Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Life with Dawn

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
Nazafreen Saigol, MD, CityFM89 & CEO, Dawn Films, in profile.

When I interviewed Nazafreen Saigol in 2007, DawnNews’ test transmission had started, and she was COO of the channel, and a statement she made then remained entrenched in my mind:

“It is a double-edged sword to be associated with DAWN. I think the expectations were really high [regarding the launch of DawnNews], and I hope in time we will live up to those expectations.”

The statement struck me as an extremely honest one, given that most people tend to be effusive when it comes to describing their newly launched enterprises (be it a brand or a TV station), while Saigol, in comparison, was not only very young (she was 26 at the time), but had enough confidence to be honest, and did not fall prey to dousing her speech with unrealistic claims in an attempt to appear more confident or knowledgeable.

That is Saigol for you: reserved, to an extent, but extremely down to earth; there are no contrived airs and graces, no shades of being entitled synonymous with second generation COOs; and yet, despite the soft-spoken persona, and an affable and charming disposition, one can detect a steely determination, and a no-nonsense attitude.

Fast forward to 10 years later, and we are seated in the sunny offices of CityFM89 where Saigol is the Managing Director. She is well-dressed, as always, but not in a ‘look-at-me’ kind of way. She does not have a hair out of place, although she does admit later on that she seems to always be in a rush, whether it is juggling work, her children (she has two) or her married and social life.

We turn the conversation towards her time at DawnNews, and she is visibly energised.

“It was fun putting the team together, working with young people who were full of ideas and wanted to do something different. They subscribed to the DAWN belief of wanting to be an agent of change and influence people in a positive way.”


"My mother always said that I should do whatever I wanted to since we have a professional setup in place which is not dependent on a family member coming in and running it. She did, however, tell me that since I wanted to work in the media, working at DawnNews would be a good opportunity as it would give me an insight into how businesses are set up."


In 2010, after the team realised that the scope of an English language news channel was not viable enough to remain afloat, DawnNews began broadcasting a few Urdu news segments and eventually became a full-fledged Urdu channel. Saigol remembers this time as an especially difficult one, although she demonstrates an understanding of why this was the only way for the channel to move forward.

“Advertisers want biggest bang for their buck, so I understood that an English language news channel was not one they felt they would get the most eyeballs.”

The change to Urdu was a tough one to implement, since the channel had to be reorganised; a lot of people had to be let go of, and others recruited in their place. Despite this, Saigol is clear that the channel has not compromised on its quality, and admits that it took the channel some time to find its feet. She is also confident that DawnNews hasn’t fallen prey to the lure of sensationalism that is the trademark of most Urdu news channels. In fact the channel has managed to remain one of the top five news channels in Pakistan and has carved a niche for itself as “the voice of sanity in an otherwise insane world.”

“It was a bitter pill for us to swallow, but our credibility, the trademark of all Dawn Media Group platforms, is one thing we haven’t compromised on.”

Of course, during the course of 10 years at DawnNews and CityFM89, being the daughter of Mrs Amber Saigol-Haroon, the Chairman of the Dawn Media Group, must have posed its own set of challenges; I ask this question a little hesitantly, but Saigol, like always, answers this question in a very matter-of-fact manner.

She remembers she wanted to be a lawyer when she was younger, and this is the career path she chose as she pursued a law degree at the London School of Economics. After graduating, she joined the London-based law firm Linklaters for two years. She did, however, all this time have an interest in working in the media industry.

“My mother always said that I should do whatever I wanted to since we have a professional setup in place which is not dependent on a family member coming in and running it. She did, however, tell me that since I wanted to work in the media, working at DawnNews would be a good opportunity as it would give me an insight into how businesses are set up. However, she made it clear I had to be sure that I wanted to leave law before joining DawnNews.”

When she joined DawnNews she reported to the CEO, Shakeel Masud. “I didn’t come in as the owner’s daughter and a lot of people I hired were perhaps not aware of who I was. What they were aware of was that they would work with me.”

Following the departure of Nermeen Chinoy, COO, CityFM89 in 2013, Saigol took on the mantle of MD. Once there, she conducted research with regard to the channel’s standing in the market, and in the process, learnt that her perceptions of CityFM89 (that it was a strong brand with a loyal listenership within its market segment), were not quite on the ball.

“I realised that our audiences have changed with time; many people from SEC B are working professionals, and they felt that 89 was not talking to them, and were unable to relate to the channel.”

In order to remedy this, Saigol had to make another round of changes – she cancelled certain shows and replaced them with others which were more in tune with the station’s new audience base and which now included people from SEC B, instead of only SEC A.

However, when it came to taking tough decisions this time around, the fact that she had been in a similar situation at DawnNews gave her the confidence to make them with relative ease.


Saigol is also the CEO of Dawn Films, a newly established film production company which has partnered with Mateela Films. One film is currently in the pipeline and Saigol says it will be a commercial venture, with ‘refined treatment.’ She adds that as the company grows, it will have a more diverse portfolio – and cover more genres.


“I didn’t want to step on anyone’s toes, but I was convinced that I had to do what was best for the brand. I made some difficult decisions, but I had the relevant experience; and we are now in a better place in terms of advertisers. I knew that although people would not be happy with my decisions, I was not there to make them happy, but to run the business and that my responsibility was to ensure that my employees had a future.”

Saigol is also the CEO of Dawn Films, a newly established film production company which has partnered with Mateela Films. One film is currently in the pipeline and Saigol says it will be a commercial venture, with ‘refined treatment.’ She adds that as the company grows, it will have a more diverse portfolio – and cover more genres.

With Dawn Films and CityFM89, not to mention a husband and children to cater to, I can only wonder how she manages to do everything.

“I don’t think I am managing,” she answers with a self-deprecating laugh. “On the home or work front I always feel like there’s more I have to do. I’m a bit of a perfectionist, so I am usually dissatisfied with what I have done, and feel like I am always running helter-skelter.”

She admits that she has flexible work hours, something that the channel provides to other women as well, which allows her to spend time with her children in the evenings; it is this time when she switches off from work. After the children are in bed, she “turns back on”, all the while spending time with her husband, Danish Ali Lakhani, who works at Cybernet.

One area that she is unable to give any time to is social life, which she says she is working towards achieving soon, as well as to reading more. She has written several short stories and wants to continue writing – if and when she has more time.

Given that she already has plans to dedicate some time to DAWN newspaper in the future, the chances of having free time seem unlikely. However, the chances are also that her steely determination will ensure that once she sets her mind to it, she will manage to do so.

Mamun M. Adil is Manager, Business Development and Research, DAWN.
mamun.adil@gmail.com