Showing newest 10 of 17 posts from March 2011. Show older posts
Showing newest 10 of 17 posts from March 2011. Show older posts

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Catching the creative habit

Tyrone Tellis goes in search of the essence of creativity.

I remember when in 1999, the Indian film Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam was released. Having seen the trailer and the songs, I was waiting anxiously to watch the movie. As my brother had already seen the movie, I asked him about it. His response convinced me that the story was not worth a watch. According to him, the story could be boiled down to: boy meets girl, boy and girl fall in love, girl is married off against her wishes to someone else but can’t forget the boy, girl’s husband decides to go in search of boy and reunite him with her. The story ends with the girl going back to her husband. My enthusiasm changed to disappointment, and I proceeded to tell my friends that the film was no good. However, quite a few of them were of the opinion that as I had not actually seen the movie, I should not be so quick to judge. They were right. Despite all my negativity, Hum Dil De Chuke Sanam blew me away when I saw it. The plot may have been weak but the extravagance of the sets, the drama and emotion as well as the songs more than made up for it. This formula works on a regular basis for Bollywood movies and sometimes even for Hollywood ones.

It seems that our local advertising agencies and marketers also believe in the ‘sell-ability’ of a weak plot or concept. Concept development is that crucial stage when the big idea translates into an effective communication vehicle. Yet we seem to almost merge the concept ideation stage with the creative execution. These days, whether they are working on a pitch or for an existing client, the creative team will attempt to dazzle the client by name dropping.

“We will use Ali Zafar for this role, and Meera for the female lead and we are thinking of Asad as the director.”

Or they will fall into the generalisation trap by using stereotypical images and associations to create a link between the ad and the audience: a man in a business suit to target corporate types; a young man in a designer outfit for the elite; and as for the rurals/the masses, but of course, a catchy song will work.

The creative habit is hard work: One of the reasons why our concepts are weak and not creative enough is because creativity is hard work. In her book, The Creative Habit: Learn And Use It For Life, Twyla Tharp (the American choreographer) writes that creativity is about discipline and working at it. In her view, the first thing to do when trying to come up with a creative solution is to reject the 20 ideas that first come to you. But are we ready to apply that sort of rigour to what we do, or do we settle for the first solution?

I remember reading about the acceptable theory of management when I was studying for my BBA. The theory went like this: if you are looking for a needle in a haystack, at what point will you stop looking? When you find the sharpest needle or the longest? No, you will stop once you have achieved your goal of finding a needle. In the same way, great creative (in fact, great performance in any field) is simply hard work. Old Spice raised the bar in terms of creativity with their Super Bowl ‘Phone Call’ advertising; it was pure genius, but it also took a great deal of perspiration (go to YouTube and check out the behind-the-scenes video about how they created the campaign).

Lesson from Hollywood: Earlier I mentioned Hollywood in the context of weak plots. Professionals in the big Hollywood studios use a technique called ‘logline’ to help them determine whether a script is solid or not. A logline is a one sentence description of what a movie is about. The same method can be effectively applied to brands as well as to communication campaigns. Here is a challenge: describe James Bond in 25 words. Take a minute or two and try.

What did you come up with? Here are some key pointers. He is British, suave and debonair; he fights hardened criminals; don’t forget the beauties on hand and his high-tech gadgets. Look at these points again. If you don’t put down that he is British, you could be talking about the MI series. If you were to keep all the points and turn the plot away from action and make it a comedy, you would be talking about Austin Powers. Writing a logline helps distil the essence of your brand or your campaign concept.

Key to creativity: One day when I was working at Lowe & Rauf I happened to hear Kiran Murad, their creative director, explain how to improve creativity to a group of young and eager creatives. The key to creativity she said was to take two seemingly unrelated things, find a connection and then use it.

Good creative is not only about a good hook, it is also about being observant and using ‘material’ from the world around us. To go back to Tharp’s book, here is a quote that expresses this idea:

“Everything is raw material. Everything is relevant. Everything is usable. Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it and use it.”

Extrapolating from what Kiran told her young audience and what Tharp writes in her book, we can assume that a good creative is like a good detective; they both use instinct and observation to find the link between two things. The detective tries to link the crime to the criminal, while the creative needs to link the communication campaign to the audience. Both need to be trained in how to develop their hypotheses, which is by vetting the facts and sifting through the information.

Flipping Ogilvy: David Ogilvy once said, “It ain’t creative if it doesn’t sell.” However, in the context of our market, I would like to ask those people who, based on the sales figures, claim that Pakistani advertising is not mediocre, the following question. If it sells, does it mean it is creative? We cannot keep mistaking efficiency for effectiveness.

I will sum up with another quote, this time from Phil Tiongson’s (currently director analytics at Mediacom) blog:

“Efficiency is not the same as effectiveness. Efficiency is like using a ladder to jump over a wall; effectiveness is all about finding the right wall to jump over in the first place.”

Tyrone Tellis is an advertising professional.

First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Monday, March 28, 2011

Life in vice versa

Shagufta Naaz profiles Taimur Tajik.

Think rock musician, and you think (at least I do) grungy T-shirt, slashed jeans and at least one visible tattoo. So the clean-cut, rather cute, Taimur Tajik, who recently launched his debut album, Vice Versa, came as a pleasant surprise (and no, I could not spot a single tattoo). Of course, being a rock musician is only one aspect of Tajik’s persona; when he is not strumming the guitar he is drumming up ideas for his latest campaign as Associate Creative Director at Spectrum Y&R.

