Interview with Haroon Bashir, the former Chairman of the Pakistan Advertisers Society.
- "One of the first things PAS addressed was the lack of data available in the market. For advertisers the question was “half of my advertising goes to waste, but I don’t know which half”. Although there had been improvements in research techniques, Pakistan had no data at all. There was no socio-economic classification. There was no classification uniformity; the industry was talking about different things at different times. I could represent the “A” category, and say it’s worth above one lakh, you could say it is less than one lakh, it is 50,000. So, the first major task PAS undertook was to establish a common language. We conducted the SEC Establishment Media Habits Survey in the urban areas. We brought people together, and sold them the idea."
AURORA: Where does PAS stand today in terms of objectives?
Haroon Bashir: Let’s step back and look at our mission and vision. Why was PAS formed? Many years ago a group of senior marketing and advertising executives, including Hameed Haroon and Tariq Ikram, felt the need to establish a body to protect advertisers’ rights, and give them a voice of their own. A marketing association had been in existence for a long time, there was also a market research society, the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA). So the need was there, and in 1996 the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) was created. Our vision and mission are simple. To discuss the legitimate concerns of the industry, look after the interests of the advertisers, provide and encourage debate within the industry, and act as an agent and resource. PAS is not a regulatory body. What was envisaged was that we would be at the front end of the changing advertising scenario in Pakistan, that we would see how our interests were being protected, and be a voice for the advertisers. Until then the people who actually spent the money were not represented.
A: Who were the people that were part of the original team?
HB: From the names that I can remember, Tariq Ikram, Pervez Saeed, Anwer Chaudry, Khawar Butt, Philippe Bouvier. I think Musharraf (Hai) was also involved at that time. It was a club of like-minded people from the senior levels of the profession, who felt there was a need to establish something meaningful. If I remember correctly, Hameed Haroon played the role of a catalyst. He encouraged the process, although he represented APNS. He has been pretty active in terms of supporting PAS objectives. This year he invited us to discuss issues relating to media buying houses with the PAA, and we had a very useful debate at the APNS office.
A: How many members does PAS have at present?
HB: About 43 now. We have a 10 member Council represented by senior people in the industry. The office bearers include myself as Chairman, two Vice-Chairmen, i.e. Musharraf Hai and Tariq Kirmani. Sabir Sami is the Secretary. Jamil Syed is our Executive Director; he is a full-time employee of PAS, and looks after the day-to-day affairs. Of course all of us are honorary. The six members of the Council are Ali Amir, Azhar Aquil, Ayaz Boukhari, Hanspeter Heissen, Tahir Hussein and Amir Pasha.
A: Moving on from the objectives, what are PAS’ priorities for the moment?
HB: Our main priorities are those defined in the mission and vision statements, and they have not changed over the years, although the focus has. One of the first things PAS addressed was the lack of data available in the market. For advertisers the question was “half of my advertising goes to waste, but I don’t know which half”. Although there had been improvements in research techniques, Pakistan had no data at all. There was no socio-economic classification. There was no classification uniformity; the industry was talking about different things at different times. I could represent the “A” category, and say it’s worth above one lakh, you could say it is less than one lakh, it is 50,000.
So, the first major task PAS undertook was to establish a common language. We conducted the SEC Establishment Media Habits Survey in the urban areas. We brought people together, and sold them the idea. PAS is not a business, we’re a Society. We had no desire to buy the research, or sell the research to pay the agency. So we had to get the agency (Aftab Associates) involved, get the members involved, and ensure there would be enough buyers to take it up. By the grace of God we were lucky; the agency not only carried out the survey but in the case of the second survey, the agency was ready to spend the money up front. The SEC Establishment Survey is still being sold, and we’re looking at putting the document on the internet.
Now we have completed the Rural Establishment Survey. Although the majority of our population lives in the rural areas, we who live in the cities, live in an illusionary world of our own. We don’t go there enough, we don’t talk about it enough. The rural world has changed; there are foreign remittances, there are changes in education levels. In fact, the education levels in the urban and rural areas are not that different from each other; the difference is just four to five percent. Brands are being sold in the rural areas. The shops have signage, they have branded products. Branded biscuits and tea are sold. The market has changed dramatically, and this survey will help marketers to develop strategies, which are usually urban-based, not only in terms of communication, but in terms of distribution, promotion, advertising, the entire cycle. When the survey is published there’ll be some rude shocks, because we have been living in our own cocoon.
