Interview with Asim Naqvi, CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan.
Asim Naqvi talks to Aurora about his plans for 2015 and what it takes to lead an agency to success.
AURORA: Looking to 2015, what are your priorities for Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan?
ASIM NAQVI: One is to focus on local clients. In India, real growth came from local clients. In Pakistan times are changing and local clients are becoming bigger; not because they have started to do great business – they have been doing that for a long time. What has changed is that they have realised the importance of branding and communication, and how big this can be in terms of ROI. A second generation is coming to the fore and they are more focused on branding, so that today many local brands are into communications. Whether they are doing it right or wrong is another debate, but at least they have realised that communication is the way ahead. Companies such as Ogilvy, with their network, knowledge, contacts, experience of big brands and brand building, can really help local clients. This is where our growth will come from.
A: What is your global to local client ratio?
AN: Ogilvy’s policy is 50:50. In Pakistan, because initially we were focused on building up our relationships and brands for global clients, the current ratio is 70:30. My objective is to bring it to 50:50, an even balance of local and international business.
A: Recently some multinational as well as local companies have chosen to give their business to advertising agencies based outside of Pakistan. What are your views on this development?
AN: There is no right or wrong to this approach. We should look at the world as one country; a piece of creative is a piece of creative wherever it is conceived, and if it fits the bill, nobody can stop a client from trying to get it. The problem lies elsewhere; it lies in understanding the ground realities. If you choose a piece of creative in isolation, without context about what is happening on the ground, there will be problems. For example, people think that Indian and Pakistani consumers are similar. I disagree; we have different cultures, heritage, values. My view is very simple. There is no harm in going to an Indian, American, Malaysian, or South African creative agency for work. But working with an international network agency based in Pakistan is the best approach in terms of reaching out to the creative teams of any country around the world. Success is rooted in keen local insights and real cultural sensitivity that only an agency on the ground can bring to the table. Working with an agency in isolation is risky. However, it is for the clients to decide which way they want to go.
A: But for people in creative this must be very disheartening. Even within agency networks based in Pakistan, multinational clients are asking for global adaptations, while local clients expect their agency to look towards Indian ads for their ideas.
AN: I am very optimistic and I take everything as a challenge. There are always opportunities in everything that happens around us. Our creative people should see this as a challenge. They should ask themselves why this is happening and then come together and produce even better work. There is no harm in presenting a multinational with an original idea along with a local adaptation of a concept. You may not succeed at first, but eventually you might; we have done it. Adaptations are a fact of life and you can’t keep crying over this because nobody is going to come to help you out. Pakistani creatives should stand up for themselves. It is very important that as professionals we do this. Right now we don’t have an ‘active’ advertising association to fly the flag for us, so it is up to us to stand up and prove that we can do great work by coming up with even better ideas. If we are not contributing or adding value, why would clients need an agency like Ogilvy? It is also important to remember that we are usually asked to adapt the TVC only, and it is the work we do around it that is also very important, be it activation or digital or 360. We have a better understanding of both the ground realities and the consumers.
A: Apart from growing your local client base, what are your other priorities for 2015?
AN: To bake a bigger cake. We recently launched OgilvyOne, the world’s number one digital company and next year we will be launching Geometry Global, which is the world’s number one activation agency.
A: Will they be run as separate companies?
AN: Yes; they will report to me, but have their own business heads and separate clients. Obviously, first preference will be given to Ogilvy clients; otherwise the market will be open for them. In our start phase in Pakistan, we are picking and pitching for challenging projects on digital. As most of major clients already have a digital agency on board, we are trying to give them a taste of what OgilvyOne can do for them.
A: What will OgilvyOne offer that is so different from what the other digital agencies offer?
AN: It will be a great opportunity for clients to get a window into OgilvyOne’s worldwide knowledge, strategy, creative and development. This will be a lean and mean front office operation, supported by the regional head office in Hong Kong. Like other digital agencies, we will have our own people here, but unlike them, we will be able to offer constant support on digital strategy, creative, measurement, data analysis and CRM through our digital experts in the OgilvyOne regional office. No other digital agency in Pakistan is offering clients the opportunity to actively work with their regional resources in Hong Kong or the Philippines or Malaysia.
A: What about Geometry Global?
AN: Geometry Global is the world’s largest and number one activation company. It is a merger between G2, OgilvyAction and JWTAction. There is no other activation agency in the world that is even close to Geometry Global; you don’t talk about second or third; you can have number five and it’s Geometry Global at number one. This knowledge will now be coming to Pakistan.
A: What are your plans for Soho Square?