So, did the musician or the ad man come first?

“Music has always been a passion,” he says, adding that his father bought him his first guitar when he was 15.

“As guitars go it wasn’t really the best,” he grins, but it was enough to get him started playing music from his favourite bands.

“I was heavily inspired by the rock music of the 90s,” he says, naming Guns N’ Roses, Aerosmith and Black Label Society (which explains the BLS T-shirt he has donned for the interview, point noted).

It would, however, be some years before the musician in Tajik came professionally to the fore. In the interim, he went abroad and did his Bachelor’s in sociology in the US and then a Master’s degree in media and communication in the UK. Again, it takes a slight shift of the mental gears to equate this boyish rocker with two university degrees; but then perhaps this is because Tajik is very low key about his qualifications, providing the information only when asked.

Tajik fell into advertising naturally.

“I always wanted to be in advertising. I knew I was not cut out for a regular job and I was very lucky to be accepted at the first agency I applied,” he replies.

That first agency was of course Spectrum and four years down the road he is still there handling top notch clients, including Caltex and Colgate-Palmolive.

Regarding what he feels about being in a profession that binds one to the dictates of the client, Tajik believes that even the most boring brief can be interpreted and executed in multiple ways; for him it is up to the creative person to find the path.

“It is incredibly important to have your voice in your work; when you write a caption or copy (if you are good at your job), your voice will be heard in that caption or copy. This is what makes it creative.”

As an example he quotes his Caltex Havoline campaign which depicts engine oil in a humorous way rather than giving the technical spiel.

“I like doing things differently from the way they have been done before; in music and in advertising,” he says.

As to whether clients are ready for a different approach, he is optimistic.

“It is the agency’s role to expose clients to new ideas, and once they see others take a different approach, they will follow.”

He also believes the focus should be more on entertaining rather than providing information.

“Consumers do not watch TV or read magazines for the ads; they want to be entertained.”

But he adds that clients tend to be wary of taking this approach as “they feel it might make their brand seem non-serious”.

Being in advertising helped Tajik realise his musical ambitions. He met Adison Albert, Gumby, Omran Shafique, Faraz Haider and Mazhar Raza through his work and they then helped him at various stages to compose and launch his album. However, the creative spirit that drives the music is Tajik’s own, and his are the words that bring meaning to the songs.

“The songs are a synopsis of the past few years of my life; the good and bad times, experiences I have been through, people I have lost and people I have come to know. Writing them has been therapeutic. They helped me learn about myself; who I was and who I am now.”

And there is a sense of purpose behind his choosing to name his album Vice Versa.

“Every experience in life is determined by your perception. It’s about how you approach it. Things can be really good or bad, it depends on how you look at them. It doesn’t matter what hand you are dealt in life, what matters is how you deal with the hand you have been dealt. That is what Vice Versa is about.”

Instead of trying to make money from all this hard work, Tajik is happy to give the album away for free and the songs can be downloaded from his website. He believes this will gain him honest feedback. It might also be savvy marketing in anticipation of a next album, although at the moment Tajik says he does not have any plans to release another one.

Having tasted the creative freedom of writing his own songs, isn’t it hard to adjust to the controlled creativity required in advertising? According to Tajik, writing advertising copy is easier.

“When there are constraints you have a guideline; you know not to go past a certain point. When there are no boundaries you don’t have a cut off point; you don’t know where your canvas starts and where it ends.”

As for the future, Tajik is quite happy basking in the present.

“If I start planning for the future, I tend not to enjoy the now,” he says with a characteristic grin, and one can’t help but wish him the best of luck; for now and the future.

Shagufta Naaz works for The Dawn Media Group.

First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

A few of my favourite things

By Sarah Moquim

Louis Vuitton
Category: Print
Simply admire the legendary proportion of this ad, the capacity to fit three giants in one ad and how! One of the many remarkable ads from LV’s journey campaign.
Agency: Ogilvy & Mather, France

Category: Print
No client would have the guts today to show an imperfect product to sell its service, that too with an insight. The sales, service and spare parts (3Ss) is a pitch which is generally used to promote a squeaky clean, brand new automobile, not a dented one. Moreover, this selection is not meant to demoralise women drivers.
Agency: DDB, USA

Category: Print
An example that never ceases to sweep me off my feet; the longevity, adaptability, consistency of the brand’s positioning as the world’s local bank is noteworthy.
Agency: JWT, USA

Category: Print
Tantalising burger, memorable copy and straightforward.
Agency: Mystics, Pakistan

Mobilink Indigo
Category: Print
A well-written campaign. It is sad we don’t write ads anymore, we design them, we put copy on them or vice versa, but who is writing ads? Anyone?
Agency: IAL Saatchi & Saatchi, Pakistan

Tetley Gold
Category: Print
2006: As Italy beat France 5-3 in a penalty shoot-out to win the FIFA World Cup, Tetley grasped the limelight the morning after, in an all-agile and competitive move. A brilliant example of proactive effort on the agency’s part and a fearless move in the face of an astringent rebuttal on the brand’s part.
Agency: Headlion, Pakistan

Category: Poster
Ranks high on originality. Addresses the audience in the visual language they best understand – one ad featuring the entire brigade of morning show hosts. These are the women all women admire.
Agency: JWT, Pakistan

Pakistan International Airlines
Category: Print
Reflects class, panache and foresight. The same brief today would have yielded to an airbus flying between two monuments or destinations with a redundant description of the visual. In retrospect, this ad seems to be a haunting premonition of the event that changed the world nearly half a century later.
Agency: Dolci Advertising, Italy
Sarah Moquim is Associate Creative Director, JWT Pakistan.
First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Good Sport

By Faraz Maqsood Hamidi

Twenty-two seconds ago, I learned a valuable lesson from my younger brother. A man, who despite his achievements in higher learning, resolutely avoids physical movement. He expounded his theory intelligibly: that at a time of impending doom (the floods, the economic and financial crises, the momentum of a futile tomorrow, etc., etc.), WHY CHASE A BALL?

