Published in Nov-Dec 2015
When I tell my former colleagues, friends and family in Canada and the US that I am running a digital media agency in Pakistan, I receive wide-eyed stares with an underlying expression of shock and awe. Here is a guy who decided to leave a great job and the city of Toronto and moved to Pakistan to ride the upcoming wave of technology and digital media. Bravo!
Indeed, it is an amazing time to be here and doing what I am doing. As one of the fastest growing nations on Facebook and hundreds, if not thousands, of cheap smartphone brands, competitive 3G/4G offers, the average Pakistani is changing the way he or she interacts, rapidly. Every brand has become aware of this reality and is seeking experts to manage their digital media communications. All in all, we are here to stay and grow. That’s the ‘gain’ part. When, four years ago, we decided to enter the digital media industry in Pakistan, we knew it was going to be awesome. Awesome it is, but it is more. The more is mostly all ‘pain’.
I was asked to share the challenges of the digital media industry in 2016, so I am going to try and refrain from ranting about the past. However, I strongly feel that the hurdles of the past are going to remain and in some cases grow.
Let us quickly define some ground realities that almost all my colleagues in the digital media industry will agree with. It has only been a few years since digital media has become a part of the marketing mix in Pakistan and brands and marketers have given weight to these channels beyond the management trainee or junior brand manager level. On the one hand, more and more people are talking about digital; global and regional bigwigs are putting pressure to shift the focus and every new graduate wants to jump in and build a career in digital. However, on the other hand, there is still a huge gap in understanding how to tame this beast.
It has only been a few years since digital media has become a part of the marketing mix in Pakistan and brands and marketers have given weight to these channels beyond the management trainee or junior brand manager level.
Here are the challenges (and pains) a digital media team faces and will continue to face in 2016.
1 “If people knew how hard I had to work to gain my mastery, it would not seem so wonderful at all.”
Let’s face it, everyone wants to invest in the medium but not many are investing in the understanding of it. This creates a huge challenge. We are still questioned as to why a particular post on a social network did not perform as well as another. The fact that most of the social platforms are now paid media is old news, yet we often get frowns, rolled eyes and a resounding ‘poor performance’ by a client for a campaign that had no digital media budget. Many brands still want to post on a daily basis despite the widespread learning that platforms like Facebook have a diminishing reach for every dollar not spent. A basic understanding of platform mechanics, audience profiles and usage and some case studies as well as keeping up with recent trends are absolutely imperative if marketing is to evolve. This will also develop a level of trust for the digital agencies and experts (a whole other challenge that would require another slot in this publication). Since the industry is new and the digital agency is new and the people are new, digital agencies do not benefit from the same share of thought that a media or creative agency does. A deeper understanding of the nature and the impact of digital is key to ensuring effectiveness and success of this fast growing medium.
2 “Reward is not a privilege, reward is justice for work well done.”
The importance of this particular challenge cannot be overstated. I speak on behalf of the industry, from my brothers and sisters in competing agencies to every last person taking up new media sciences. For the love of good marketing, we need to start balancing the scales when it comes to digital media budgets. As we move into 2016, one thing is certain. Every client, brand and marketer will be revving up their digital media communications – a trend that will continue as the medium grows. However, in all this growth, what is not growing is the price paid for the services of a digital media agency. Apart from a few progressive marketing teams, digital media only gets the tail end of the marketing budget. And by the tail end, I mean the tip of it, the teeny tiny sliver of the pie that is usually tossed away.
Currently a digital media agency retainer is roughly 15 times less than that of a traditional media or creative agency. And that is fine. Creative and media agencies have been around for a while and they are tasked with much bigger responsibilities. However, we are severely undermining the constant effort and evolution that is required to do good things on the digital platforms.
In 2016, the expectation to do more beyond the Facebook visual will grow and digital agencies will be asked to think along the same lines as the creative agencies do. At Digitz we are already developing our video production capability; studios have been set up and we have invested in purchasing and training social listening tools. These combined with new social platforms added to the mix every month mean that we are always busy analysing, adapting, creating and learning. Clients expect us to go above and beyond, without realising the economies of scale. This is also the reason that many smaller digital shops are short lived. The bottom lines just don’t justify the effort. I hope that both the digital media budgets and the fee structure for digital agencies will be reconsidered to match what is expected of them.
3 “You have to do your own growing no matter how tall your grandfather was.”
One of the biggest challenges that the digital industry will face in 2016 is talent retention. The new crop of graduates are all digital natives; born with a touch screen, recording every single step taken on a wristband and a smartphone. They are super digital resources. They live, eat and breathe on this medium and are perfectly tuned to create great things on different platforms. However, they lack some vital traits and I expect to see this more in 2016. To start off, this new generation, especially those that are joining digital agencies are not consistent. The concept of working with a brand, building it, seeing campaigns fail, learning from them and rectifying them, is completely missing. They are quickly bored and/or distracted. One of the biggest issues we face at Digitz is a constant need for super human resource management skills. Two campaigns down the road and most of the young talented people want to change clients.
“I have been working with this brand for a year and I want a change” is a very common reason for this loss of interest. Retention of talent is going to be a huge hurdle in the growth of the industry, clients and their brands.
To sum up, the three main challenges in 2016 will be understanding media/platforms, agency pay scales and how to retain young talent.
To close on an optimistic note, Pakistan is an incredibly fast growing country with a highly responsive and adaptive audience. The digital industry can only grow and soon we will be competing on a global level.
Azam Jalal Khan is COO, Digitz.