IAL Saatchi & Saatchi
Imtisal Abbasi, Managing Partner – IAL Saatchi & Saatchi
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As originally published in Synergyzer Annual 2020

What defines a legacy agency?

A legacy agency, in a literal sense, could be one that is 200 years old or 100 years old; even 50 years is a significant amount of time to craft a legacy. But legacy does not mean simply having been around a long time. A legacy is based on achievements, pioneering efforts, and for rendering excellence in all aspects of your operations. ‘What is our purpose? How do we want to be remembered?’, are the questions we need to ask to define the direction of any agency’s future.

In the Pakistani context, there are a lot more family-owned agencies. Would you classify a family-owned agency as a legacy agency?

Legacy does not differentiate between professionally-owned and family-owned. Family owned agencies can be legacy agencies, but that may not mean that legacy agencies need to be family owned. A legacy of excellence can be passed down from one professional generation to another.

Why are family-owned agencies suffering in Pakistan, in your opinion?

In Pakistan, family-run agencies are struggling because they are family-run. People are unclear of the difference between an owner and a manager. An owner needs no qualification to own an agency but a manager has to be professionally qualified. In Pakistan just because you own an agency you become a manager.

How can such advertising agencies survive?

The agencies facing an existential crisis need to look inwards. One of the fundamental constructs is to attract, nurture and allow talent to evolve. If the family-run agencies do not get out of nepotism and provide a clear career path for their teams, they will face difficulties.

Why are legacy agencies or in Pakistan’s case, family-owned agencies, following a slow transformation strategy?

Unfortunately, in Pakistan I don’t know many family-run agencies that have been fast to evolve. Maybe it’s just a lack of vision, lack of purpose, or maybe the people are too comfortable, maybe they don’t want to take their business forward. At IAL the owners had a vision and foresight to bring in professionals as partners and today we are a perfect blend of family and professional ownership.

Trust between clients and agencies has declined and long-term relationships seem to be part of a bygone era. Why are advertisers switching agencies at such a high rate?

Because the days of my-dad-and-your-dad-were-friends-so-we’re-working-together are gone. Now it’s all about transparency, data, results; every marketing dollar has to deliver a bigger bang for the buck. Clients leave when they don’t see transparency, don’t get good work and don’t get good service. If an agency — whether family-run or professionally managed — does not deliver expected results, it will come under pressure. Clients are paying close attention to what more is out there. They see a couple of agencies doing good work, so they are becoming dissatisfied with the mediocrity of the majority.

How should business models evolve in order to survive and sustain in a shifting industry environment?

Advertising is a very simple business made complicated by ourselves. At the front and centre of any agency is the pursuit of the most effective idea. The three fundamental truths are substance in strategy, enduring idea and brilliant execution. These three constructs must be delivered and for that you need good talent, a good work culture, honest people and transparency.

How do we recreate the golden age of Pakistani advertising?

Pakistan’s advertising never had a golden age. You might remember five ads from the 1980s, but the stickability of a jingle has nothing to do with good advertising. If you can recall an ad, it’s only because there was just one television channel in the 1980’s. It is merely cheap nostalgia.

In the Pakistani context, what does the agency of the future look like?

If the agencies are to have a future at all, they need to go back to the basics. We are not doing even the fundamentals right, so how can we go forward? There are no insights to the ads, no relevance and shameless plagiarising. First we need to learn how to draw a straight line, then we can attempt to become a Picasso.

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