It kind of reminded me of my own ineptitude when I was a teen and used to run cold, wet, laps around a wintry rugby field of an isolated boarding school in England. By the fifth, crucifying lap, I knew one thing for sure – that the fall from becoming a near-jock to a full-joke was social suicide – and that before I was whisked off-field or banished to a permanent seat in the dugout, I needed to change my position(ing).

But rugby wasn’t the only revelatory punch in the stomach. There was also the whitewashed horror of participating in cricket. A game so holy in the Commonwealth that I emotionally blackmailed myself to enlist – knowing that the only thing I knew about cricket was its spelling. But, in due course, I was glad to be de-listed when the upperclassmen detected that the shine in my eyes was brighter when I took the long walk-of-shame back to the pavilion than when I headed out of it.

So I switched to theatre.

An arena that seemed far more gallant and heroic in its nuance and delivery than, I suppose, kicking a ball to a crazed Algerian centre-forward – Yallah, Yallah – or routinely feigning ambivalence after having hurled a cricket bat, instead of the cricket ball, out-of-field.

God... I sucked.

So as my brother and I loitered and got talking and kicked some of those rusted tin cans of nostalgia down memory lane, we deliberated whether, in fact, the twain could ever meet? Whether the cricketing world and the theatre of advertising can ever be paired into a perfect match?

On the surface, they seemed so far apart. Two stadia, both public in nature, yet filled to the rim with an audience that has completely different motivations. One frozen in anticipation for a bowl out. The other, to be bowled over. One unifies the spirit of a nation. The other, glorifies its aspirations. One burns under the sun. The other, toils under the oil. One performs collectively in a field of adrenalin. The other, more solitarily, in a field of dreams.

After musing over these fragments, we agreed that the cricketing world felt like an opposing team. Qualified. Brilliant. Famous. Just not on your side. That is, until we were struck by a googly and meandered into an exchange about the essential character of both vocations where, unexpectedly, the comparisons became more fraternal.

Apart from organisational similarities that are common to any enterprise, great advertising is like great cricket. Despite its veneer of sophistication and reserve, it is always ready and poised for action. Despite its perceived simplicity, it is running on complex techniques. Despite all its surface civility, it is a magnet for public opinion and controversy. Despite all the men-in-white-coats playing havoc with its sanity, it seethes with brilliant shots. Despite the talented pair you see on a pitch, you know they are a part of a larger team. And, more importantly, despite all the odds against it, it gets its audience standing on their feet.

In a word, my brother and I agreed – moved considerably by these vistas of discovery – that great advertising, like great cricket, scores.  

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi is CE and Creative Director, The D’Hamidi Partnership.

First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Every cup of tea is an opportunity

By Sheherzad Kaleem

Three years ago, I left New York on a bright, sunny day and hesitatingly, descended upon a somewhat dismal and drenched London – an omen I should have taken seriously at the time. Despite the sullenness of everything around me, I was full of hope and in an excited manner, punctuated with many exclamation marks, I thought to myself, “I have arrived!! I am gonna make it here! Hold yourselves now BBC and Channel 4, your filmmaker has some jetlag to get over.”

Who could blame me for my enthusiasm? I was a recently graduated, documentary filmmaker teeming with ideas. The fact that I was from Pakistan, one of the most volatile places on the planet and thus, the most heavily reported, made things even better. Naturally, I believed everyone would want me. In a very dramatic, cinema style fantasy, I visualised myself entering the studios of the BBC and being welcomed by an eager and servile staff whose adoration was palpable. All this to the tune of Chariots of Fire, of course. Nothing else felt appropriate.

A few weeks later I realised that the reality, unfortunately, was going to be quite different. Tragic.

Reality check, please! London is saturated with filmmakers and South Asians and South Asian filmmakers.

I was naïve enough to believe that most Pakistanis still chose to become engineers and bankers, and that somehow, my profession made me unique and desirable. Certainly not the case.

The fact that I had worked in the media in Pakistan and produced and directed an award winning documentary in New York did not elicit much response from anyone I happened to mention these facts to. This was shocking to me. I lived for films and I loved making films. I take pride in saying that I gave up my (not so thrilling) career in an ad agency to become a filmmaker. I wasn’t born to be ignored. More importantly, I couldn’t afford to be ignored.

Moving on...

I spent a gruelling six months sitting on my couch, unwillingly watching insurance ads and daytime television, while submitting job applications, résumés (or CVs as I was snobbishly told) and stalking production houses through cold calling and email. My efforts paid off. Kind of.

I got my first big break – an unpaid internship at a small production house and documentary training company in East London. From being an independent self-shooting director/producer in New York, I suddenly found myself relegated to the position of a chota of sorts in this company. I had the glorious job of crushing cardboard boxes for recycling; hand delivering packages all over London; washing dishes; fetching lunch; and very occasionally, packing up camera equipment after shoots. The redeeming point was that I was in a ‘production’ environment and I thrived on that.

