Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2018

The fears are real!

CEO of Activemedia on overcoming fears and launching his own experiential marketing agency.

It started with a casual discussion over lunch at Café Aylanto on a winter afternoon in Lahore in 2009...

Some background

After graduating from the Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) with an MBA, I started working for ICI’s pharmaceutical division before joining Shell Pakistan in 2000. With the advent of the telecom revolution in Pakistan, I jumped ship and joined Telenor in 2004 to become part of their launch team. As it was customary to switch loyalties in the telecom industry, I moved to Mobilink in 2007, and stayed there for the next three years.

Stepping out of the comfort zone

Two friends from LUMS, Salman and Ahsan, convinced me in 2009 to say goodbye to the corporate rat race and jump on to the entrepreneurship bandwagon as they had done. Although there was room in the OOH category for new players, especially on the activation and events side, this was not going to be an easy decision. Long discussions, business plans, feasibilities, financials... all leading back to the same question: what if it doesn’t work? I finally took the plunge in 2010 and launched Activemedia, an experiential marketing agency and rented an old house as an office in Garden Town, away from the plush Mobilink offices. The first few months were emotionally challenging to say the least. From booking my own airline tickets, using my personal credit card to staying at mediocre guest houses in DHA Karachi. From waiting at receptions to meet assistant brand managers to hiring extremely cautiously and controlling overheads. I guess this is the time when an entrepreneur needs to focus on the right things and not be bogged down by sudden changes that may temporarily shake his confidence. It is the time to focus on the long-run and keep clear of all negativity.


Activemedia is a large industry player. With our business volume 20 times more than what it was in our first year, offices in five cities in Pakistan and a team of over 100 excited people, we are the industry leader in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are also a panel agency for most MNCs and have strong relationships with all big local corporates.


The fears are real!

No matter how much you plan, so many things cannot be factored into a business case. We were banking on a large MNC to outsource a job to us. (This would be the base of the new company and provide a sustainable revenue stream). It turned out that their global guidelines were updated and that particular job could not be outsourced to an agency anymore. As for the second big potential project... the gentleman in charge was transferred abroad and no one else on the marketing team was willing to put the same focus and budgets on executing the project. So with two major projects I was depending on shelved, sitting in a small office with a six person team, the business case suddenly stopped making sense. The decision-making process which took months to work out seemed flawed. Where do we go from here?

Growth came slowly but steadily

Although it seemed an uphill task, we had no choice but to start pitching to new clients from scratch in order to survive. And this is what we did. We made lists of potential clients and projects and started creating interesting presentations. We landed our first brand activation in 2010. It was for a large telecom client (credibility was there as I had spent a good amount of time in my corporate career with telecoms) and they loved what we showed them. This was our first project. It was time to deliver! Landing and executing the first big activation project gave us the confidence to work harder and to keep on pitching to more clients. From telecoms to food to banking to beverages, we created a client base for Activemedia. From this point on, there was no looking back and we delivered activations worth Rs 40 million in our first year of business.

Where is Activemedia today?

Activemedia is a large industry player. With our business volume 20 times more than what it was in our first year, offices in five cities in Pakistan and a team of over 100 excited people, we are the industry leader in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP). We are also a panel agency for most MNCs and have strong relationships with all big local corporates.


Content-centric activations and events are the buzzword. Even when the on-ground footprint of the activation is small, the content is so good that the virality factor kicks in and combined with a few marketing dollars on social media, the activity seems huge in the eyes of the consumer.


Activation over the years

Activation and events have evolved (and grown) over the last decade and are still into super year-on-year growth. The market is fragmented with 15 to 20 large players dominating the MNC accounts and hundreds of smaller players or one-shop operators comprising the rest. Gone are the days when companies used to give advances for their project. Now, most have payment periods ranging from 30 to 120 days’ post invoice. This means additional pressure on the working capital and the working capital requirements for large players run into hundreds of millions of rupees.

Changing landscape

Consumers are bombarded with marketing messages across all media, so the need is to create unique experiences and huge opportunities for brands to engage with their consumers in meaningful ways. Companies are becoming more prone to spending in this area by reducing their Adex on electronic and mainstream OOH media. From small local organisations to large MNCs, brands are realising the benefits of engaging directly with consumers and delivering their messages by intercepting them at various touch-points (and there is no touchpoint that cannot be targeted for direct consumer engagement).

What I foresee

With everything going digital, activation and events cannot be left far behind. All agencies are working to create more digital activations. Content-centric activations and events are the buzzword. Even when the on-ground footprint of the activation is small, the content is so good that the virality factor kicks in and combined with a few marketing dollars on social media, the activity seems huge in the eyes of the consumer. Like all markets that are developing, there will be an industry shake-out in the coming years. As smaller players fail to compete in terms of size, creativity, financial muscle and quality of execution, they will fade away and make room for the big players to increase their share of the pie, thereby making the industry less fragmented.

Saad Khan is CEO, Activemedia. saad.khan@activemedia.com.pk