Affiliations are not an essential model; nevertheless they are necessary to an agency’s long-term success.
Our line of work is all about making the right first impression (the razzle-dazzle) and to do this, the packaging needs to be thought out, especially when it comes to appointing an advertising agency that knows how to strike the right balance between swag and substance. Speaking accented English with a slight slur and wearing a sharp suit takes care of the swag. Substance, however, comes from having the right HR mix, a can-do attitude and an affiliation is the cherry on the cake.
I have been fortunate to have worked with an affiliated agency, an agency considering the idea of an affiliation and a formerly affiliated agency.
As an employee, there is a sense of pride when you work for an affiliated agency and it will not be wrong to say that working for one makes you a bit arrogant and gives you the illusion of being almost equal to the client. You are on the guest list for most of the pitches in town. The biggest privilege is working on international brands. This helps draw HR to the agency and they will always give first preference to an affiliated agency even though the pay scale is lower than at a local one.
Most Pakistani agencies are part of a global network and those without one are struggling to retain business and are finding it very hard to exist, regardless of whether it is a creative or media agency.
Life is not bad on the non-affiliated side of things, but I have to admit it is a bit hard. One has to work harder to keep up with the competition and ensure that the lack of an affiliation doesn’t come in the way of retaining or acquiring new business – and there are no global tools or research to validate claims. Yet, all these shortcomings help kick in the survivor instinct. Extra effort goes into each piece of work, so that what you lack in tools is made up through effort and creativity. The most valuable lesson for me was to be fearless.
The process of acquiring an affiliation is lengthy and tedious but at the end of the day, a good deal makes it worthwhile. In most cases, affiliations help agencies acquire business through aligned accounts, but the most important things they bring to a business are the systems and financial controls that help streamline work and day-to-day operations. In an affiliated setup, the emphasis is on future planning and close monitoring of the KPI’s to ensure targets are achieved and critical decisions can be taken in a timely way. Systems, financial controls and software, are the biggest reason why media buying houses are able to win over clients; it gives them an edge over other agencies.
There is no denying that affiliated agencies have elevated industry standards. However, there are two major areas where they have failed to make an impact: creative and HR developments. When it comes to the creative aspect, you may think that the strength of the network will be behind that agency. A flash of that gora is seen at the pitch but once the account is won, the gora goes dark. This is not to undermine our local creative pool, but as an industry, we are still in the learning phase, so a little help from developed markets and minds would help raise the bar and educate the clients.
If you go by the predictions, 2018 will be a tough year for the industry as business slows down further. Digital agencies will continue to eat into the creative agency’s share of the pie and same goes in terms of spend when it comes to mainstream versus digital media.
Collaborative efforts are rare and I don’t mean regional campaigns that are made for other markets and adapted locally. A good example is Shan Foods. They have rolled out two campaigns using the creative pool of their agency’s network. Both communications had high recall and did exceptionally well virally. They set a new benchmark in terms of storytelling. We have a powerhouse full of raw and established creative talent; the opportunity to work with well-known names from around the world will help nurture their thinking processes.
The media buying houses have been effective in placing local talent within the larger network in countries such as Malaysia and Singapore and at all levels. There is frequent interaction of local planners with their global counterparts through seminars and training and planning sessions. These opportunities are a great way of networking and exploring avenues for growth within the network. Creative agencies used to focus on training but due to shrinking profit margins, this expense was the first to be tossed out of the window, without understanding how essential training is for professional and institutional growth.
Survival dictates that having an affiliation is a must now. Most Pakistani agencies are part of a global network and those without one are struggling to retain business and are finding it very hard to exist, regardless of whether it is a creative or media agency. If you go by the predictions, 2018 will be a tough year for the industry as business slows down further. Digital agencies will continue to eat into the creative agency’s share of the pie and same goes in terms of spend when it comes to mainstream versus digital media.
Ali A. Rizvi is Chief Executive Officer, What’s Next Entertainment. email@example.com
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.