Interview with Imran Syed, Chairman, Advertising Association of Pakistan.
AURORA: How far has the AAP come since its constitution in 2009?
IMRAN SYED: The need for an active industry body had been very much there in the last few years and it was felt that forming a new industry body would be the way forward; hence the AAP came about. This process started a few years ago and because there was a legal aspect to it, it took time. When you start something new there are always teething problems to be addressed and they consume a lot of time. Having said this, the creation of the AAP was a big feat and with the recent elections, we now have the first elected Executive Committee (EC).
A: What is your mandate?
IS: To represent and protect the interests of the industry. We are living in fast changing times, be it the bifurcation or specialisation of the traditional advertising domain, be it clients engaging with these partners in varying formats of rules of engagement, be it the electronic media and the challenges it continues to pose, be it the Pandora’s box of cable advertising, or be it the fast growing digital phenomenon, all these changes require inter industry body dialogue and this is one of the key functions the AAP needs to deliver on. If you look back at the history, the APNS (All Pakistan Newspapers Society), which although it represents the interests of the print media, was the de facto industry body for the advertising industry as well. The PAA (Pakistan Advertising Association) was there, but issues of inactivity had sunk in. In the meantime, the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) came of age and has a number of years of active work behind it; prior to PAS, a body representing the interests of the clients did not exist. Now we also have the Pakistan Broadcasters Association (PBA) which represents the interests of the electronic media. So the requirement of the market was for the advertising industry to have a representative body of its own.
A: How fundamentally different will the AAP be compared to the old PAA?
IS: Advertising as an industry has evolved tremendously. Previously, an advertising agency denoted a company that offered both creative and media services; in fact all communications media. Today there are media agencies, digital agencies, BTL agencies, creative agencies, all of which exist as entities of their own and yet come within the domain of the traditional advertising agency. As a result we can no longer envision our membership as consisting of only a one-stop solution to advertising agencies. This is why we are actively engaging with media agencies, and as the digital domain heats up, digital agencies will also become a source of added energy to the industry body.
A: Will the induction of media agencies as AAP members not give rise to questions of conflict of interest?
IS: Prior to the formation of the AAP there was almost a mental block when it came to addressing the changing requirements of the industry. The AAP is very clear that the communication landscape has evolved, is continuously evolving, and therefore requires participation from all stakeholders representing the communications industry. Whatever the challenges, they will be addressed. We are not going to say we will not accept any non-traditional agencies amongst our membership because we are scared of addressing any potential conflicts of interest.
#### "What will make the AAP a platform for engagement is not the EC or the AGM. It will be the initiatives we will take that will hopefully provide opportunities for younger people in the industry to engage."
A: What are the goals you are seeking to achieve?
IS: An industry body must be a platform for engagement. Not just a platform for business owners to meet over a cup of tea, but a platform where account directors, creative directors, media directors and all the people who form the core of the industry can engage. So engagement is one, training and learning is another, and when you engage, you learn from platforms such as workshops and seminars and this provides an opportunity to share and collectively improve the level and the efficiency of the work.
A: What are the key challenges in achieving these goals?
IS: First of all participation. AdAsia was a good example, although we need to mobilise our members further. They have given their support to the vision the AAP stands for, but we need to activate them; we need to put initiatives in place that will mobilise them and make the AAP an active industry body. Let me add that making the AAP active is not about the 11 EC members or the position holders being active; it is it about our members participating in and experiencing the initiatives we will be taking.
A: What initiatives are you planning in the short term?
IS: As recently as last December we invited John Oldfield (Regional Leadership Officer, Pirana) to give a talk on the creative domain. We have a series of such engagements planned over the next six to eight months. I am also pleased to share with you the fact that the AAP will be holding a two-day advertising congress and awards show in mid-2012. The congress will bring together clients, the media, the advertising industry and the government on the same platform. We envision inviting speakers from Pakistan and internationally. Tied to the event, we will be holding the AAP Awards, which will recognise creativity. PAS recently initiated their own awards, which were marketing effectiveness awards; we are going to be single-minded about focusing on the creative and the advertising industry.
