(This article was first published in the Jan-Feb 2014 edition of Aurora.)
I am fiercely critical of the standards of advertising in Pakistan and at the risk of sounding melodramatic I believe I will devote my life to the quest of improving the quality of advertising. I have made enemies, I have lost business, I have cursed and yelled. But the most important thing I have done is to take action, rather than just shout even more loudly. A decade of experience had taught me that if I wanted to do anything about it I would have to approach the problem like a doctor; address the root causes, nip and tuck it in the bud and rid the disease before it became incurable.
I am the son of a revered teacher with over 40 years teaching experience. Add to this, my falling in love with and marrying a college lecturer. It was inevitable that I should try my hand at teaching.
In 2007, I started sharing my knowledge and experience of advertising at the College for Business Management (now the Institute of Business Management) I then taught at the Shaheed Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Institute of Science and Technology (SZABIST), I have been a visiting lecturer at the Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVSAA). Needless to say I have accumulated enough experience to be qualified to write on this subject.
Teaching turned into therapy. No matter how low I felt, a class with young people would raise my spirits and give me the energy to conquer the world. Once, when we had a major setback at Headlion, I was so down it was difficult to even get out of bed. Devoid of hope I went to my class and when I returned I had so much energy that I took the disaster head-on and fixed the problem in 24 hours. The reason for this lengthy prologue is to establish how important teaching is to me. It is not just a second profession, it is something I love doing as much as advertising.
"I have worked with leading multinational and national companies and the focus is always on the TVC, with everything else treated like a condiment. Once the TVC is approved, the brand team and the agency lose focus."
When I started teaching I was motivated by a two point agenda. One, I am a fierce critic of the standard of advertising in Pakistan and a believer that actions speak louder than words. The idea was to teach future professionals what really great advertising is about, and over 500 students later I feel I am close to my goal. Two, I was hoping to network with successful people (teachers) who would help me gain business or enrich my learning.
The staff room proved as useful to networking and learning as the letter T is in the word Christmas.
I was shocked by the standard of teachers in most institutions. Although I never agreed with it, I now feel it was a wise person who coined the phrase: ‘Those who can’t do – teach.’ I found in the staff rooms teachers who had been fired from various agencies on the grounds of incompetence. Two had worked at Headlion; one was fired because he would fall asleep during meetings, the other, an account director, because of his dress sense. It may sound trivial but wearing chappals, a stained shirt and smelling like a butcher is not acceptable. A third (from another agency) was fired for taking kickbacks. I stopped going to the staff room when a student told me that one of her teachers had asked her out.
The dilemma was if she reported him, he would flunk her. There are numerous similar stories and they drove me to one conclusion. The standard of teaching in business schools is directly responsible for the standard of advertising today. A teacher once invited me to be a guest speaker at his class. When I got there I thought I had landed in a place where time had stood still – and the worst part was that whatever I said was the opposite of what the teacher was saying.
Another reason why students are oblivious of the basics of advertising is because of the curriculum. I once signed up to do a course on Integrated Marketing Communication (IMC), which is about the consistent application of the brand message across myriad marketing channels. It is a favourite subject of mine and I believe the advertising fraternity have no knowledge of this, or at least it doesn’t show in their campaigns. I have worked with leading multinational and national companies and the focus is always on the TVC, with everything else treated like a condiment. Once the TVC is approved, the brand team and the agency lose focus. At the end of my class, I realised that the students did not know the basics of advertising. When I asked where they saw themselves in five years time, almost all said at a leading MNC. So I started off with the ABCs and by the third class I asked the Dean what were his expectations of these students, because no MNC was going to hire them.
To my surprise he replied:
“We want them to have a future in creative departments.”
“Where???” I asked.
“In ad agencies and the broadcast media,” he replied.
The students didn’t know that and their teachers for sure didn’t know that.
The Dean then added: “We are competing with the IVSAA and the National College of Arts.”
I almost muttered, “But this is a business school.”
There are many dubious ways these institutions earn money, a course in a semester is auctioned off; even the results are nudged in a way so as to increase the billing. I am aware these are harsh words but here is something that may help you digest the pill.
Applying IMC in advertising comes at a very senior stage and in the broadcast media there is absolutely no need for it. I wanted to bang my head, as well as the Dean’s, against the wall. Instead, I reconfigured my course outline. This was three years ago and today only one student out of 40 is working at an agency and that too in the strategy department.
At another business school I taught creative production, filmmaking, Photoshop and other irrelevant courses. Even relevant subjects have outdated course outlines. So who puts together these outlines? We do. And here is how I did it. I took eight different courses over a period of time and I would do justice to each one by preparing thoroughly before every class. But I am not perfect and I am also busy. So whenever I was asked to submit a course outline I would simply copy paste and change the title of the course and submit it knowing full well that no one in the academic department would read it. I once suggested reassessing and removing courses that were no longer relevant, only to be told this was not a charitable organisation and they had to earn money too.
Which brings me to my final point. I am a capitalist by nature, I am aware that such institutions have to earn money but not at the cost of Pakistan’s future. If you send a good crop of marketers out in the field, the economy will flourish, leading to a healthy, happy and prosperous Pakistan. There are many dubious ways these institutions earn money, a course in a semester is auctioned off; even the results are nudged in a way so as to increase the billing. I am aware these are harsh words but here is something that may help you digest the pill. Which is your favourite campaign done by a marketing institution in Pakistan? The answer most probably will be, none. No one has ever put their money where their mouth is, except me by writing this piece.
Neil P. Christy is CEO, Headlion. firstname.lastname@example.org