Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

A question of balance

Published in May-Jun 2017

A day in the life of Sadaf Zarrar, Head of IMC, Coca-Cola and Founding Partner, SiddySays.

Life is pretty much about finding the right balance between the planned and the unforeseen. Having spent a good part of my adolescent years trying to control everything that happens in a day, I am now fairly satisfied if 50% of the day goes as planned. I forecast my days with ample slots to account for unplanned realities that are likely to hit me when I least see them coming.

Being a mother, homemaker, blogger and marketer, each one comes with a unique set of demands. I’m pretty much on call 24/7 and one of the most frequently asked questions I entertain is, ‘I don’t understand how you do it’, and although, I haven’t spent much time contemplating on the ‘how’, I do have some rules which I try to stick to.

To start with, find the right planning timeframe. I prefer planning my week rather than my day. So weekdays generally follow one tune and weekends another. Secondly, I do things on my time; all my life I have tried to be a morning person. The reality is that I just cannot be. I prefer working, thinking, relaxing and exercising in the evening or at night, so I don’t fight with myself anymore. The third is respecting your plan when you have one. Having tried to please everyone all the time and learning the hard way, I now know that if I don’t respect my time, no one else will either! So I make a plan and ‘try’ to stick to it.

The roles I balance in my life didn’t all happen at once; they cumulated over life, and now, each one of the days of my week reflects all four roles, but in different percentages. And I am the first to confess that there is no such thing as work-life balance, only a case of prioritising; what happens when and having the right support system for each of the tasks one undertakes.

6:30 a.m. The alarm goes off. I have taken exceptional care to select the most horrendously jarring tone to ensure it does its job. Opening one eye, I press snooze for eight more minutes of peaceful sleep.

6:37 a.m. I know the alarm will go off in a minute; I am awake but I still want it to ring so I have the satisfaction of telling myself that it was indeed the alarm, and not my stress levels about the day ahead, that woke me up.

6:38 a.m. I wake up and head to my five-year-old monster who hates mornings as much as I do. A curse on genetics!

6:58 a.m. We are both fast asleep in the little one’s bed when the husband announces it’s one hour to school time. I know the next hour until I kiss Bia goodbye for school will be madness.

8:00 a.m. With the little one off to school, I face the first tough decision of the day. Do I take a quick nap or dive into the day? Okay, I’m up! (although often I’m not).

8:15 a.m. Thank goodness for technology. I sit on my bed with my iPad – first stop WhatsApp; about 140+ messages on the infinite number of groups. I start with the blog. The content head needs approvals, my partner updates me about a new commercial collaboration she has signed up for and needs my time on Wednesday; the admin lead is having difficulties getting hold of the tech team; the videographer is not available for the days we need him. The morning ‘blog management’ pretty much consists of me deleting useless emails and forwarding the rest to the concerned team members. Also, a quick look at the content uploaded the day before and the traffic against it. A quick skim through social media, and I dump everything else on my partner who runs the blog day-to-day. Then I get to my Coca-Cola inbox; it’s best to get to work with an empty inbox. I know once I’m there, I will have no time to get back to my desk, running from meeting to meeting and agency to agency.

9:45 a.m. I enter the office and head straight to my colleagues’ room. The three other ‘direct reports’ and I start the day talking about priority tasks. The meeting has not ended before the teams start peeping into the office wondering when I will be done. We kick off with a connections meeting. Coca-Cola empowers its agencies to play key roles in developing touch points for campaigns rather than pasting a TVC across media. We call it the ‘Liquid and Linked’ way. The ideas should be fluid enough to come to life across every medium and yet connected to create an overall impact. This means many more meetings with agencies in idea mining and amplifying. In the finale, all the agencies come together as one outfit to present the campaign. This process requires more commitment, man hours and effort, but it is what sets Coca-Cola’s marketing apart from others and we pride ourselves in it. By the time this session ends, two other brand teams have lined up the next sessions. My boss is also in office and I require some critical alignments with him. I have also called a candidate for an interview. For the rest of the day, the digital and media agencies are lined up for their weekly reports, calls have to be made with the business unit, I have to meet a group of aspiring young kids full of ideas to connect with our target audience, and I have to attend a concept test.

5:00 p.m. I have completely forgotten that my blog team has asked me to be at a store opening at six. I get reminder calls from my partner which I have missed owing to my new resolve of not taking my phone to every meeting (it can be so distracting!).

6:00 p.m. I rush to the store opening which is next door. This life is 180 degrees from my corporate life. I enter and am immediately surrounded by well turned out women taking selfies, posing, taking interviews… work and mom mode off, blogger mode on. I take images of the product, the owners, the store, and immediately upload them on our social media platforms, do the required networking and yes, my job is done!

6:30 p.m. My daughter is already comfortable in my office. She knows all my colleagues as chachoos or khalas (given the time she spends with them). We do the hugs and kisses and a debrief of her day as I attend to my tasks.

7:00 p.m. We are heading home. Family time starts, which means bye-bye cell phone, iPad and laptop until the daughter is in bed, the hubby fed and the house in order.

9:30 p.m. I make an SOS call to my trusty friends at Cabaret and Muse to help with clothes for the forthcoming Style Awards. I love them because they work at my pace. While most designers would cringe, they automatically get into problem-solving mode.

10:30 p.m. I touch base with my partner on the blog as I sit down to watch TV with the hubby. She has made headway with a few commercial projects and needs my creative input. I love the blog, so the mind, which is pretty much dead by now, goes into visualising mode.

1:10 a.m. I set my alarm for 6:30 a.m. mentally making a note of the amount of sleep I will end up getting. What may seem like a manic day to most, is life for me. A life I chose for myself, a life I love and own. Life is too short to not do everything you like doing; the key is in the right support system and planning to work through it.

Sadaf Zarrar is Head of Integrated Marketing Communications, The Coca-Cola Export Corporation, Pakistan, and Founding Partner, SiddySays. Instagram: @SadafZarrar