Rina Barreto Shankar speaks on her journey from working as an advertising executive to setting up her own brand building agency
The best way to describe Rina Barreto Shankar would be to say that she is effervescent, creative, free-spirited and most of all, ambitious. The founder of Cheree Tree Concepts, she has an experience of over 18 years in brand building, marketing communication and internal branding or employee motivation strategy. She has worked with some of the biggest names in the business world and has made a mark for herself in the field of advertising and branding. A brand strategist, communication coach and personal branding coach, Rina’s contributions in mentoring youth to build confidence through communication, and guiding women entrepreneurs with personal branding, business strategy and marketing have earned her recognition and regard in her field of expertise.
Her work today, as the founder of Cheree Tree Concepts, spans small business owners and women entrepreneurs, brands that have been in the business for 20+ years as well as newly launched ones, and local, national and international clients. “We are here to create something to be proud of,” she says about her 4-year-old business. And we want to help our clients gain immediate as well as long-term value from associating with us.”
Rina grew up in Goa and attended Mary Immaculate Girls’ High School, Panaji. She then went on to complete her degree in Economics from the reputed St Xavier’s College, Bombay. This really set her up on the path that she then carved out for herself. “It set me up for a long and fulfilling career in Bombay, helping me gain experience from some of the most reputed multi-national companies in the country. Moving away from the comfort of my hometown, changed my perspective on my potential, and just gave wings to my dreams and aspirations. St Xavier’s College was the starting point, to meet the most creative minds to handle the most challenging situations.”
Rina had always been intrigued by the creative world of brands and advertising. The intricacies of crafting marketing messages, the visual communication in print and electronic media, and the art and science behind human communication, are all fascinating to her from her early years. Hence it was a natural progression to gravitate toward advertising agencies, though she has completed her Master’s in Economics. “My first ever paying job luckily for me, gave me exposure to big brands like HDFC Bank, and Business Standard among others. However, what made the real difference at that stage was “an ideal boss – a gentleman and a mentor.” It helped set the tone for a long rich career in some of the best agencies and MNCs in Mumbai.
The experience and knowledge that she gathered in her decade-long career in the advertising, events and branding industry helped her move on to Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation (HSBC) to handle internal branding. She believes that the power of internal branding is underestimated by most businesses. She says “creating loyalty for your brand among your internal customers – your employees – should be an integral part of an overall brand building strategy of any organisation that wants to grow beyond borders and stay powerful in the long run.
In her career in the corporate world, Rina has worked on brand presence for brands like Tata Indicom, Godrej Securities, and Unilever brands like Pepsodent, where she travelled across various cities to launch and promote these brands. “I worked with a diverse range of campaigns that needed to be executed on-ground like Airtel, on print and electronic mediums, through visual merchandising for brands like Samsung, and other traditional methods. This gave me a great perspective of the essence of building brand presence”, says Rina.
She came back to Goa in 2014, with her 3-year-old in tow, and the first thing that hit her was the pre-school culture. It prompted her to immediately start looking for the perfect space to open a pre-school – that would encourage freedom and free-spiritedness in little children setting out on their first journey into a formal learning environment. Her belief was that, if children are allowed to express themselves and be comfortable with themselves, it would set the right tone for a healthy learning experience. Unfortunately, this first entrepreneurial venture was slated to be a failure – she realised that she was ill-prepared for the venture. This failure, however, was a boon in disguise, giving her complete clarity on her skill sets. She started her venture Cheree Tree Concepts, with the sole aim of supporting small businesses with marketing and branding material that would help them reach a wider audience and build their ventures.
About her entrepreneurial journey, Rina says “It has been a rollercoaster ride. You start off with brilliant ideas as you feel you have gained the necessary skill sets and experience. But you never anticipate the challenges completely. I have made my mistakes, made a fool of myself, said the wrong things, and been a complete disaster…and the journey has finally reached a point where I can confidently say that I am happy to have set out on this journey.”
Cheree Tree Concepts supports businesses to communicate with powerful design and marketing tools today. She reminisces about the early days when she would ask startups whether she could design their logo or craft an introduction or a script. Her complete dedication and effort to these small projects soon turned into brand launch campaigns, social media management, advertising projects and national/international assignments. “I feel happy that I have grown my business organically,” she says.
Their current client portfolio includes several local and national brands in health and wellness, lifestyle, consultancy services, a startup incubation centre – FiiRE (Forum for Innovation, Incubation, Research & Entrepreneurship) for whom her team work on MarComm and PR, as well as international clients like a communication skills institute in Dubai, an Ayurvedic brand operating from Australia, an energy healer from Canada and other diverse brands. “I find it fascinating and fulfilling to think creatively and work intricately on building brand image and presence for these brands,” says Rina.
Rina recently instituted a mentorship where she guides small business owners, especially women entrepreneurs on their customer acquisition and retention strategy, brand building and communication planks, personal branding and more.
Rina has been interacting with students for several years, helping them build confidence through communication. She instituted a Facebook group called ‘Youth Lead’ and a classroom-based platform called ‘Young Ideas’ where students come together to express thoughts, ideas, and viewpoints through a brainstorming session. “When asked to share their unbiased, creative, radical thoughts, on a topic, students learn to express their point of view, persuade others, debate a topic, be flexible to other’s opinions, be non-judgmental and ultimately, build confidence,” she says.
Finding resources to take her business to the next level is one roadblock that she has encountered earlier in this journey. Motivated, independent-minded, and creatively-inclined individuals are what I look forward to building my business with” she says. “I look for the mental makeup and emotional intelligence that allows people to perform at their best. There is no second chance in this industry – you either deliver a ‘wow’ to your clients or shut shop.” Her patience has paid off with a small team that she enjoys working with closely. Collaborating with other small startups and brilliant resources that make up the gig economy has helped her deliver value to businesses.
She also feels that Goa needs to have more co-working spaces. “Startups require the convenience and affordability of co-working spaces. If there are more such places it will be easier for people to set up their businesses.”
Rina’s mantra for success is: Create your own success mantra to stay on a high with life and work. Stay away from clichéd definitions of success. To me success is being able to do the work I love, create value for the people I value, and build something to be proud of, in my own unique way. She signs off with a message to aspiring women entrepreneurs. “We need to remove all limiting beliefs from our minds, so that we can be wives, mothers, daughters and successful entrepreneurs without feeling guilt. We need to have a healthy respect for ourselves, others and money. And above all else, we need to stay physically, mentally and emotionally healthy”