A: Perhaps due to historical reasons, the lingering perception in many people’s minds is that Pakistan’s advertising industry body is essentially irrelevant to the profession. How do you intend to counter this impression?
IS: This EC is extremely cognisant of the fact that the AAP needs to be a body for the entire industry and not simply for a small group of agencies, and here it is important to remember that although the EC is drawn from the advertising fraternity, we are all are elected members. The AAP needs to be an entity in its own right and an important part of achieving this, is to bring in professional management expertise. It was with this in mind that we appointed Farooq Hassan as Secretary General of the AAP. He was the Executive Director of the Management Association of Pakistan for a number of years and has the required experience. He has been given a degree of autonomy in terms of decision making, so that he is in a position to engage with agencies, clients and the media as a relatively neutral person and this will be a change from having one or two EC members engaging with various people. Another step in this direction is the decision that the AAP should have independent premises. For the last two years or so the AAP was housed at the previous chairman’s office and although we are currently working out of Adcom’s office, the intention is to move into independent premises soon. The idea again is to give the AAP a degree of autonomy, so that all members can engage without feeling that there are any vested interests at play.
A: But will any of this help draw in younger professionals in making AAP more active? Most young professionals tend to view the AAP as irrelevant to their growth.
IS: What will make the AAP a platform for engagement is not the EC or the AGM. It will be the initiatives we will take that will hopefully provide opportunities for younger people in the industry to engage. If you look at the EC today and compare it to what it was some years ago, you will find more young people now. People like Mansoor Karim and Imran Irshad. I am probably the youngest chairman such a body has ever had. At the end of the day, actions speak louder than words. The EC has whole- heartedly endorsed engagement and we hope that in the next few months our initiatives will speak for themselves. However, the issue, and this applies to most industries, is that engaging doesn’t come naturally. There has to be a catalyst and the AAP sees itself as that catalyst. AdAsia 2011 was a great accomplishment for the AAP. We mobilised the largest delegation from Pakistan to ever attend such an event and we were also the largest foreign delegation. This was an achievement and a great indicator of the interest of the industry. We had participation not only from advertising agencies but from the media and clients. AdAsia was really a quick barometer to gauge what the industry is looking for.
A: Will we be seeing more Pakistani representation at more international advertising events?
IS: Yes. Last year we garnered participation from Pakistan at Adfest. Two young creatives were sent to Thailand to participate in the Young Lotus Workshop and they ended up winning the Young Lotus Award for 2011. We will be doing the same this year. There is the Goa Fest in April, the big Indian platform for creative awards, and they are looking for participation from Pakistan in terms of entries as well as delegates. We are also engaging with Revelation, which handles participation to Cannes from Pakistan. We are looking at three international platforms over the next six months. Our role is to aid the process, mobilise communication and help negotiate financials that are more affordable. One of the issues is that the entry fees need to be made affordable; although we are a thriving industry we are not as financially strong as some of the global ad agencies.
A: Do you feel that the entry fees are a barrier to participation?
IS: Absolutely. Cannes goes into hundreds of Euros per entry. It is an important aspect that needs to be looked at.
A: So will engagement across all platforms be the key goal for the AAP in 2012?
IS: Absolutely; engagement needs to be there and it can reap benefits immediately. None of the milestones we are planning to achieve will be possible without participation. Participation is key. Previously none of the initiatives asked for engagement and yet the AAP cannot be an active industry body without participation. There is a very clear need for people to respond. We will not be successful if people don’t respond and response is something that we collectively as an industry deserve.
A: How confident are you that you will gain the response you are seeking or is it going to be hard work?
IS: Nothing happens without hard work unless there is something wrong!
Imran Syed was in conversation with Mariam Ali Baig.
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