What happens when a content marketing specialist with a background in advertising and a media professional, who has worked at one of the largest media agencies in Pakistan, collaborate? The answer is VCast Online – a digital platform that showcases the achievements of Pakistani entrepreneurs and thought leaders.
The duo in question are Irfan Aamir, Director, VCast Online (he previously headed O2 Communications and Idea Simple) and Mansoor Ahmed Ali, CEO, VCast Online (he worked in a senior capacity at the Starcom Media Vest Group as well as the Project Manager for Coke Studio). Together, they established VCast Online in January 2018.
The idea for VCast, according to Ali, stemmed from the notion of visibility economics, which purports that visibility and interaction are necessary for economic growth. This is the mandate VCast have set for themselves; to provide inspiration and ideas to audiences by highlighting individuals who are doing something that stands out and creating a platform for them to make connections.
“A friend introduced us to the science of visibility economics; his point was that it is really important for businesses and entrepreneurs, especially in the developing world, to improve their visibility, because if they are not known to their community, it will be difficult for them to compete in the long run.”
Another factor that led to the creation of VCast is the fact that business TV channels such as Business Plus and CNBC have closed down, leaving a vacuum in the market.
“In our opinion, good stories that merited coverage are not receiving sufficient media attention, unlike politics, entertainment and sport,” says Amir.
“I used to write for several newspapers and if I mentioned anyone in business by name, I was told I am giving them ‘free publicity’; that is why we decided that our focus should be on such stories.”
He adds that having this narrow focus enables VCast to differentiate itself from other online publishers and works to their advantage.
Although the start-up is a little more than a year old, VCast have published over a hundred videos, many of which have garnered a significant number of views and are being talked about.
VCast produces two categories of videos. The first is people based, where the focus is on entrepreneurs and thought leaders and individuals who have made a name for themselves, be it a tilemaker or a footballer from Lyari. The second is concept based, where the focus is on producing short videos that explain complex concepts such as Pakistan’s circular debt. The objective here is to provide audiences with information regarding how such things affect them, so “they can make informed decisions.”
Currently, VCast publishes at least two videos every week, which vary in duration between seven and nine minutes. Although there is no specific reason for this, what is important is that the content should be strong enough to retain viewers’ attention. While Millennials form an important component of the audience, people interested in business news, furthering their careers or entrepreneurship, or who “seek inspiration” are also part of the audience mix; approximately 70% are based in Pakistan and the rest in countries such as the UK, the US and Italy (quite surprisingly).
VCast’s small team, which also includes journalists (to provide content that is authentic), are able to produce content “end-to-end” – i.e they can conceptualise, shoot, edit and script videos and have a handle over animations and graphics. While finding such people did pose a challenge, VCast have managed to retain their team members, most of whom have been there from the start.
Ali adds that VCast place a lot of emphasis on ensuring that their content does not demean anyone, is gender-sensitive and steers clear of religion or politics.
“We create content that inspires, motivates and gives people ideas and even their ‘a-ha’ moment which make them say "let’s do this".”
“There is a strong market for content marketing. Brand love increased for Coke, thanks to Coke Studio. People heard the music and it created a positive association for them; there is a strong correlation between that and sales. Our clients understand this and realise that when we create high quality content for them based on genuine stories, it gives them credibility.”
Although VCast can be viewed on several social media platforms, Facebook is the primary one at this point. The content is modified to accommodate different platforms; on Instagram the posts are more photo/visual based, while videos predominate on Facebook and YouTube. VCast also plan a stronger presence on Twitter and LinkedIn once they acquire more manpower.
A self-funded start-up, VCast was created with “personal savings and credit from family and friends.” Although some efforts were made to secure external investment, the duo realised that to handle investors, they would require resources which they did not have; more importantly, they did not want an investor who would compromise their content.
Says Amir: “We walked out of an offer last July; we thought adding a reporting layer above us would compromise our content.”
However, they do plan to go for a seed round once they have a more concrete business plan with proven revenue sources. Furthermore, the start-up is now able to recover at least 50% of their costs via advertising, of which they offer two types. The first are sponsors; this allows advertisers to have their logos featured on the thumbnail of a video, as well as throughout its duration. For example, McDonald’s sponsored a video series produced by VCast and which, according to Ali, has so far received 140,000 views. The second is paid placement, which usually features a personality from an organisation and is paid for by an organisation or brand. A recent example is an interview with Ayesha Samie Cashmirie, Owner, Lush Crush.
Ali adds that VCast maintain their editorial independence even when they create sponsored content, and this makes them stand out.
“Although the sponsorship header is visible, a lot of people do not realise that it is paid content, because of the quality.”
He adds that VCast have been known to refuse offers if, in their opinion, the individuals proposed did not fulfil their criteria. He emphasises that VCast send the final version of the videos to the clients only for fact checking and do not let them control the content.
Brands that VCast have aligned with so far include Alkaram Textiles, JS Bank and TPL and the team is confident more brands will come on board given that content marketing is increasing rapidly in Pakistan.
Ali adds: “There is a strong market for content marketing. Brand love increased for Coke, thanks to Coke Studio. People heard the music and it created a positive association for them; there is a strong correlation between that and sales. Our clients understand this and realise that when we create high quality content for them based on genuine stories, it gives them credibility.”
As for future plans, the team plan to continue what they are doing. As revenues increase, they hope to widen their reach across more platforms, gain a larger audience base and increase the number of videos they publish. In the meantime, they are set to continue to pursue their “passion to publish” content that is inspiring – and devoid of masala.