar.

Prema Sagar is now the Vice Chair of Burson-Marsteller and the Founder of Genesis Burson-Marsteller.  

She is also the founder-President of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India (PRCAI), an organisation that encourages sharing of best practices in the industry along with being the founding member of the Public Affairs Forum of India (PAFI), which was created to bring similar levels of collaboration and knowledge sharing in the public affairs realm.

If you are too scared to make a decision, you don’t grow

“There were 5 newspapers, two magazines at the time I started. But this did not deter me to satiate my need for creativity,” says Sagar.

Sagar feels she has been blessed with wonderful teammates who were young at the time of Genesis’ growth and weren’t scared to open bureaus and make decisions. “Today they are more like founders.”

“First Delhi, then Bangalore, then Mumbai and then Kolkata, Genesis was all over India in no time! Those days, money came in and money went out. None of my teammates came to an interview and said how much money I will get. I hate the word money until today.”

I just feel it’s about work. If you do good work, you get the money says Sagar who has run a successful partnership with Burson-Marsteller since 2005.

Genesis Burson-Marsteller today has a live newsroom, a digital studio, public affairs, a Step Up for starters, outstanding speakers bureau while being are a part of the WPP Group without a dollar of investment from them.

Sagar is now doing something called skill grouping where she is training some really small teams of young people who are doing design, influencers, social and who don’t want to be in typical media – print and broadcast. “I think that’s the way forward.”

Someone just has to say, Prema, you can’t do this. And my goodness, I just have to do it!

Prema Sagar’ courage and determination led her to start a Foundation dedicated to a son she lost 32 years that provides access to world-class medical care for abandoned and underprivileged children facing life-threatening ailments in the area of cancer, heart, thalassemia, organ failure and extreme deformities.

“I don’t really think it; it’s really from the heart.”

The Foundation of which both Prema and her husband are trustees is backed by 12 people and is growing one child at a time. Most of the heart children get into surgery; they get fine and go back says Sagar.

Edition: March 2017

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