Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Media planning mavens

Published in May-Jun 2009

In conversation with four women who are at the helm of some of Pakistan's largest media planning and buying agencies.

Marylou Andrew: How did you get involved in media planning and buying?

Mehnaz Ahmed: After doing my Master’s, I joined R-Lintas in 1992 as assistant media planner in their newly formed media planning department. At the interview I was told that although they could not give me a job description, it would involve working on strategy and planning. Over the next five years we defined the need for the existence of media planning and in 1997, we landed the Unilever central media buying account, so the hard work paid off. Then Initiative was formed and we got the affiliation in 2006.

Fauzia Shamshad: I started working at Manhattan Leo Burnett in media and client service, and eventually became the media director as my experience and learning was in media. When the trend of specialisation came in, Starcom Media West Group and Leo Burnett opened an office in Pakistan. They met me casually and then asked me to head Starcom in Pakistan. This was about two years ago.

Amna Khatib Paracha: I started at Interflow as a strategy planner. I met Yasir Riaz (he came as a guest speaker to Interflow) and was really impressed with what he had to say about media planning. In 2001, Mindshare had an opening and I was recommended for the job. I stayed with Mindshare for seven-and-a-half years, then moved to Pak MediaCom, but I only stayed for six months because Orientedge made me an offer that was too hard to refuse.

Kiran Sardar Kohati: I was with EBM for three-and-a-half years, but became interested in media planning so I joined Mindshare. At that time, media buying and planning was not really viewed as a career. But in my first six months at Mindshare I got the hang of the business and slowly started liking it. I joined as a strategic planner on the beverages account for Unilever and now I have been in the same field for seven years. I worked at Mindshare for five-and-a-half years and in January 2008, I moved to Tmedia.

MLA: What challenges did you face in getting to the top?
The greatest challenge was the fact that when I joined, media planning was very new and it required persistence and a high level of dedication. Compared to today when clients have a greater understanding of media, in those days there were only two channels and clients thought that people only watched primetime TV. It was a learning process for all of us and a hard sell to clients but it worked out.

FS: Challenge is my second name and I enjoy it. When we started Starcom, all the other media buying houses had already started up. But I was confident because Starcom is a big brand and a leader the world over. The support from the network was tremendous and we picked up good clients. People also know me in the market and that helps. It is said that bulk buying gets you all the advantages, but I think it is also the personal relationships you have with people that help.

AKP: I got a very good start because Mindshare was a good company with a professional set up, and I didn’t feel like a woman in a man’s world. We had support from our seniors and from the media. In this industry it is all about how you carry yourself, if you give people a certain impression, they will respond accordingly.

KSK: In media most of the challenges are internal. There are very few media planners, so all the agencies are fighting over them. As soon as media planners get even a small increment in their salary or a slightly better position, they want to move. But they need to see what their career growth is. It took me five-and-a-half years to move, but now young media planners want to move after a year, so you have to fight with your own desires and greediness.

MLA: Would it have been easier for a man to be in your current position?
In certain respects, yes. The first reason is because your workforce is predominantly male and getting the best out of them, maintaining a certain environment and making them receptive to your standards is challenging. You have to forget that you are a woman, and come down to their level and talk to them. A man would have a different way of talking. By and large though, if you establish a rapport with them and they trust you, it is alright. Also, if you are harsh and assertive, men may not like being told off by a woman.

FS: It is more challenging for a woman because there is a lot of resistance. This is still a male dominated society, so at times men find it difficult to take direction from a woman. Although this is changing, at times clients are not willing to open up to a woman because it’s a guy-guy talk type scenario. Most people respect professionalism and sometimes when it’s a female voice calling, that can be an advantage as well.

AKP: There are things like socialising for example – there may be times when I don’t want to socialise with a certain type of person, so that would be easier for a man, because I cannot be too friendly and I have to be formal.

KSK: Yes, it would be easier for a man. It is very easy to take s**t from a man, but not so easy from a female boss; if she is shouting or trying to control you, men will always say that she is throwing a tantrum. One of my first tasks here was to give men a comfort zone; to tell them that I am here to work with you, you will not work under me, rather we will work as a team. Initially there were a few raised eyebrows and some oohs and aahs when they found out that it was a female MD who would be heading them.