I was also responsible for making tea – which did get me somewhere.

A cuppa: The thought that a Master’s degree would get me only as far as serving tea and biscuits to directors and filmmakers, had never really crossed my mind. Yet, that is exactly what happened – at first, at least. There I was asking people whether they wanted milk and sugar in their tea, while I laid out an assortment of Bourbons and Digestives on their plates. Anyway, I like to think that I am somewhat of a perfectionist (OCD more like it), so if I had to make tea, then I had to do my best and if I was going to serve biscuits, then I was going to do that with utmost grace – even as the total amount of my student loan flashed urgently in neon lights over my head.

The best lesson I learnt was that no work is pointless, least of all, making a cup of tea. In the UK, where tea breaks are more frequent than cigarette breaks, a hot brew, at the right time, gets you opportunities and that proverbial foot in the door.

So, as the story unfolds, it was over steaming cups of builder’s tea that I got to know the various directors, editors and producers that walked through the doors of this little media house. It was while discussing how sinful and calorific custard cream biscuits are, that I told people about the films I had done and the ideas I had for conquering the world. Basically, I did not stop blabbering.

I gave this internship my all, working even on Sundays – a day London sets aside to construct and reinvent itself for the 2012 Olympics – and a day, on which, public transportation is restricted, to put it mildly.

I even discreetly handed DVDs of my films to my new found ‘contacts’, acting like the dodgy vendors that prowl the subway stations of New York, selling pirated films out of their briefcases. Point is – making that cup of tea gave me the chance to be seen and be heard, and in the filmmaking world, that is gold. With this in mind, I kept boiling and brewing.

Brewing experience: Film production is not an easy profession to break into. Besides a wide set of skills, it requires passion, grit and a willingness to do more for less, and sometimes for nothing at all. Basically, it means killing the ego.

On one occasion, I happily agreed to travel three hours on a train from London to Sheffield, just to deliver copies of a film to my supervisor for an ongoing documentary festival. What did I get out of it, you ask? The chance to watch amazing, never-seen-before documentaries, and meeting the directors who made these, in person. Was it worth it? It depends on what day you ask me.

The thing is, hard work does get noticed and every dog has its day. Despite my bruised ego and shattered self esteem, I eventually did get a chance to do things besides make tea. I have been directing films and doing production and training work ever since. In fact, my first proper television documentary about child slavery in Ghana (Slaves of the Lake), will be broadcast on a channel in the UK in March. Not a bad end for someone who started out by making tea.

The ultimate blend: The thing with being a freelance documentary filmmaker is that there is no sitting back and waiting for things to happen. If I do that then chances are I will end up once again in a room full of cardboard boxes, using my talent to flatten them.

If I am lucky, it will be with a teapot in one hand saying, “Milk and sugar, anyone?”

To avoid that, I stay hungry for work. When there is hunger there is determination. I spend hours on the internet, researching story ideas and manically calling people to follow up on leads. I am perpetually trying to get funding sorted out as well as finding new ways to distribute existing work. I do any and every project I get. Paid or not. And most importantly, I never stop learning, because this is a game where the rules are always changing and if you don’t plan ahead, you will be left far behind.

Sheherzad Kaleem is a freelance documentary filmmaker.     

First published in March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

The revolution was tweeted

The networks are abuzz with how social media, Web 2.0, and the will of the activists combined together to make the current wave of revolutions in the Arab world happen. Equally indignant are the theorists who argue that revolutions have been happening without social media or the internet, and that technology or the lack of it has very little to do with the essence of inciting change.

So which is it? Is social media driven engagement just a neat tool without any binding “strong ties” as argued by Malcolm Gladwell, author of Tipping Point, or “is digital activism a catalyst for social change” according to Egyptian blogger Hani Morsi?

Hani posits that “the revolt of the oppressed is inevitable, notwithstanding the availability of social media tools, but it is not a question of necessity, but one of effect.” He goes on to argue that social media tools enabled the message of the revolutionaries to spread faster, more virally and with a domino effect from country to country. And he says that such a momentum could only have been achieved with social media.

Hani also makes an excellent point when he says that social media was not just a cathartic outlet for people to air their grievances but a real, tangible device for “invoking widespread and effective popular action”. Without social media tools, it would have been slower and not nearly as effective to organise and rally various disparate groups for “deployment of real political action”.

On the other end of the spectrum are writers such as Gladwell who say that social networks are not the causative factor of revolutions. He says, “People protested and brought down governments before Facebook was invented. They did it before the internet came along.” In essence he is saying that social media does not constitute strong enough ties to a cause to make revolution possible. (However, it is worth noting that Gladwell expounded these views in his article The Revolution Will Not Be Tweeted, which appeared in The New Yorker in October 2010. It is possible that given recent events in the Middle East he may have modified his opinion; but then again he may have not.)

The readers of this magazine are not in Egypt; we don’t know what the ground realities are, we are uncertain as to who or what started the January 25th revolution, we have not lived under the Mubarak regime. But we can read tweets. We can see that the #Jan25 hashtag is trending on Twitter so it must be important, it must have momentum. And tools like Twitter make it easy for us to join the bandwagon. So if I post a few tweets with the #Jan25 hashtag I feel like I am playing my part in supporting the revolutionaries. In other words I have latched on to a medium that is easy and accessible for me to use without really understanding or knowing the cause or who is behind it. It is very easy for people like me who spend all their time online to overestimate the worth of an issue and their role in it.

