As originally published in Synergyzer 15-Year Annual Special (Issue 1 – 2018)

Below are the steps which are followed by those who have made a difference in this world. Any field, any era, any continent; the steps remain unchanged.

  1. Ask yourself, do I give a damn about anything?
  2. If the answer is yes, then proceed to step 3
  3. Observe constantly, see what’s there and what’s not there.
  4. Ask questions; ask the right questions. If no answers are given then find your own answers.
  5. Those answers might appear in the shape of ideas (Warning: Please don’t be scared of them).
  6. If you have found the courage to embrace those ideas, then comes the hardest part of making them happen.
  7. Be prepared to face ridicule, rejection and resentment.
  8. Ignore what happened to you in step 7 and keep at it.
  9. If you follow all these steps, then one day you will also be celebrating the 15-year anniversary of an idea like Synergyzer.
  10. If this is not for you then go back to step 1.

15 years ago, before Synergyzer’s typeface was set in ink, we followed the same steps and created Pakistan’s first magazine dedicated to advertising and marketing. More than 65 issues later, in a mood to reminisce and relearn the core lessons, we went back to our Editor-in-Chief, Mr. Ahmed Kapadia aka AK, who is also the Founder and Managing Director of Synergy Group, to know his views on the performance of the industry.

 

Question: Would you still answer yes to step 1 of the process of making a difference?

AK: When it comes to advertising, my answer will always be ‘yes, I care about advertising’. Advertising is one of the most important elements in the marketer’s armor that builds the value of a brand. Having said that, advertising is a double-edged sword; it can also have detrimental effects on the brand image, if not done properly. I was always awed and amazed by the impact that advertising had in influencing perceptions of brands and in turn, by the behavior of customers towards them.

Having extensive experience in the advertising industry in Pakistan, I am highly disappointed at the quality of ad campaigns. We are still disconnected from consumers and living in a cocoon if we believe that the present quality of advertising is in any way a progression in the last 30 odd years. To me this is now becoming a major irritant as an advertising professional to see that we are not learning from the past. We are making the same mistakes and continue to play safe in a battle ground which is far more ruthless than it was ever before.

I fear that if we don’t identify the root cause of this dilemma and change our approach, it will be too late to recover. So, let’s delve deeper into the real issues and have the courage to bring them out in the open.”

 

Question: Where do you think the advertising industry in Pakistan has gone wrong in the last 30 years?

AK: The advertising industry has not evolved with changing times in the last three decades or so. I strongly believe that advertising and communications is a reflection of the nation. Unfortunately, there has not been a lot of positive development in the country, particularly with reference to industrial and economic growth. Hence the advertising industry has also shown a regressive trend and performed below par.

 

Question: In your opinion, is the poor quality of ad campaigns solely the fault of the advertising agencies or are the brand managers and brand custodians equally at fault?

AK: It takes two to tango. Success and failure can never be attributed to one person or division. Advertising is a highly collaborative process and demands extensive research to arrive at a business proposition. We don’t just have to advertise; rather we must solve for a problem or need that is driven by consumers.

Therefore, it begins with a strategic purpose identified by the brand or marketing team, which is based on research and insights. It is at this point that the agency comes into the fold and builds on the communication strategy to translate this into a creative idea. My personal experience, being on both sides of the business, is that the fault lies on both ends. There is mediocrity on both sides of the fence; an inexperienced and untrained brand manager cannot draw a clear line on where their role ends and where the agency’s domain begins. Similarly, a poorly trained account manager does not have the understanding of the critical information required in the brief to develop a communication strategy. In such a working dynamic, you can only expect average results at best as the quality of input defines the quality of the output.

 

Question: How would you evaluate the role of the Advertising Association of Pakistan in the development and growth of the advertising industry?

AK: The success of any trade body depends on multiple factors. However, one of the core factors is dependent on the financial strength and unity of the Association. It is not any of the associations that make advertising agencies, but it’s the other way around. If the member agencies are willing to commit resources to the PAA and in turn demand development of the advertising agencies to align on systems and structures, then change is possible. Instead, if our intent is only to have the PAA to show that we have a trade body and do not even understand its role then we can’t expect to get any benefits from it. The irony is that it is not rocket science, but more of learning from other countries with effective similar advertising associations. To me, it is the misaligned intentions of advertising agencies that is not strengthening the PAA. Unless we are committed to the cause of mutual benefit, we cannot make headway.

 

Question: Owners and senior management in advertising agencies frequently complain that there is a dearth of talent in the industry. Do you agree with this?

AK: It is true to some extent, however it also very important to understand why. Attracting high quality talent has a lot to do with the perception and profile of advertising professionals in Pakistan. My question is, how much have we invested in the developing human resources in our agencies and if our answer is, not a lot; why is this the case?

To me the problem starts simply with the economic viability of being able to offer above market packages to attract the requisite talent. At present the biggest issue for an agency is the compensation from a client. When the whole focus of clients is fixed on how they can chop off from 15% of the agency’s earnings, then it all comes down to survival. When clients are willing to sacrifice value-added services from agencies, just to prove that saving on agency commissions is high priority, it only leads to chaos. If by spending more I can get more, then it’s a win-win. Unfortunately, the poor ethics of undercutting rates, deceit and lies is what we see prevalent in the society. We are no exceptions to the rule and suffer terribly due to corruption of the mind and the soul.