AN: Soho Square is for competing clients who want to access Ogilvy’s knowledge, system, exposure, and network, but can’t because of conflicts of interest. Soho Square’s first client in Pakistan was Coca-Cola in Lahore. Soho Square Lahore is a customised agency built around Coca-Cola’s needs; all our people there are beverage trained. We have opened a Soho Square office in Karachi and in 2015 we plan to take Soho Square to another level. We will be feeding in more resources, so that Soho Square can pitch for bigger clients. Soho Square will become an independent agency in 2015; right now it is supported by Ogilvy, but it is a separate brand.
A: WPP seems to be investing in Pakistan; you mentioned OgilvyOne and Geometry Global while earlier this month Millward Brown, also a WPP company, has opened an office here and last year GolinHarris, an Interpublic Group company, opened in Pakistan. Doesn’t this activity suggest that contrary to the perception that the economy is struggling, opportunities are opening in Pakistan on certain fronts?
AN: There is the State Bank of Pakistan’s view of the economy, but there is also a parallel economy which exists in Pakistan. Walk into any expensive restaurant and you won’t find a single empty table, neither will you easily find a vacant seat on an aircraft. People are buying smartphones like there is no tomorrow; look at QMobile’s success. Wherever you look there is growth due to all the unaccounted money that is floating about. This is why some FMCGs showed 40% growth over the last year and it is the local companies that are benefiting the most from this too. We just acquired a local client in Lahore who told me that although at the moment he did not need to advertise to sell his brand, he needed a company like Ogilvy to build long term brand strategy. This is why I believe that the future lies in local clients.
A: Looking at what PR companies like GolinHarris and market research companies like Millward Brown are talking about in terms of branding strategy, and not forgetting the digital companies, don’t you get the feeling that these disciplines are stepping on the territory that once was the sole purview of the advertising agencies?
AN: This is the challenge, but it is actually helping us ad professionals, because maybe we have been too relaxed. These companies are challenging us, and now is the time to show them our worth as creative agencies. If we do this we will survive, if not we won’t. But the risk is greater for them; this is our core business and we excel at it. So far, I have not seen a single example of a non-creative agency taking over the role of a creative agency. A creative agency’s job is not only to come up with an idea; it goes from the communication strategy to brand building to 360. At Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan we are inputting into our clients’ digital agencies; the same goes for the activation and PR agencies. It is all about how well we plan for change. However, if we don’t realise that these changes are happening then it will become a much bigger issue. These may be challenging times but they are also the best of times. In these times if you are leading an agency it is not enough to be a mad man, you have to be a maths man. Margins are shrinking and technology is changing everything. Digital, activation and PR agencies are all claiming they can provide creative and strategic solutions to clients, so you have to be very careful. You have to be a maths man and pick the right bets. You have to see what makes money and how can you bake a bigger cake, because if you don’t you will not be able to sustain yourself in the long term and keep your good people happy.
A: Given the challenges opening on multiple fronts, how do you motivate your creative teams?
AN: At Ogilvy we work on a twin peaks model; it is about being both creative and effective. Simply developing a great creative campaign which does not bring in the results for our clients is useless; as David Ogilvy said: “we sell or else”. As far as keeping our people passionate and motivated, our clients must be given a large share of the credit. They are the people who give us the opportunity to do good work, and this is the number one motivator for our people. Ogilvy helps them with the knowledge, tools, training, and by providing them with an environment that allows them to innovate, experiment and take risks. We push. We stand up for our ideas. We are an agency which can convince clients about our ideas, and there is nothing better for a creative person than seeing that his agency believes in his ideas, fights for them and has them executed.
A: When did you start your career in advertising?
AN: About 18 years ago. I started with RLintas. I was one of the fortunate people who were given the chance to work with Rauf sahib, who was a truly inspiring ad man. I have great respect for Khalid Rauf too. He mentored me, made me and gave me all the basics. I started as a management trainee and later I became head of account management. Then I opened Brandcom with Khalid Rauf; he took a risk with me and gave me all the opportunities. If Rauf sahib was a legend in those days, I think Taher Anwar Khan is the only person who you can claim to be a living legend. He has a vision for this industry; he is a proven leader. I have learnt from such people and I am still learning. But I have also learnt from my juniors and my colleagues. It’s phenomenal the way they are built, with so much ambition and passion. And then there are my clients; my biggest inspiration are the brands I work on. It’s wonderful having clients that are so supportive, and their demand for great work has been my biggest learning. I have been fortunate to have had clients, such as Coca-Cola, Mondelez, Nestlé and Unilever, who always demand the best work and then help me and my company deliver that best work. It is not just about being demanding; it is about supporting you in delivering on that demand. Advertising is all about being crazy, passionate and creative – and being good at maths! Sometimes people ask me whether there is anything which people don’t know about me, and my answer is very simple... as a leader I am passionate, aggressive and a go-getter, but what people miss in all this is that I am a nice man too!
Asim Naqvi was in conversation with Mariam Ali Baig.
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