MLA: A lot of women seem to be opting for media planning rather than buying; is there a reason for this?
Buying has a typical perception of being about sending out ROs, etc. and if you ask an educated girl to do that sort of thing, she will not be interested. But planning appeals to people because it provides exposure to clients and the media and it has an intellectual aspect. It has also become a lot more challenging because of the changing media scenario.

FS: A lot of women are going into all fields, not just media planning. Media planning is relatively new in this market and that is why women are joining. Buying is still dominated by men, but that will also change because women are strong minded and persuasive.

AKP: Women are better at planning and managing budgets and timelines. Buying seems more a man’s job because men have to deal with suppliers (media) who are not comfortable dealing with women because they come from a different environment. But I have seen women who turn out to be even better at buying than men because they have a knack for negotiating.

KSK: Buying is an art (you can’t learn it – the core skills have to be within you). There are one or two agencies where there are women in buying, but there have always been more men because the people you are dealing with in the media are men. Planning is more strategic and more happening – buying in our country is still looked upon as execution – decisions are made at the planning stage and that is where most people want to be, because the planners are the leaders.

MLA: What are some of your concerns when you hire women?
When it comes to married women, I tell them that there will be times when they will have to work late. Normally they don’t mind if it is not an every day occurrence. It can be a hindrance but if they are career minded, it works out. More women are taking up media planning seriously; financially it has become a lot better than it used to be. When I started out I was one of the very few with a Master’s degree but now everyone is educated and dynamic, so they add great value and come up with great ideas.

FS: When women go out to work they have to forget that they are women. But when I interview, I tell them that late hours are mandatory.
AKP: When we were interviewing people at Mindshare, we always asked the women if they were planning to get married, and if they did, would their in-laws have a problem with them working, because many times after you trained a woman, she would leave. Media planning is something you can only learn on the job and you have to put in a lot of effort with new people, and if the person leaves, it becomes pointless. There was a point when we stopped hiring women at Mindshare, but then we realised that women are actually a better option.

KSK: I have many examples of both men and women who want to go home at 5:30 p.m. Here, the initial six months are rigorous training months and this enables us to find out from the start whether they can work with us and we with them.

MLA: What advice can you give to women who aspire to be in your position?
Be consistent, persevere and maintain a certain standard of work.

FS: They have to be academically strong, have strong analytical skills and be hardworking, dedicated, honest and professional.

AKP: If you think you are a woman in this field, other people will think so too. Don’t think of yourself as the weaker person. You have to plan ahead and try to work with good organisations because you learn more and your time is better spent there and you will also be treated better.

KSK: Be consistent in what you are doing. You are women and you are labelled so; you need to work harder to show that you can deliver. The most difficult task is to give birth to a baby and when women can do that, they can do anything. Be consistent, persistent and determined; show them you are here to stay.

MLA: Where do you go from here?
A natural aspect would be to branch out on my own. I have been in this field for quite some time and I feel that we are only doing five percent of what we could be doing in this market. There is so much happening in media, there is one innovation after another and it is not restricted to basic discounting and planning. I would like to try and get involved in as many new techniques as possible; it could be on my own or with like-minded individuals. I want to branch out and explore and bring more to the table for our clients.

FS: My idea is to train other people to do my job and work myself out of a job. The systems and procedures I have set up run on auto pilot and will continue without me. I can be heading a group of companies, I can go regional, etc. Someone else has to take my place and when they are ready, only then can I move on.

AKP: I knew this is where I wanted to be, but the next step would probably be to head a group or a bigger portfolio. Because I am married and my daughter is going to school, I cannot work outside Pakistan. It becomes difficult for married women because unless your husband is moving abroad, you cannot. Even if you are unmarried, your parents might object, which is why so few women have done it.

KSK: I have a lot to do here; we have worked on the infrastructure and in organising the place. But in order to be successful and to grow this place, I still need three to four years. But when I leave, I will open up my own agency.