Published in Mar-Apr 2015
I have been a terrible person. I am a snake oil salesman. I have lied, cheated, stolen, seduced, slacked and then lied some more. And that’s just on a good day. In fact the only reason I haven’t sold Brooklyn Bridge to anyone yet is because I haven’t been to Brooklyn.
Recently though I have been facing a bit of an existential crisis. I am painfully aware of my mortality and even more I am petrified of a karmic intervention. I am now convinced that I will be reincarnated as the thing that I fear the most. I will be reborn as a Brand Manager.
Please stifle that howl of protest. I am well aware that for the average business school student or a smart young management trainee, rising through the ranks until you eventually get that coveted Corolla is an admirable ambition.
But that is just not me.
If I come squealing into this world tomorrow, put through our wonderfully sanitised education system, find myself at what passes for an Ivy League grad school in Pakistan and then land myself a job at a suitably impressive organisation, here is what I will do.
1) I will ask the right questions
I will admit that I do not know everything. The best part of any journey is discovering new things and leaving oneself open to experiences. Curiosity is the greatest ally anyone in our business can have, and luckily there are enough people in our industry willing to share and mentor individuals whom they see as kindred spirits. I will make sure that I seek out those experts and pick their brains until I am able to earn their respect. And once I do that, I will respect them even more.
2) I will be a specialist
This job has the most incredible perks. You get to meet artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, singers and, of course, ad men. These individuals are, by and large, welcoming and crave an audience. They want to be appreciated and acknowledged. In return they encourage you to collaborate and be part of the creative process. Why on earth would I want to do their job for them, or worse, tell them how to do their job? Just as they do not know what sells soap in Sahiwal, I do not know why it is better to use an 85 for this shot instead of a 9.8.
3) Facebook is not a focus group
I love my friends. They are the family I chose. They have stood by me through thick and thin. They make me laugh when I am down in the dumps… and they never have anything good to say about my work. B******s. In my limited experience, lack of conviction produces the worst work. We are all human and easily swayed by criticism, especially when it comes from the people whose approval means the world to us. As Ogilvy said, “the consumer isn’t a moron… she’s your wife”. While that may be true, she cannot replace a good moderator, a dozen respondents and truckloads of empirical data.
4) I will try to be the smartest person in the room
If I ever become a superhero, I would like to be The Human Sponge. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could walk into a room and absorb the collective wisdom of the people in that space? Too many people assume that just because they went to the ‘right schools’, have the ‘right background’ and can quote Pink Floyd, they are somehow better than Joe and Jane Average. The easiest way to become smarter is to be a good listener. Instead of finding a problem in every solution and looking for the dark cloud that goes with the silver lining, I will look for ways to enrich my mind every single day. And once I am the smartest person in the room, I will move to another.
5) I will learn to say yes
A good marketer needs to be able to shed his skin. A great one has to be able to wear someone else’s. Set aside for a minute the creepy Silence of the Lambs visuals that the last couple of lines bring to mind and focus on the essentials. We are in the business of shaping opinions and influencing behaviour. If we are not open to new ideas and experiences, how on earth can we expect our consumers to buy into the power of that fantastic new enzyme that will give my shirt the glow that will get me that promotion, give me a full head of hair, make my boss want to choose me over his son and also cure impotence.
6) I will not let my life’s work be my work
A career is a wonderful thing. It pays for that dream house, that fancy car and that exotic vacation. But sooner or later, too many of us end up in a structure that is not a home, doesn’t allow us to roll down the window to feel the wind in our hair and spend a quiet evening on the beach whispering sweet nothings to our BlackBerries. Now don’t get me wrong… I am all for giving my work my all. But when I find myself in my office at 9:00 p.m. on a Friday poring over a spreadsheet, I should be able to realise that there is something significantly wrong with my life.
7) I will delegate
There is a huge difference between ownership and micromanagement. No points for guessing which one wins you friends and influences people. It is my responsibility to let the people on my team grow and the only way this will happen is when I give them the confidence to make mistakes and learn from them. My role as a leader is to make sure that every person who works on my team feels that I have their back, as opposed to them having the sense that I am looking over their shoulder.
8) I will have the courage to say
I’m sorry I cannot escape the fact that I will miss birthdays, anniversaries and parent-teacher meetings. I know I will ask people to work through the night or the weekend. I will get annoyed when things don’t go my way, irritated at delays and downright angry when someone makes a blunder. And I will have the courage to admit when I am wrong. When that and more happens, I will make sure that I apologise to the people whom I have let down and make sure that they know I mean it. I will make it up to them, not when I can, but immediately.
Now if I can do at least half of the things I intend to, I am sure that the next time I come around, it will be as the pool guy at the Playboy mansion. Fingers crossed.
Ali Hayat Rizvi is Resident Director, Lahore, Interflow Communications.