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Hameed Haroon, Special Advisory Committee – AdAsia and CEO – Dawn, on solutions to the challenges faced by our advertising and media industry.

As originally published in Synergyzer Annual 2020

Can you please elaborate on the challenges that our advertising and media industry is currently facing?

See, the advertising industry is not made of Gods and Angels. It is composed of us Pakistanis and the same problems that are afflicting other creative sectors are affecting the advertising sector as well. Firstly, the country is facing one of the worst periods of recession which is why it is not able to generate funds for supplementary development activity [for instance, trainings] that the communication and advertising industry needs. Secondly, the industry is hit hard by structural changes in the media, structural changes in creative skills, and by the rise of the digital sector. The crux of the matter is that the industry has not been able to impart the communication it should have.

But why is it that there is so little creatively powerful advertising as there used to be?

The answer is that we still need to hone in on the development of skills and strengthen our creative sector. Having said that, we cannot blame our creative agencies alone for the poor quality of advertising. The clients, who had learnt the importance of creating relevant and meaningful advertising messages gradually over the last 50 years, have decreased in number.

The people on the client side now do not have much regard for creative effort. For instance, when creatives produce something after putting weeks of effort into it, the clients come and tell them that they are no better. But in my opinion it is the clients themselves who do not know any better. The clients should keep in mind that they can stimulate the creatives into doing better, but they cannot produce the work themselves.

All these factors have lowered the quality of advertising.

How can we address these challenges?

For advertising communication to thrive in the country, we need to focus on young talent, nourish interactive stimulation and create an enabling environment within the industry.

This is the responsibility of the media, the advertising sector and the academia. Although there are firms in the industry who deliver on this responsibility but it is sad how thin such forums are on the ground.

So be it the advertising agencies, media houses or clients; all have to create a matrix of stable employment for young talent. They need to select people on merit and provide them with strong on-the-job training. Over the next five years, if 1,000 or 2,000 people are groomed to perform creative thinking jobs, it will create a momentum for a movement with up to 10,000 to 25,000 people vitalized within the industry which, in my opinion, is not very difficult.

So the important aspects that we need to address are keeping the metrics clear, the goals transparent and the effort consistent.

You said that Pakistan’s media sector ‘is a sector under siege’. Can you elaborate?

Well, because instead of forging ties and coming up with collective solutions, people [in positions of responsibility within the sector] are busy trying to fight their individual battles of survival as if they are operating under the laws of a jungle. It may, in the short term, yield some benefits for a few people, but in the long run it will not be helpful to the industry.

Basically what this sector needs is an enabling environment based around public opinion from urban centers including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Faisalabad, Quetta and Peshawar, which is not forthcoming the way it used to be. Right now we need visionaries but creating them is the job of the education sector and I am afraid that educationals [institutes], in the true sense of the word, are not [creating] ‘visionaries’ anymore.

Also, all people want is to get educated and trained, and head to the nearest foreign destination for work. While this may serve the individual in the long run, the brain drain will not serve Pakistan.

In your opinion, what needs to be done by the Pakistan government to facilitate the survival of TV channels?

The government can always play a role.

Unfortunately, our government is excessively involved in trying to manipulate the media and advertising sector. This is not because they are evil; rather they want to gain a foothold on the message that goes out. However, the government needs to understand that there are wiser ways of doing that – their policies should focus on creating an enabling environment for people who are skilled at mass communication.

So I believe that the government can stimulate things to a certain extent but it should not play a negative role with respect to provision of incentives and stimulants to the advertising sector. Moreover, there has to be a certain amount of investment done in creative thinking, creative training, facilitating the arts, and the academia; and the advertising sector will be the beneficiary of these creative currents. That, I believe, is the best role our government can play.