However, we must keep in mind that the people who were in Egypt during the uprising were affected by it; for them social media played a real and practical role in inciting action and gathering mass support. Social media, viewed in context with a direct relation to actionable items, can prove to be a case of force majeure.

So under what circumstances does social activism become a force to contend with? The basic principle of virality on the internet applies even to social activism. People will not share information unless it is entertaining and they want to publicly support it. However, that does not mean that everyone who gathers on a Facebook page will actually physically gather on the streets. Yes, social media gets the message across in a profound way and with speed, but the fact of the matter is that it is still the message which counts more than the delivery. You can liken it to a basic marketing principle – no matter how snazzily you market your product on Facebook, if your product stinks, you are going down and that too on a global scale!

Social media, like any other technology, is an enabler. Today it was Facebook and Twitter that connected people. Tomorrow it could be something else.

Salma Jafri is the owner of and part-owner of

First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Desktop Thinking

It can be said with a fair degree of certainty that the health of a country’s sport reflects the state of a nation. After all, sport at the highest levels of competition is, directly or indirectly, very much the affair of governments. Sport is also as much about money as it is about talent. Talent is God-given, but the nurturing of that talent into world class effectiveness is largely the function of money.

Countries that want to make their presence felt on the international stage often use their athletes as a conduit, as happened in the seventies in the Eastern European countries and more recently in China. And of course staging the Olympics is as much about power politics as it is about sport. China’s pretensions to global economic superpowerdom found their validation in the country’s hosting of the 2008 Olympics; Brazil, another emergent country determined to assert itself on the world stage, is set to host the 2016 Olympics. Then there are the aspirations of Qatar, a state determined to make its capital, Doha, a world class city. One has only to look at images of Doha’s skyline or at the architectural achievement of the I. M. Pei designed Islamic Museum of Art, to sense the scale of its ambitions. And yes, Qatar too has Olympian pretensions; it has a running Olympic Committee and there is every likelihood that it may be a contender for the 2020 Games.

Then there is the power of sport to pull a country together. This was most dramatically exemplified by Nelson Mandela and the final of the 1995 Rugby World Cup. After South Africa’s triumph, Mandela was reported to have said that he had never been so tense in his life before. And he had every reason to be, for it was this victory that made the realisation of Mandela’s dream of building a ‘Rainbow Nation’ possible. And it was not so much the victory that counted (and it counted for a lot) but the fact that black South Africans almost overwhelmingly hated the mostly all white Springboks (a symbol of apartheid) yet found themselves united in celebrating a common (national) victory.

So yes, sport is a powerful conduit for effective nation-building. But sport at this level requires focus and single-minded determination by all stakeholders; athletes, governing bodies, sponsors, fans. It also requires a great deal of money and most certainly transparency. Pakistani sports unfortunately have rarely, if ever, benefited from the full complement of these conditions. For sure, a great deal of money has been invested in cricket, but this has never been done in an organised and systematic way that would develop the game from the grassroots up. Pakistani cricket talent – and it is there in abundance – tends to emerge in a completely ad-hoc manner, without there being any attempt to stream it through a system of organised junior cricket associations. The result is that, more often than not, the talent emerges in its rawest form, without the benefits of an early inculcation in discipline, preparation, physical fitness and mental strength. Added to this is the systemic corruption of one kind or another (money, favouritism, political pressure) across the board. Under these circumstances it is an absolute miracle that Pakistani cricket continues to be a powerful contender at the international level.

With cricket facing such issues, no wonder that the other sports Pakistan used to (and can still) excel in – hockey, squash and snooker – are in disarray. The money here is not forthcoming, and if it occasionally is, it is not backed by a consistent and long-term effort. The government of Pakistan’s financial commitment to sports other than cricket is ridiculously inadequate, while sponsors are looking for a quick return and are reluctant to commit to a long haul that could stretch over five years or even more. Added to this is the endemic corruption of the various sports associations with money going either into paying for over the top and unnecessary running expenses or directly into lining the pockets of their members.

All this is of course a crying shame. Pakistani athletes have time and time again shown that even with the barest of resources and encouragement, they are capable of surmounting impossible odds and soar (if only for a while) among the best in their sport.

Aisam-ul-Haq who made it to the 2010 US Open Finals in both the Men’s and Mixed Doubles. Naseem Hameed, who won the Gold Medal in the 100 metre event at the 2010 South Asian Games. Sara Nasir, who also won the Gold Medal in Karate at the same event. Mohammed Abbas, who became the first Pakistani skier to qualify for the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver (and how did he learn to ski? By strapping two planks of wood to his rubber boots). Aamir Atlas Khan and Maria Toor Pakay (from South Waziristan) who were nominated in 2010 as Professional Squash Association Young Player of the Year and Women’s International Squash Players Association Young Player of the Year, respectively by the World Squash Federation. These are some of our heroes in the making. By sheer determination, they were able to sustain the passion and find the belief to overcome the odds and make the breakthrough in their chosen sport. There are thousands more like them waiting to be discovered and given a chance.

The question is… how many companies and brands are there with the vision and commitment to overcome all that is currently (and now systemically) wrong with Pakistani sports and champion these heroes in the making?

