Farzana Baduel, managing director at Curzon PR, has always been entrepreneurial. She founded her PR firm, Curzon, in 2009, in part because with a one-year-old child, she wanted the flexibility to balance work with the school run.
Baduel’s business grew slowly for the first two to three years. She had previously worked in politics for the Conservative party, and building contacts in the PR world took time. Today, she works with a host of governments worldwide. Curzon has offices in London, New York, Dubai and is opening in Delhi. It employs 15 people in London, three in New York, six in Dubai, and plans to hire 15 in Delhi.
She realised in the early days that finding and retaining good staff was a key challenge. “My biggest weakness is HR and that shows in my staff turnover,” she says. “It’s very disruptive and in the early years I really suffered because I couldn’t afford experienced staff.
“I became like a training machine. All I did was train people and after a year they would go and find another job in a bigger agency. I wasn’t able to meet their salary expectations either, so they would move to big agencies with bigger salaries and training academies.”
To solve the problem, and lacking a huge budget, Baduel had to think creatively about benefits.
She asked staff what benefits they would value. The answers were training opportunities, greater flexibility, gym membership, and more money.
To address the first point, Baduel tapped into her network. “I looked at all the courses and they cost a lot of money. I thought, actually, all the top PRs and journalists are my friends and you wouldn’t even get their calibre on a training course,” she explains.
So she invites a guest speaker to address the agency every few weeks over dinner.
Many PR staff enjoy writing and want to develop their skills in this area, so Baduel alighted on an innovative scheme that will also serve as a training opportunity. She is launching a magazine owned by the agency. “This gives staff the opportunity to write for a magazine but also when you write for a credible magazine, you are invited to top restaurants, bars and so on. It gives you access to a lifestyle. My team will all be contributing editors. It’s good for their CVs as well,” she says.
Baduel is arranging a corporate gym membership and has brought in flexible hours, so that staff can work 8-5, 9-6 or 10-7 ad hoc as they please. Senior members can work one day a week from home.
She introduced an annual bonus, structured to encourage staff to stay loyal over the course of the year. She is also considering introducing monthly targets, tailored to each member of staff. If they meet their targets, they are awarded bonuses.
“It’s a question of finding out what the team want, as opposed to assuming what they want,” she says.