 

Question: Marketing personnel regularly complain that Pakistani advertising agencies are not creative. How would you respond to that?

AK: My answer to that is partially related to the compensation highlighted above. The other half relates to the fact that marketing and advertising are two sides of the same coin. What I mean from that is that they don’t exist independently and need each as partners. Unfortunately, the relationship is hardly ever seen by both sides as equals.

Marketing mostly believes that they are paying for the cost of advertising, therefore, they have the major stake in what is right or wrong. When they become the authority in the relationship, then there is no partnership. If marketers truly wish to enter into a partnership with the agency, then they should be willing to share rewards through increased compensation or bonuses when a campaign exceeds targets. I have never seen a client coming to me and saying here’s an additional Rs. 2 million for outstanding results from your creative campaign.

 

Question: Do you think that there is nepotism in the advertising business? What is the cause and how should this be dealt with?

AK: As I mentioned earlier, we are a part of the society and whatever goes on outside affects the advertising industry business also. Although individuals can create their own circle of influence in their area of control, yet it is not enough to bring a positive change. I personally don’t believe in favoring one employee over the other based on caste, creed, religion, sex etc. I also deliberately bring this up with my core group of managers as well as down the line as often as I can. However, I have also seen in my career in other organizations that managers have favorites who have greater power in the decision-making process than others. It does create an environment of unfairness and dissuades merit to prevail in organizations. In my opinion, setting a precedence of merit in an organization starts from the top and is sustained through HR policies that are fair and transparent for everyone to see.

 

Question: Affiliated and international agencies have been present in Pakistan for many decades now, what part have they played in shaping our industry?

AK: The world is becoming smaller and smaller and we see that our own industry has suffered a lot because of most creative work being handled out of regions. While these are cost saving and strategic decisions for brands in the long run they hurt the local industry. Our own Brand Managers have no experience of creating brand ideologies, our own creative has lesser exposure to ideation on international brands. Global experience is a must and we can’t hide in our own end of the pond, yet affiliated and international agencies need to play a bigger part. You should not get an affiliation just for the name, local leadership must bring in the international best practices for the benefit of their business and for the growth of their teams. Local leadership plays the key role thus an affiliation for the namesake remains an affiliation until or unless leadership plays a dynamic role or some client remains under this false illusion that an affiliate partner would be more effective; whereby it is effective leadership which drives as to how an agency performs.

 

Question: Improvement is a result of deliberate effort in the right direction and not a coincidence. With this reality staring us in the face, how would you encourage advertising professionals to play an active role in developing talent?

AK: A society is made of people like you and me. No one has greater rights over the other, if we truly believe in the rights given to us by the constitution of Pakistan. If we truly believe in this, then we must also believe that we need to give back something to the society. Some people do this through financial support or volunteering for a cause; as professionals we can contribute by sharing and learning. We have the platform of the PAA available to us. There are so many accomplished professionals in the industry, with tons of experience. We are powering the Cannes Lions’ See it, Be it platform for their first ever event in Pakistan along with other industry stakeholders. This is a program designed to accelerate the career of women in advertising by inspiring and mentoring them. Once again, we have the full support of PAA and PAS and we have included mentors and speakers of global repute. These are industry issues and until we tackle them holistically we will not be able to raise the bar for the whole industry.

 

Question: The government has failed us in many ways. However, should we just accept that or lead the way in building their confidence in advertising, by bringing our house in order?

AK: They say “charity begins at home”. It’s such a true statement. If I am willing to believe in my own cause, only then will I have the ability to influence others towards it. The first step is to create the right perception of advertising itself. This should not be seen as an initiative of an individual agency but rather a joint effort by a group of advertising agencies that are honest to their profession. We need to rise beyond our own ambitions to make a lot of money and bring honesty and purpose in advertising. It’s not simple nor is it an easy fix; yet it is doable.

 

Question: We all criticize the people, the organizations and the environment. What has been your own contribution in bringing positive change?

AK: The easiest thing in the world is to become a critic. After we have criticized everything around us; then what? This is what elevates humans over others; we learn, evolve and influence.

When I started my own agency, I was committed to learn from all the negative experiences that I had gone through. We created systems and policies that could bring positive change. We worked on transparency and a merit based culture. But most of all I put a concerted effort in giving back to the industry and the community that I live in. We created Synergyzer and Brandsynario as voices of the advertising industry that still continue to be on this mission. And I do want to mention it here; it was the team led by Syed Zaheer Uddin back then, which gave me the confidence that such an idea can be executed well. It was the fact that Synergyzer became the talk of the town, which led to us creating Bradsynario some years later. Both of these are neutral platforms where we invite everyone from the industry to participate and play a role. We give space to brands, campaigns and professionals. We showcase talent and their work. We acknowledge contributions of advertising professionals at all levels; we voice our opinion and also show the courage to criticize mediocre work. Above all, we never use our own platforms to promote our other companies. Hence all opinions are unbiased and neutral, not favoring one company or brand over any other.

I also want to mention LKMWT here, which is our own way of giving back to the society. We are a firm believer that it is the job of the people like us who have been fortunate in this world to help the unfortunate. We started this memorial trust with nothing but good intentions and so far the trust and its patrons have helped more than 20,000 individuals through health services and donations.

This is the core of Synergy Group, a principle that we call Innergy, first see what you can do; then go ahead and do it. Life is too short to wait for others to come and help us.