Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Published in May-Jun 2018

A zest for life

Khaula Qureshi in profile.

Khaula Qureshi exudes an energy that most Millennials cannot match. She talks a mile a minute, cusses with abandon and laughs with exuberance. And yet, if you focus on the words she uses when she speaks, you will notice that her grammar is perfect and her language eloquent; skills that held her in good stead during a career in advertising that began in the late sixties.

Qureshi came to Pakistan with her family from Bhopal after Partition when she was barely two years old. Subsequently, her father was appointed as Pakistan’s ambassador to Russia, and she spent her childhood there and then in Iraq and India. She describes her early education as “really very funny” given that she acquired it at various schools in those countries.

Eventually, she returned to Karachi, where she studied at St Joseph's Convent and later at the University of Karachi, where she acquired two Master’s degrees – English Literature and English Language. Her passions then (and now) were drawing and writing. While she was studying, she worked as a freelance artist for She magazine and after she graduated, landed a job at JWT as a trainee copywriter.

In 1972, when JWT closed down, Ahmed Ali (who also worked there) established Fourays, with Qureshi, along with Mukhtar Azmi and Masood-ul-Hasan as minority shareholders. Thus Qureshi possibly became the first woman in Pakistan to partly own an advertising agency. Typically, however, she points out that “titles never meant much to me. Even my business cards never stated that I was the director of the agency.”

During her days at JWT and Fourays, Qureshi worked on brands that included Exxon and Honda. She remembers writing and designing two advertisements for Exxon. The first depicted the Exxon tiger standing on a road with the headline ‘The Colossus of Roads’ (a pun on the Colossus of Rhodes, a statue of Helios, the Greek god of the Sun). The second ran with the caption “It’s purrrfect.” The two advertisements found favour with the regional offices of Exxon, and were included in their International Advertising Booklet, a first for Pakistan. She also remembers working on advertisements for Honda, which the company did not print due to financial constraints; however, the ads were entered for the APNS awards and won in the ‘unpublished’ category, after which the client published them.

A category Qureshi never worked on was tobacco, despite the fact that Pakistan Tobacco was one of JWT’s major clients. “I told them I would not work on the account, even if they fired me.” Her bosses obviously valued her work, and didn’t ask her to leave, realising the strength of her character when it came to standing up for what she believed in.

As TV made inroads in the world of advertising in the late sixties, the challenge for her was to master a new medium (this was the pre-internet age, when one couldn’t Google for ‘inspiration’) and Qureshi, eager to learn, ended up directing commercials.

“The chappies who made the commercials, or at least the ones I dealt with, only knew how to handle the camera; one had to tell them what to shoot and which angles to use.”

When I ask how she learnt to do so, despite not having any experience, she replies: “You had a brain and you used it.”


Clearly Qureshi is as sensitive as she is strong-willed and independent – and something tells me she would not like things to be any different. Her zest for life remains undiminished – an approach one can only admire.


One of the multimedia campaigns she worked on was for Selsun, an anti-dandruff medication which was advertised as Selenium Sulfide Suspension (government policy at the time dictated that pharmaceutical products could only be marketed using their generic name). “If there was anything that was working against us, it was the name,” says Qureshi with a laugh.

“The press ads said: ‘Get rid of that dirty dandruff’, and showed the back of a man’s head with dandruff. The TVC featured a very non-camera-shy man who says ‘I have tried everything for dandruff’ and tosses aside bottles on his desk. A voiceover then says ‘Everything except Selenium Sulfide Suspension from Abott.’”Such was the campaign’s success that all the consignment of Selsun, which was supposed to last for six months, sold out within weeks.

Another campaign Qureshi remembers with pride is that for Burnol, which is still recalled today. “Jalgaya? Burnol Lagaye. Cut gaya? Burnol lagaye. Keere ne kata? Burnol Lagaye. Boots ka Burnol.” When she mentions that she saw the line about ‘Jal Gaya?’ on the back of a bus recently, you can’t miss the pride in her voice.

One of the most innovative ideas Qureshi is proud of is the one she developed for a billboard for Star (which was published by the Dawn Media Group). The headline read ‘Reach for the Star’ and depicted a star outlined with strips of gold reflecting light. The idea to use this material came to Qureshi when she saw it used on trucks plying the highways, and she asked her billboard vendor to use it to create the star. Unfortunately word got out quickly and within two weeks, many of the billboards in Karachi were using the same material.

Then in 1989, Qureshi decided to leave advertising (or so she thought).

“I had worked on weekends for years; I got home at nine and worked until two in the morning. I told Mr Ali that these are impossible deadlines and if this continues, I’ll be dead on the line.”

Despite her remonstrations nothing changed and Qureshi finally left and took a three-year break. When I ask whether she ever became restless during this period, she says, “I never get bored; I had lots of people to meet, and books to read.” She also writes poetry from time to time.


Qureshi belongs to a generation for whom work is something that is taken seriously and done properly, irrespective of titles or timings. Not for her the whingeing, whining and search for fulfilment that seems to define today’s generation. She believes in hard work, pure and simple.


In search of a ‘quiet’ job, Qureshi joined Oxford University Press (OUP) as an editor. As it turned out, her stint there was anything but quiet; she ended up handling some of OUP’s advertising, organising book launches and even putting together promotional telops.

“It was like going out of the frying pan into the fire,” she says, adding that she found herself as overworked as she was at Fourays. Despite this, she worked at Oxford for eight years, after which she joined the Hamdard Foundation in 2000, as assistant to the president where she currently works.

When I ask her if she misses advertising, she says that her work today is equally creative, albeit in a different way.

“I had to draft a letter to Sonia Gandhi on behalf of the president, and it moved her so much that she replied personally…” Not surprisingly, she handles the foundation’s advertising, as well as writing speeches for the president.

Qureshi belongs to a generation for whom work is something that is taken seriously and done properly, irrespective of titles or timings. Not for her the whingeing, whining and search for fulfilment that seems to define today’s generation. She believes in hard work, pure and simple.

When I ask her where she sees herself in five years she replies: “Dead!” adding that the “most difficult thing in life is living; you see a lot, feel a lot and things hurt. I have seen people get older and become more and more helpless… they can’t do everything themselves, and I like to do everything myself.”

Clearly Qureshi is as sensitive as she is strong-willed and independent – and something tells me she would not like things to be any different. Her zest for life remains undiminished – an approach one can only admire.