First published in the March-April 2011 issue of Aurora.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Highlights from the March-April 2011 issue

What needs to be done to turn sports sponsorship around in Pakistan.

Olivier Auroy, MD, Fitch Middle East, on the symbiosis between sports and brands.

Tapal’s new advertising campaign claims new insights.

Will the opening of Atrium Cinemas change Pakistan’s cinema culture?

Aamir Ali Khwaja, COO, Lowe & Rauf, on the unveiling of Lowe’s new brand identities.

Interview with Rafiq Rangoonwala, CEO, Cupola. 

Interview with Wahab Ghaznavi, Director, Consumer Insights, TCM.

How businesses are breaking Facebook rules in their quest for marketing gains.

Nabila in profile.

Adnan Syed trades places.

Social media and the Arab uprising.

Faraz Maqsood Hamidi on why great advertising is like great cricket.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Love to love you baby

Marylou Andrew explores the many dimensions of Andleeb Rana.

It is impossible to ‘like’ Andleeb Rana. You will either ‘love’ her, or ‘hate’ her; there is no middle ground. This is rather a lot like Rana’s radical views on people, places and things – she either loves them or doesn’t care about them at all, but rarely will she ‘sort of’ like or dislike something or someone.

Rana is young – 32 years old (she may hate me for mentioning her age in print) – but she has fit quite a lot of work into these years. Her laundry list of accomplishments includes, but is in no way limited to, modelling for Pakistani fashion magazines, interning at Glamour and Vogue, representing Bridal Asia and India Fashion Week in Pakistan and having the distinction of being the youngest-ever editor on the APNS’ (All Pakistan Newspapers Society) records. She is currently the Editor-in-chief of her own magazine, Xpoźe, which is known for being inappropriate – a quality it shares with the lady in-charge.

Rana has no qualms about being inappropriate. A case in point is her habit of making witty and often uncomplimentary remarks about people right in front of them and following it up with something nice. This usually leaves her audience (and she can generate an audience alright) in fits of laughter, but I can well imagine her having an entirely negative impact as well.

From her nightly jaunts at Espresso – which she calls an “extension of my drawing room”, her obsession with cocktail rings, gladiator sandals and hobos and her love of all things gossipy, it would be easy to infer that Rana is an empty-headed socialite. But what is it that they say about books and their covers?

She is in fact the anti-thesis of empty-headed; she is passionate about fashion, cricket, movies, Pakistan, India, her magazine, her friends, the list is just endless. She collects vintage fashion magazines, has been to India about 32 times and probably knows the press there better than the Indians themselves, is a staunch promoter of Pakistan’s soft image, stays up all night reading or watching movies, has a zeal for the news and a serious case of workaholism.

The workaholism and nocturnal nature were adopted from her former boss, Mir Shakeel-ur-Rehman (CEO, Jang Group), who she says is “one of my favourite bosses ever”.

Her first meeting with Rehman for a job interview as the editor of MAG was an interesting one considering that it happened at his house at an ungodly

“I was told that he works during the day and meets people at night but I was so scared about going to his house at that I took my mother along,” she laughs.

She doesn’t divulge the details of the meeting but whatever the 23-year-old Rana said must have impressed Rehman because he hired her out of 90 other candidates shortlisted for the job.

MAG wasn’t Rana’s first job; she had already modelled while she was in college, worked in account management at Spectrum Communications (now Spectrum Y&R), and was the editor of Lines magazine for a year. But it seems to me that it is at MAG that she graduated into being a fashion heavyweight and also began her relationship with India in earnest.

Although she had already been representing Bridal Asia for a number of years, it was during her tenure at MAG that she started representing India Fashion Week in Pakistan. Based on this, Rana played an instrumental role in inviting Indian fashion designers, Anamika Khanna, JJ Valaya and Ritu Kumar for a fashion show, which was the first of its kind in Pakistan. There has been no looking back on that front and the ties with India have only grown stronger.

When Rana left Jang after four years because “I didn’t have a life there,” she decided to experiment with the electronic media and accepted a position as the Vice President at ARY Digital.

She calls it “the worst job I have ever had” and says that the only good that came out of it was “I had a lot of time on my hands to socialise, so I met the man who would later become my husband.”

Her husband Farhan is one of the coolest and most unflappable individuals I have ever met. Rana is all things loud and sassy while Farhan is not. Clearly, to use a well worn cliché, opposites attract.

Taking a year-long vacation after her marriage was fun in the beginning but soon turned into a nightmare.

“I was the most annoying human being on earth, I had too much time on my hands and I was turning into a Star Plus bahu!” she exclaims in her typical masala style.

Rana wasn’t particularly impressed with the quality of the job offers coming her way so she and Farhan decided to start up their own company, Epoch Creatives with a fashion magazine (Xpoźe) in November 2007.

She describes Xpoźe as a magazine that laughs at society but is not negative.

“The bashing we do is very positive. We love invading people’s privacy, we love social events – the magazine is a reflection of our society.”

This brings the discussion back to fashion and I am curious to know how she describes her personal style. She considers the question for a minute and then asks her friend, Zurain Zaheen Imam, an established fashion journalist in his own right. Imam has worked with Rana at Lines and MAG and is currently the Assistant Editor of Xpoźe. Without missing a beat he tells me that her style is “comfortable boho chic, eclectic and she is always worried about her bum.”

