Behind the Headlines with Riot co-founder Preena Gadher

Preena Gadher, co-founder and co-MD of arts and culture specialist agency Riot Communications, on her days of being like Charlie Bucket, what got her “hooked on” the publicity game and why you should never use age as a guide to ability.

Riot Communications


Before I reach the office in the morning, I’ve already…
Listened to the news via the Today Programme, had a look at the front pages of all the papers, read through any new emails in my inbox and, on a good day, been to the gym. I also find a track to listen to en route to work that best fits my mood that morning. Yesterday it was Move on Up by Curtis Mayfield, today it was Army of Me by Bjork.

You’ll mostly find emails about…in my inbox.
Conversations with clients (we take client care very seriously), new business opportunities, and cultural recommendations from colleagues, friends and family. Being an arts and culture specialist agency, keeping my finger on the pulse of what’s going on in music, film, theatre, TV, art, books, you name it, is super important.

I know I’ve had a good day if…
We’ve found out we’ve won a competitive pitch. I am a competitive person and really hate to lose anything.

My first job was…
Helping my dad sell pear drops and rhubarb and custards in our sweet shop – it was properly ‘old skool’ with paper bags, shelves full of glass jars and weighing scales – everything was sold in quarters. It was a bit like being Charlie Bucket. It put me off gobstoppers for life but gave me a strong work ethic and inspired an entrepreneurial spirit.

I can tell a campaign is succeeding when…
Sales are motoring – tickets or products selling off the back of a major piece of media is pretty thrilling. Or when friends organically tell me about something they’ve noticed without knowing it was us working on the campaign.

I eat….when nobody is watching.
Ready salted crisps – they are my Achilles heel. I’ve got a multi-pack of Walkers Crinkle Cut hidden in my filing cabinet.

The first time I pitched to a journalist…
I was pitching the Doomsday Book: A Complete Translation for Penguin Classics. It was my first job and I was presented with this 1500 page tome which was pretty intimidating. It was actually a gift though– it was the first time this hugely important document had been translated in full and was therefore a pretty straightforward pitch and journalists bit my hand off. I got a huge buzz and was hooked on the publicity game. I developed a thicker skin later!

The worst thing anyone has said to me is…
“You’re too young to start an agency.” We were 27 when my business partner Anwen Hooson and I decided we could go it alone. I did get frustrated when people made assumptions about our ability based on how old we looked, and we had to work much harder to prove we knew what we were doing. Of course in many ways we were green, but it’s far easier to make great leaps when you don’t have a mortgage!

On the flipside, maybe it was the best thing to say to me then, as it motivated me to prove them wrong.

The last book I read was…
The Path by Michael Puett and Christine Gross Loh. Puett is a Harvard Professor and his course on Chinese philosophy is, unusually, the most popular at Harvard. The book has turned many of my core beliefs about who I am, which are routed in Western philosophy, on their head in a super compelling way.

For work I always have several books on the go so I’m also reading When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi – a very moving memoir about a neurosurgeon’s battle with cancer; and the manuscript of Yuval Noah Harari’s follow-up to the smash-hit bestseller Sapiens recently landed on my desk . I’m a hardcore non-fiction fan.

I’ve never really understood why…
The colour of one’s skin should have any bearing on achieving one’s dreams. As a child, I can remember my dad once telling me how I’d have to work twice as hard as a white person to achieve the same level of success. I refused to believe it was true, but working in the arts industry I see how right he was. The lack of diversity in TV, film, theatre and books is a sad state of affairs. So when people like Charlotte Rampling say maybe the black actors weren’t good enough to win at the Oscars, or Michael Caine says we need to be “patient”, it makes me very depressed. No Ms Rampling, we’re actually working twice as hard but the playing field is not level. And sorry Mr Caine, we’re done waiting.

If I could go back and talk to my ten-year-old self, I’d say…
You can achieve anything you want and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

This time next year, I’ll be…
Working in film and TV. My co-founder and I are very passionate about both mediums and we would love to bring more film and TV clients to Riot.

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