Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Barefoot in the park

Published Mar 16, 2019 10:40am
A day in the life of Zohra Yusuf.

First published in May-June 2005.

There was a time in my life when I hated early morning cheerfulness, more so on Monday mornings. And then I got hooked to City FM89’s Breakfast Show. No, I don’t find Sohail Hashmi’s reassurances of a ‘positive’ day convincing; however, the music – an eclectic blend of western pop and desi (including Sufi) makes the entry into the day a tad easier.

I consider myself fortunate to be woken up by a cacophony of chirping birds in this concrete jungle of a city. My day begins with stretch exercises to get the old back going; some are derived from yoga, some recommended by the orthopaedists I frequent so often. The exercises are essential, especially when I spend so much of the day rooted before the computer – the invention that is responsible, perhaps even more than television, for our sedentary lifestyle.

Monday morning traffic is worse than other days. It seems that workaholics, already tired of the leisure time the weekend brings, are eager to hit the road. In spite of the slow moving traffic, I manage to get to work ahead of most of my colleagues. Since the time I started working – many, many years ago (and I have been counting) – I have savoured the half an hour or so of solitude in the mornings. Just as well for me, people in advertising tend to roll in well after the ‘official’ starting time. I use the time judiciously, i.e. read newspapers, sip my coffee and check my e-mail.

On Monday mornings, weekly planning meetings are held at Spectrum – the plans going out of the window often before the day is out. Status reports on each client are reviewed, discussed and timelines set. Then suddenly, everything is ‘on hold’ as a mid-day crisis hits the not so unsuspecting.

Advertising is after all about meeting deadlines. Impossible ones. A product brief is circulated. The creative groups gather to recoup their energies and enthusiasm. Some wit once said that meetings are a substitute for actual work. However, somehow, the brainstorming session begins to move towards a creative direction and ideas begin to take shape.

Since we have internal networking, a lot of my time is spent in checking mail and responding. In the pre-computer days (yes, I’ve been working that long), I used to clear my notional inbox as soon as I spotted a piece of paper in it. Now, I have transferred that obsession for getting rid of clutter to my email, even as papers remain unsorted for weeks on my desk. The sedentary lifestyle I referred to earlier is adopted without much resistance. Designs are ‘jpegged’, ruling out the need to go up a flight of stairs to the art department for a review on the graphic artist’s computer. Comments are emailed, as are messages to a colleague in the next cubicle.

As often as I can, I look up at the Unver Shafi painting I have above my desk with the light falling on it. Sensuous shapes in red. Inspires. Uplifts my spirit. And then it’s time to return to the nitty gritty. Coffee and tea, in spite of health warnings, are a major part of the daily routine. My department peon brings in the cup of the preferred brew just the way I drink it, between what he believes are reasonable intervals.

Meanwhile, the creative team has been more productive. They file into my room to share ideas for a new product launch. I’m happy to note that some at least are outrageous. Some are tossed back and forth like tennis balls but we manage to retrieve them before they begin to look worn out. Work is divided according to skills and a review meeting time fixed which we all know is just very, very tentative.

At lunchtime, I come home all the way to PECHS from Defence. A creature of habit, I acquired this one when Spectrum was just a few minutes away from home. Anyway, most of the lunch break is spent in Karachi’s rush hour school traffic. Being a city wallah, traffic doesn’t particularly bother me – I see it as a sign of Karachi’s vibrancy and vitality.

By late afternoon, the campaign that had caught everyone by surprise in the morning is on its way to getting ‘presentable’. The account management person has agreed on an unreasonable presentation date (or so the creative team thinks). We huddle once again in the meeting room going over the presentation, item by item. At Spectrum, strategy recommendations are almost as important as the creative part so each power point slide is mulled over and tweaked to near perfection. This is a gruelling session. Criticism, sometimes blunt, is generally taken well.

We wrap up. The creative team gets the nod to go ahead. They’ll burn the midnight oil. I log off, pick up my bags and saunter out for a walk in the park.

Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum VMLY&R