Laughing out loud, Rana agrees with this description and adds that although clothes are an extension of her personality, she is certainly not a “Louis Vuitton or Prada bag girl.”

With a toothy grin she explains, “I believe in quantity over quality.”

Even so, Rana is quick to point out that she is not consumed by fashion. Nor, she says, does she have any ambitions of being a fashion designer because “it’s very scary, I can’t deal with women!”

She is, however, very passionate about bringing a foreign fashion magazine to Pakistan. She questions why none of the major Pakistani media groups have invested in good local fashion and lifestyles magazine or brought in foreign franchise when India has Indian versions of practically all the big titles: Bazaar, Cosmo, FHM and GQ, just to name a few.

“I understand that it is not feasible to bring Bazaar or Vogue here because they rely on advertising from niche brands and there aren’t that many brands like that in Pakistan, not to mention that our designers don’t know kak (Punjabi for ‘nothing’) about advertising. What we need is a mass appeal magazine like Glamour or Marie Claire here.”

She makes a passing reference to a foreign magazine which has approached Xpoźe but says that she wants to withhold the details until something materialises.

For the time being though, Rana is happy with Xpoźe. When she gets bored with the ‘slow’ pace of a monthly magazine, she loves travelling.

"My friends say I have paiyaas (wheels) on my feet.”

And what is her ideal destination? I had assumed she would name one of the fashion capitals of the world but instead she surprises me with Cambodia.

“I was born in Pakistan and brought up in Nigeria so I love Third World countries, their rainforests, their culture, their history.”

Clearly Andleeb Rana is not your average fashionista but as she told me in a conversation after this interview, her dad thinks she is a lot like the ‘butterfly’ from the book, The Diary of a Social Butterfly by Moni Mohsin.

At her recommendation I bought the book and couldn’t stop laughing reading most of it. But when the ‘butterfly’ ‘innocently’ describes a woman with “big-big hulkas under her eyes and skin all lose-lose and pale jaisi” and another as “Jolen ka kamaal” and yet another as “a creature from Star Wars with three-three eyes, ears like palm fronds and skin like an alligator’s,” I have to admit that I agree with her father.

First published in the November-December 2009 issue of Aurora.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Media Planning Mavens

Marylou Andrew meets the four women at the helm of some of Pakistan’s largest media planning and buying agencies.

“When I joined media planning it was a very new field and it required persistence and a high level of dedication.”
Mehnaz Ahmed, Country Head, Initiative

“It is more challenging for a woman to be at the top because there is a lot of resistance.”
Fauzia Shamshad, Chief Executive, Starcom

“In this industry it is all about how your carry yourself, if you give people a certain impression, they will treat you accordingly.”
Amna Khatib Paracha, COO, Orientedge UM

“It is very easy to take s**t from a man, but not so easy from a female boss if she is shouting or trying to control you.”
Kiran Sardar Kohati, Managing Director, Tmedia

Marylou Andrew: How did you get involved in media planning and buying?
Mehnaz Ahmed: After doing my Masters, I joined R-Lintas in 1992 as assistant media planner in their newly formed media planning department. At the interview I was told that although they could not give me a job description, it would involve working on strategy and planning. Over the next five years we defined the need for the existence of media planning and in 1997 we landed the Unilever central media buying account, so the hard work paid off. Then Initiative was formed and we got the affiliation in 2006.

Fauzia Shamshad: I started working at Manhattan Leo Burnett in media and client service, and eventually became the media director as my experience and learning was in media. When the trend of specialisation came in, Starcom Media West Group and Leo Burnett opened an office in Pakistan. They met me casually and then asked me to head Starcom in Pakistan. This was about two years ago.

Amna Khatib Paracha: I started at Interflow as a strategy planner. I met Yasir Riaz (he came as a guest speaker to Interflow) and was really impressed with what he had to say about media planning. In 2001 Mindshare had an opening and I was recommended for the job. I stayed with Mindshare for seven and a half years, then moved to Pak MediaCom, but I only stayed for six months because Orientedge made me an offer that was too hard to refuse.

Kiran Sardar Kohati: I was with EBM for three and half years, but became interested in media planning so I joined Mindshare. At that time, media buying and planning was not really viewed as a career. But in my first six months at Mindshare I got the hang of the business and slowly started liking it. I joined as a strategic planner on the beverages account for Unilever and now I have been in the same field for seven years. I worked at Mindshare for five and a half years and in January 2008, I moved to Tmedia.

MLA: What challenges did you face in getting to the top?
MA: The greatest challenge was the fact that when I joined, media planning was very new and it required persistence and a high level of dedication. Compared to today when clients have a greater understanding of media, in those days there were only two channels and clients thought that people only watched primetime TV. It was a learning process for all of us and a hard sell to clients but it worked out.

FS: Challenge is my second name and I enjoy it. When we started Starcom, all the other media buying houses had already started up. But I was confident because Starcom is a big brand and a leader the world over. The support from the network was tremendous and we picked up good clients. People also know me in the market and that helps. It is said that bulk buying gets you all the advantages, but I think it is also the personal relationships you have with people that help.

AKP: I got a very good start because Mindshare was a good company with a professional set up, and I didn’t feel like a woman in a man’s world. We had support from our seniors and from the media. In this industry it is all about how your carry yourself, if you give people a certain impression, they will respond accordingly.