Another interesting thing to have come out from the research is that you cannot gauge a newspaper’s coverage and penetration by the number of newspapers sold, you gauge it by the number of readers. This is a dramatic concept. In one village there are maybe only five newspapers in circulation but each newspaper is read out to a large number of people in tea houses, in havelis, in courtyards. It’s not the purchase of the newspaper, but the readership. The same applies to the electronic media. Usually, in small villages, there’s a communal television, and families gather in clusters either in somebody’s house or a public area to watch. In the evenings it’s usually the men who get together, in the afternoon it’s the women. These interesting facts are coming to light for the first time.
The Survey will also help the pesticide and the fertiliser market because it tracks spending and usage patterns. From where do the farmers buy pesticides? How do they fund their purchase? All that is in the Survey. We may carry out a financial services tail-end survey later on, to see what their financial needs are, and their link with the government’s policy on poverty alleviation, the khushaali banks, the micro-credit banks.
A: When will the Survey be available to the public?
HB: It will be available for public viewing and purchase in the next four weeks. I am very excited about this, it’s a milestone in marketing and advertising, we are moving a step forward. So, in terms of what the PAS has achieved, we’ve been able to establish a common language for socio-economic classification in the urban, and rural areas. This will help us to better spend our advertising money, and help advertising agencies and media planners plan their advertising and media communication expenses and strategy.
A: How effective has the Code of Advertising Practice, published by PAS, really been?
HB: PAS is very proud of the Code, but we are not a regulatory body, so we can’t enforce it. However, in 2003, we will be looking to work closely with the government to see how the Code can be further established. We will be working with PTV too. There are so many channels now that it is becoming more and more difficult to censor everything that comes through. So the dimensions are changing, and I think the government is quite aware of that. We have not engaged with the government as much as we would have liked to because we first wanted to look at issues in our own marketing backyard. We are also looking at comparative advertising and ethical norms. In America, for example, you are allowed to compare your brand of aspirin with a competitor’s and show how active yours is. For us this is a new phenomenon. But here too there is some advertising that is on the fringes of giving correct information. For example, I’ve seen an ad that suggests that a toffee is a substitute to drinking milk, which is preposterous; there are many other ads where the information given is misleading. We plan to delve into these areas. Here again it will be through persuasion. We are not a regulatory body, but we can teach people that they have a civic responsibility to make sure that they don’t do anything that is incorrect for society.
A: What is PAS’ position vis ă vis media buying houses?
HB: One of PAS’ objectives is to help air contentious issues, and in the case of media buying houses, this would be their role, and the response of the advertising agencies and the APNS. So we organised a seminar, and for the first time brought everybody to the table. In my closing speech I said, we are not the judges, we are not the jury. All we are here to say is that the market realities have changed. Advertisers are looking for a better deal, they will no longer be taken for a ride, they know how to spend their money; in most cases they know more about the market than the advertising agency, and they need specialisation. Again here we can’t make the rules, but we can play the part of a body that is acting as a catalyst for change. And change is the only thing that is permanent in this world. If you say no to change, then the world will change and we’ll remain wherever we are.
"One of the first things PAS addressed was the lack of data available in the market. For advertisers the question was “half of my advertising goes to waste, but I don’t know which half”. Although there had been improvements in research techniques, Pakistan had no data at all. There was no socio-economic classification. There was no classification uniformity; the industry was talking about different things at different times. I could represent the “A” category, and say it’s worth above one lakh, you could say it is less than one lakh, it is 50,000. So, the first major task PAS undertook was to establish a common language. We conducted the SEC Establishment Media Habits Survey in the urban areas. We brought people together, and sold them the idea."
A: What is PAS doing to deal with the issue of clutter?
HB: It’s a contentious topic and a lot of us don’t know how to deal with it. We’re planning a seminar on clutter, similar in format to the one on media buying houses but with less people, so there’ll be more discussion.
A: Surely clutter is one area where advertisers as a body can really make a difference?
