January, 2018

You have been in advertising for a long time now. How has the journey been?

It’s been an eventful journey for me. I am fortunate that under my late father Aziz Khan, who was one of the pioneers of advertising in Pakistan, I got to learn advertising from its very basics. That is why when he passed away, I was ready to take over and run the agency successfully because I knew the ropes and I had also been exposed to the clients so that I could service them with confidence.
I must of course say that from the time I came into this field to the present, advertising in Pakistan and, all over the world, has been through many ups and downs. Both I and my agency have been through these times, whether good or bad, and still managed to keep our heads above water. It’s been a great learning experience for me and for all those who have worked with me. It is a blessing of the Almighty that we have been given this chance to perform to our best abilities.

Is advertising in Pakistan the same as it used to be say twenty or thirty years back?
No, it’s not. A lot of water has passed under the bridge and the attitudes of both advertisers and the media have changed. Now it is not the typical advertising agency that our earlier generations established or where we learned the craft. New media have come in and the ad spend has shifted towards these media. The audience’s habits have also changed and now people are not interested in reading as such. They are more interested in watching and listening. So the electronic media take precedence over print media and that is where the advertisers spend their money because that gives them the desired results.

What are the major issues that you think advertising in Pakistan is confronted with?
There are so many. I think the foremost issue relates to the fragmentation of media. So many TV channels have come up that it becomes difficult to determine as to which channel would effectively reach the right audience or which the product is aimed at. This is also what leads to the constant drumming in of the same ad on a number of channels.

The TV channels work closely with the media houses and are able to indulge in the drumming in process because they are offered huge cuts. This leaves the advertising agency nowhere.

Earlier the advertising budget used to be spent on print and radio and some on outdoor. Then came TV with all it audio-visual magic. TV commercials began to be made and they started giving better sales results. This led to more money being spent on TV commercials. While that trend has continued and a lot more money is spent on TV and radio and outdoor advertising has improved drastically with all those technical advancements in panaflex printing, print has been left far behind. The situation is further changing with the advent of the social media though internet penetration in Pakistan still has a long way to go.

The emergence of separate media planning and buying houses has also damaged the advertising sector. These houses work for small profit margins which undercut the advertising agencies.

How do you see the agency-client relationship developing now?
Clients have seen to it that the 15% commission on the ad spend, which was the lifeblood of any advertising agency, is a thing of the past and faces a demise. They have also become more demanding now. In addition to the regular services that agencies give to them, they ask the agency to do things that are over and above accepted standard functions. For example, we create presentations for them, conduct job interviews and even act as their employment agents. They also ask us to act as their PR agencies without being compensated for it.

It also seems that the clients now consider themselves as being well-cognizant with the technicalities of advertising and the creative process. One client remarked that even his secretary could use photo shop so there was nothing great about it. Now they also like to throw in their bit about selection of media for their campaigns, creative concepts and copy.

I would say those agencies that are not adapting themselves to the demands of the


new media have been left behind. Clients have also become more savvy and more demanding. They have been lured into making substantial savings in their advertising budgets because media houses take away most of the 15% that advertising agencies used to work with. On top of that, some media houses have also begun to offer creative services so the function of the ad agency has almost become null and void. The mushrooming of creative shops run by communication art graduates is also eating into the functions of advertising agencies.

So you would say that the agency business is not lucrative anymore?

Yes, I would tend to agree with this to the extent that if any agency continues to insist on working in the traditional manner, it will go out of business very soon.
How do you see the emergence of the social media as an advertising medium?
Considering the fast pace with which the internet is penetrating into our lives, it had to come sooner than later. Moving further on from TV, people now depend on their computers and mobile phones for news and entertainment. This is where the consumer must now read the advertising message as well. Keeping up with developments regarding the social media is important for people running advertising agencies. This is certainly a new medium and it must be used judiciously so that it can become effective as a message tool. It has a lot of future potential and it depends on how it is employed.

We have a separate digital department at our agency where we monitor whatever is happening on the social media front concerning advertising and how different advertisers are employing social media to project their advertising message. We now also follow the practice of adding social media to the media mix that we recommend to our clients. I personally believe that this will become a very strong medium in the near future and we must be fully ready when that happens. It is very important that we select properly trained and qualified people to effectively utilize social media on behalf of our clients. It is also important that the agencies on the whole become more familiar with how this medium works and how it can be used with maximum efficacy for different clients.

You think the new generation that is coming into advertising will take it to further new heights?
That is of course the logical thing for me to believe. However, the reality is a bit different. Not enough young people are coming into advertising. Perhaps other professions are more attractive for them. Probably the young lot that does come into advertising comes for the glamour. I don’t find them dedicated enough. They don’t seem to be inclined towards learning the craft through hard work and would rather take short-cuts.

A lot of people come to me for jobs but they do not have a clear-cut idea of what advertising really is. They are only taught advertising as a casual subject - as a part of their business studies or journalism curriculum. I don’t know of anyone who has come to me with a local degree in advertising as a specialty. None of our institutions teach the subject of advertising. We have to make do with MBAs or commerce graduates in the client service department or people holding O and A-level qualifications and journalism degrees becoming copywriters or concept developers.

Agency owners complain a lot about not having new talent coming into the field. Don’t you think they are also responsible for this?
Yes, I completely agree with you. Many years ago, the leading advertising agencies should have gotten together to develop an advertising institute whose job it would be to take in people with a mental gift for advertising and then giving them schooling leading to certificates, diplomas and degrees in their chosen discipline in advertising. There would have been no dearth of teachers as well as there were so many senior people working for agencies who could have devoted time to teach the new entrants. It may be late in the day now but even then, an effort could be made to set up such an institution. This would benefit everyone – those young people who wish to make advertising their career, the ad agencies who need new blood and even the clients who keep on lamenting the paucity of fresh ideas.

What is the future of advertising?
Advertising worldwide is going through a sea change and the key word is ‘smart’. Very soon, everything will be driven by digital media. Integrated digital media will soon take over so it would be best for forward looking advertising agencies to make the most of the great opportunities ahead and go for digital transformation because that is where the future lies.

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