In history you learn about the great generals who served the country and earned laurels – but not about the soldiers who helped them win those laurels. It’s similar with the advertising industry in Pakistan. There are people who are the backbone of the industry and they rarely, if ever, get the limelight. For a long while, the idea has been ruminating in my head to do a piece on some of these stalwarts who I have had the privilege to work with.
First on my list is the amazing Saadatullah of MullenLowe Rauf. I worked at Lowe at the same time as him. He was a frequent tea break partner at our table. Being hearing-impaired, he would continuously talk in sign language and for the life of me, I could never understand a word. Saadatullah had a cheerful personality even though he could not hear or speak. He worked and as far as I know, still works in the creative department at Lowe. I’ve been working since 2004 and over the space of time, memories and names of former colleagues tend to fade, but I’m pretty sure I will never forget Saadatullah.
In June-July 2002, I was interning at JWT at the good old Finlay house. There I met people who made a strong impression on me and I can say with certainty, I made an impression on. Among the welcoming team at JWT was Hina Azad. Azad was in a senior position in the client service department where I was interning. She handled a variety of accounts including Syngenta. The agency was printing brochures for Syngenta and a typo or error had occurred. We all know that these things happen. Instead of ordering a reprint which would cost the client money, Azad came up with the idea of sticking labels over the error. There’s a lot of talk about dedication but I can find no better example than the sight of Azad, almost single-handedly sticking around 5,000 labels on Syngenta brochures.
Saadatullah has in the recent past received recognition from Lowe for his long service and Azad is somewhat known among advertising circles; my third story is about someone who I’m pretty sure is not well-known or recognised. I left Lowe in July 2009 and moved to Red Communications – again, I vividly remember most of my colleagues, of a few my memory is hazy. That’s not the case with Shahjahan Ahmed. He joined Red; he was a quiet person who worked in the creative department. The company team was relatively small so most of us would have lunch together in the kitchen and he would be one of those at the table. The team would laugh, talk, converse and he didn’t come off as an extrovert and did not seem extraordinary.
There are many people in our industry who play a vital role in growth and success, but do not receive the adulation and fame heaped on the Creative Directors, COOs, CEOs etc. Immediately comes to mind peons and drivers etc. Special mention must be made of the office/kitchen boy.
Little did I know about the amazing ability he possessed. One day I arrived at the office and while I was greeting the creative team, I noticed that sitting on the table in the corner was a replica of the front of a W11 bus, complete with a moving fan. I was curious and asked where this came from. Ahmed said he made it – from paper. I of course thought he was joking but then as other members of the team also confirmed the same, I was astonished. Apparently Red was doing some work for PSO and he had prepared the model to show the brand team. On another occasion, the team was asked to make a shelf display for Garnier. Again, a day later, when I walked into the creative department, I was surprised to find on the same table, a ‘head’ similar to that of a mannequin, which was covered with curly hair. Once again, Ahmed had worked all night to create from paper a simply outstanding display.
In addition to these individuals, there are many people in our industry who play a vital role in growth and success, but do not receive the adulation and fame heaped on the Creative Directors, COOs, CEOs etc. Immediately comes to mind peons and drivers etc. Special mention must be made of the office/kitchen boy. It’s no secret that most people in the agency life can’t open their eyes, let alone contemplate creating magic before they have their morning fix, usually coffee, but in some cases tea. For the greatest creative and analytical minds in our industry, none of that ‘machine stuff’ works, no! They need a tediously-made and exquisitely-tasting cup of coffee, prepared by beating the powder to perfection. They play a more-than-small role in making sure that those award-winning campaigns, those awe-inspiring shoots don’t remain ideas. It’s time we highlight and celebrate them too. After all, we all know great ideas often start with a perfectly made cup of coffee.