Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

The GM talk

Published in Nov-Dec 2016
In conversation with Muzakir Ijaz, GM Lahore and Naved Qureshi, GM Karachi, Ogilvy & Mather Pakistan.
(L to R): Naved Qureshi and Muzakir Ijaz.
(L to R): Naved Qureshi and Muzakir Ijaz.

MARIAM ALI BAIG: What motivates you most working at Ogilvy?
NAVED QURESHI: I was telling someone earlier today that three years ago, I was working at another agency and I had then remarked about what a dream it would be to work for a company like Ogilvy. At that time, I was thinking of a brand like Coke. Nine months ago I met Asim and here I am sitting in the Ogilvy office. I love it. The best thing about Ogilvy is that you have the freedom to make your own decisions and the leeway to make mistakes and learn from them.

MUZAKIR IJAZ: This is my second stint with Ogilvy. I began my mainstream career at Ogilvy in 2007 as Account Manager (at Soho); I left in 2009 and came back in 2012 as Business Director for Coke. From there things moved on and I am now the GM for Lahore. It is exciting and challenging, because the benchmarks and standards at Ogilvy are very high, be they internationally or locally, and it is an uphill task to meet them and exceed them.

MAB: What are those benchmarks?
MI: Benchmarks in terms of creativity, effectiveness, managing client expectations, delivering on the brands and making sure they are growing. Benchmarks also in terms of ensuring that the right culture is developed within Ogilvy and that the teams are doing a good job. Ogilvy is an extremely well-knit agency within the network. We have loads of interaction with the global team. There are cross country projects, where we help them and they help us. I feel that I am a lot more to Ogilvy then just being the GM.

MAB: What do you perceive as being your main responsibilities as GMs?
NQ: Firstly, our responsibility is to ensure that the quality of the work that goes out is up to Ogilvy’s standards. Secondly, we are responsible for the operational running of the company; everything from P&L, hiring, team structures, dealing with employees, and maintaining and growing relationships with our clients. Thirdly, to grow business.

MI: The roles are quite different for both cities, because we have different structures, clients and types of businesses. In Lahore, my biggest challenge and responsibility is to retain business, whereas for Naved, it is about growing the business so that there is a sort of equality between both offices. The second chunk of my responsibility is to see how the teams are growing within the agency in terms of their creative output, their exposure and their integration with the teams in other countries. Obviously, business growth is one of my responsibilities as well.

MAB: Do you face different challenges in terms of finding people?
MI: Lahore has a very limited talent pool; there are hardly five or six agencies in Lahore and a lot of switching around takes place. The main problem is finding people who can meet Ogilvy’s standards.

NQ: Karachi has a bigger pool, but it is still difficult to find people who can meet our standards, so rather than look for people with agency experience, we look for passion over experience and we look for it across all departments.

MI: People with passion have that kick; they want to work in advertising just for the love of the brands. They do great work and motivate others to do great work as well. This kind of persona is hard to find even in client services, creative, strategy – basically across the board. In Lahore we have started to hire management trainees; young, passionate and vibrant people who enjoy working with us.

"People with passion have that kick; they want to work in advertising just for the love of the brands. They do great work and motivate others to do great work as well."

MAB: How do you respond to the notion that a great many people use a job in advertising as a stepping stone to moving to the brand side because in their view the brand side has more prestige?
MI: This mindset exists in those agencies which do not have their own culture. I am an example of this. I started my career in 2007 as an account manager at Ogilvy and then moved to Warid, yet I came back to Ogilvy because of the culture. In my opinion, anyone who has experienced the fun side of advertising will never go to the client side, because that side has more to do with data, Excel sheets and presentations. All the fun stuff around a brand happens on the agency side.

NQ: This kind of thing tends to happen when agencies do not invest in and teach their employees what advertising is about. Client services is not about digging for insights; it is about collectively working together to build brands. We have account managers here who have more knowledge about the brands they are handling than the brand managers themselves.

MAB: The Millennial generation are now entering the work space and they are said to work to a different beat in terms of their expectations. How has this impacted your function?
NQ: We have completely revamped our team in Karachi and the average age of our new hires is about 25. Flexibility is one thing for sure; they want to be able to come in around 10:30 a.m., but if they leave after seven or eight, it is okay. Secondly, they don’t want to work in a formal environment, they want to work in one where they can sit on a sofa with their feet up. At Ogilvy we provide this environment; we have adapted to the new generation because they are the ones who will be creating the brilliant campaigns we do for our clients.