HB: Absolutely. Look at Agha’s roundabout (in Karachi). It looks hideous. It’s actually a beautiful roundabout, nicely done, plants, everything, and all around you find hoardings of various shapes and sizes. In Lahore they’ve organised it. The size, the location and the material used. Period. Then there’s clutter in magazines and the newspapers. The front page used to be sacrosanct. Right hand side, quarter page, that was where the ad was placed. Now the ads are all over the place. How many people actually see the ads?
A: What is the position regarding peoplemeters?
HB: Electronic peoplemeters are running in India. In Pakistan we’ve had a long process. We began with an audience measurement committee.
A: Who initiated the audience measurement committee?
HB: Lots of professionals. Advertisers, media people, television channels, the managing director of PTV. There were two committees; the joint industry committee, which consisted of senior people, and the audience measurement committee, which had more technical people, for example, research managers. At a certain point, PAS said we have done enough to bring this issue to a head, let the job be passed on to the joint industry committee. But then we found that there was no traction, and we lost a lot of time. So we’ve taken back the process. We have gone through a nerve-wracking process of presentations, evaluations and re-evaluations. We have been beset by other issues, technical issues, technical competence issues, but we have finally come to a situation where we can say with confidence that we’ll be launching peoplemeters in about four to six weeks.
A: Whom have you appointed to run the project?
HB: I am not at liberty to give the names at the moment, but we have short-listed the parties, and they are now looking at how to establish a local base. We’ve been at peoplemeters for two years, and now I can confidently say that the rollout is imminent. Because there are lots of conflicting interests, and when you do something new there is a learning curve for all parties. Then you want to make the process totally transparent. When you have five people contesting, they want to be sure that the process is very transparent. That takes time, and we want to be holier than the Pope in our process, because there is no money involved; we are not earning anything, we are not giving anything, we have just selected a party.
A: On what criteria did you base your selection?
HB: First, we have to make sure we have the commitment, second, that we have a party with financial backing, third, that we have the backing of a foreign company that has done this in other countries. That is the criteria we used, and we now have a partner who has the interest, the financial strength, the experience of doing this in start-up countries, and the ability and interest to set up an organisation in Pakistan to manage this. We are very comfortable with this. From the initial interest shown by major companies, once the project starts, even while it is being tested, we should acquire a number of interested subscribers. Again here PAS’s role was to act as a catalyst, a conduit. Our role is to pick on something that is important for the industry, find a way to do it, and make sure that the party who does it knows the risks involved.
A: What are the costs involved in setting up peoplemeters?
HB: It’s a very expensive proposition. It can run into any amount, even millions, which is a lot for this market, and which is why it has to start off from a few major cities with a small number of people. First test it out.
A: Is a TV establishment survey now on the cards?
HB: Yes. It will be done by the parties putting up the peoplemeters. That is part of their brief, and the data should be available in the first quarter of next year.
A: What, if anything, is PAS doing to improve the talent pool available to the industry?
HB: One of the other charters we have in our vision and mission is to make efforts to grow advertising people in their technical skills. We’ve made a beginning this year by holding a seminar, conducted by Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) on advertising and marketing. We are also talking to LUMS, Institute of Business Administration (IBA) and the Indus Valley School of Art & Architecture (IVSAA), about what we can do to improve their curriculum. There’re very few schools that produce graduates that are really qualified to work for an advertising agency. Indus Valley has a design and communication programme, but even here the marketing concepts are weak.
A: Is PAS doing anything to reach the young professionals in the industry?
HB: I think we’ll be able to reach them through the website we’re developing. We have just launched our newsletter, AdVoice, which will also be on the website. So far our membership is institutional, but we are going to look at that too, and perhaps open it to individual members.
A: Is PAS also looking to expand its institutional membership?
HB: This will be one of our major objectives in 2003. We will try to sell the PAS magic to smaller companies. So far we have concentrated on the larger companies, the upper-end of the market. As chairman, I feel that it is the Pakistani companies that need to be exposed to concepts much more, than multinational companies. This is an area where PAS can act as catalyst in exposing these smaller companies to new ideas and concepts. Advertisers are becoming bolder, more aware and more professional. Another change is that a lot the children of private entrepreneurs, are taking over, their sons and their daughters are coming in after being educated either here or abroad, and they are bringing with them new concepts. They’re talking about branding, about positioning, about research, where the money should be spent and how it should be spent. The market is expanding, and in an expanding market it’s always a win-win situation.
Haroon Bashir was in conversation with Mariam Ali Baig.
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