KSK: In media most of the challenges are internal. There are very few media planners, so all the agencies are fighting over them. As soon as media planners get even a small increment in their salary or a slightly better position, they want to move. But they need to see what their career growth is. It took me five and a half years to move, but now young media planners want to move after a year, so you have to fight with your own desires and greediness.

MLA: Would it have been easier for a man to be in your current position?
MA: In certain respects, yes. The first reason is because your workforce is predominantly male and getting the best out of them, maintaining a certain environment and making them receptive to your standards is challenging. You have to forget that you are a woman, and come down to their level and talk to them. A man would have a different way of talking. By and large though, if you establish a rapport with them and they trust you, it is alright. Also if you are harsh and assertive, men may not like being told off by a woman.

FS: It is more challenging for a woman because there is a lot of resistance. This is still a male dominated society, so at times men find it difficult to take direction from a woman. Although this is changing, at times clients are not willing to open up to a woman because it’s a guy-guy talk type scenario. Most people respect professionalism and sometimes when it’s a female voice calling, that can be an advantage as well.

AKP: There are things like socialising for example – there may be times when I don’t want to socialise with a certain type of person, so that would be easier for a man, because I cannot be too friendly and I have to be formal.

KSK: Yes it would be easier for a man. It is very easy to take s**t from a man, but not so easy from a female boss; if she is shouting or trying to control you, men will always say that she is throwing a tantrum. One of my first tasks here was to give men a comfort zone; to tell them that I am here to work with you, you will not work under me, rather we will work as a team. Initially there were a few raised eyebrows and some oohs and aahs when they found that it was a female MD who would be heading them.

MLA: A lot of women seem to be opting for media planning rather than buying; is there a reason for this?
MA: Buying has a typical perception of being about sending out ROs, etc. and if you ask an educated girl to do that sort of thing she will not be interested. But planning appeals to people because it provides exposure to clients and the media and it has an intellectual aspect. It has also become a lot more challenging because of the changing media scenario.

FS: A lot of women are going into all fields, not just media planning. Media planning is relatively new in this market and that is why women are joining. Buying is still dominated by men, but that will also change because women are strong minded and persuasive.

AKP: Women are better at planning and managing budgets and timelines. Buying seems more a man’s job because men have to deal with suppliers (media) who are not comfortable dealing with women because they come from a different environment. But I have seen women who turn out to be even better at buying than men because they have a knack for negotiating.

KSK: Buying is an art (you can’t learn it – the core skills have to be within you). There are one or two agencies where there are women in buying, but there have always been more men because the people you are dealing with in the media are men. Planning is more strategic and more happening – buying in our country is still looked upon as execution – decisions are made at the planning stage and that is where most people want to be, because the planners are the leaders.

MLA: What are some of your concerns when you hire women?
MA: When it comes to married women, I tell them that there will be times when they will have to work late. Normally they don’t mind if it is not an every day occurrence. It can be a hindrance but if they are career minded, it works out. More women are taking up media planning seriously; financially it has become a lot better than it used to be. When I started out I was one of the very few with a Master’s degree but now everyone is educated and dynamic, so they add great value and come up with great ideas.

FS: When women go out to work they have to forget that they are women. But when I interview I tell them that late hours are mandatory.

AKP: When we were interviewing people at Mindshare, we always asked the women if they were planning to get married, and if they did, would their in-laws have a problem with them working, because many times after you trained a woman, she would leave. Media planning is something you can only learn on the job and you have to put in a lot of effort with new people and if the person leaves, it becomes pointless. There was a point when we stopped hiring women at Mindshare, but then we realised that women are actually a better option.

KSK: I have many examples of both men and women who want to go home at . Here, the initial six months are rigorous training months and this enables us to find out from the start whether they can work with us and we with them.

MLA: What advice can you give to women who aspire to be in your position?
MA: Be consistent, preserve and maintain a certain standard of work.

FS: They have to be academically strong, have strong analytical skills and be hardworking, dedicated, honest and professional.

AKP: If you think you are a woman in this field, other people will think so too. Don’t think of yourself as the weaker person. You have to plan ahead and try to work with good organisations because you learn more and your time is better spent there and you will also be treated better.

KSK: Be consistent in what you are doing. You are women and you are labelled so; you need to work harder to show that you can deliver. The most difficult task is to give birth to a baby and when women can do that, they can do anything. Be consistent, persistent and determined; show them you are here to stay.

MLA: Where do you go from here?
MA: A natural aspect would be to branch out on my own. I have been in this field for quite some time and I feel that we are only doing five percent of what we could be doing in this market. There is so much happening in media, there is one innovation after another and it is not restricted to basic discounting and planning. I would like to try and get involved in as many new techniques as possible; it could be on my own or with like-minded individuals. I want to branch out and explore and bring more to the table for our clients.

FS: My idea is to train other people to do my job and work myself out of a job. The systems and procedures I have set up run on auto pilot and will continue without me. I can be heading a group of companies, I can go regional, etc. Someone else has to take my place and when they are ready, only then can I move on.

AKP: I knew this is where I wanted to be, but the next step would probably be to head a group or a bigger portfolio. Because I am married and my daughter is going to school, I cannot work outside Pakistan. It becomes difficult for married women because unless your husband is moving abroad, you cannot. Even if you are unmarried, your parents might object, which is why so few women have done it.

KSK: I have a lot to do here; we have worked on the infrastructure and in organising the place. But in order to be successful and to grow this place, I still need three to four years. But when I leave, I will open up my own agency.

First published in the May-June 2009 issue of Aurora.