MI: Amartya Sen, who won Nobel Prize for Economic Sciences, has written about the plurality of the Millennials, meaning that they don’t want to settle on only one thing. If a Millennial is an adman during the day, he may want to be a photographer in the evening or run a café over the weekend. He also wants to climb mountains and be a social activist. This is what we need to understand. In Lahore, 60 to 70% of our employees are Millennials and we handle them by promoting whatever else they want to do outside their job. By helping realise their inner passions, they are happier doing what they do during office hours and probably deliver better.

MAB: In terms of business growth, are local clients your main area of focus?
NQ: The local client is the coming king in terms of business growth. They are the ones who are going to expand and move forward and although we also handle a lot of big multinational business, the potential lies with local clients because this is where we can invest our creative strength. Our objective is to help these brands grow, because as they grow, the agency grows.

MI: In Lahore, the focus is primarily on acquiring business from outside of Pakistan. For example, in the case of Coca- Cola, we are not only delivering for Coca-Cola in Pakistan, we are doing multimarket projects for them.

MAB: In which markets are you doing this?
MI: I can’t name the project, but we are doing one for the Middle East and Pakistan. It will be a full-fledged campaign for one of their brands. In 2012, we did a charter project for Minute Maid Pulpy for about 12 markets; the entire creative strategy was done by the Lahore Soho team. If local clients show interest in working with Ogilvy, obviously we entertain them; however, the real ambition in terms of business growth is exporting our work.

MAB: Why is this ambition primarily a Lahore one?
NQ: Because Lahore has the bigger chunk in terms of the spread of the multinational accounts; so in the bigger scheme of things the potential lies with Lahore.

MAB: Despite all the hype about the digital and mobile platforms, why is TV still the preferred medium?
NQ: Because it is the most penetrated form of communication at the moment.

MI: TV is still one of the cheapest mediums in terms of reach and return. Also, both agencies and clients know how to create TV ads; they know the science and how to track a TVC, but we still do not really know how to track these new mediums – and this is an industry-wide phenomenon. Then there is the question of whether the ROI on mobile will be as favourable as it is for TV. People tend to go for the most convenient option.

MAB: So is mobile a buzzword and nothing else?
NQ: Pakistan is one of the highest penetrated countries in terms of mobile, yet mobile advertising is very limited. Mobile is still mainly about SMS marketing; clients are not convinced about the value of mobile advertising. Unlike TV, mobile is considered a ‘good to do’ rather than a ‘must do’ medium. Brands that cannot afford TV always aspire to make a TVC. It is a mindset; this is how the industry has evolved. However, mobile is the future just like digital – the issue is that it needs to be explored and I think that it is the responsibility of the people who work in the mobile field to make ad agencies their media partners and their clients realise how far mobile advertising can go.

MI: It is too soon for mobile to replace TV advertising. There are reasons for this. Firstly, it has hardly been a year since we went over to 3G and 4G and apart from upper-tier audiences, the rest of the public is still getting used to having internet access via their phone. Secondly, the older generation is only now getting on to platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Instagram. I think it will take at least two to three years, or even more, before one can count mobile as a mainstream advertising medium.

"Clients are not convinced about the value of mobile advertising. Unlike TV, mobile is considered a ‘good to do’ rather than a ‘must do’ medium."

MAB: If you were to hire a GM today, what skills would you look for?
NQ: Apart from the basics of knowing about how to manage relationships and being in touch with the creative work produced, I would say adaptability. You need to be flexible and adapt to changing environments, which means changes in the client’s mindset, in the kind of employees you hire and in the skill sets required. Then there is the passion for what you do; without passion you will not last long in a good agency. You have to be willing to get your hands dirty; sit with your team and burn the midnight oil with them– otherwise they will not trust you. It is when you work with people that you build loyalty, and in this industry the most important thing is loyalty.

MI: It has to be someone who understands the pulse of the Millennials; ideally he or she should reflect their way of thinking. I would also say someone with an entrepreneurial mindset, who has the drive to ensure that the people working with him are growing. I don’t think that a conventional GM would work in today’s world. The boundaries between departments are blurring because of the Millennial mindset. A creative person wants to be involved on the strategy side as well as on digital. The person above them has to be a team member, be inclusive and be able to take everyone along.

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