Behind the scenes of AdAsia by Fatima Zakir, Jang Media Group.
I know this space is usually dedicated to a day’s account, but having hardly slept in 96 hours, I will count it as a day. That was my life during AdAsia Lahore 2019. No sleep, hardly any food and overstressing over minute issues because everybody spent more time throwing the job at someone else rather than actually doing it. So yeah, the “oh-so-cool AdAsia Lahore with amazing speakers and awesome entertainment nights” had so much sweat, hard work and a few tears (literally!).
AdAsia was not organised in a month and I had been working on it for over a year, along with my regular job at the Jang Media Group. So believe me when I say you needed nerves of steel to go through with the preparations.
I will start with the day before the Congress. It was a very stressful one. Most of my speakers had arrived, the MCs were allotted their slots and the sponsors were being looked after. Just when I thought I was in control, I was hit by the strongest nuclear force that left my mind paralysed – the delegate list. It boiled down to making the registration team do their job fast and that was a nightmare. When most of the people had left for the opening dinner at Hazuri Bagh, which I had been really looking forward to because of the venue, I was instead stuffing the speaker kits and requesting colleagues to deliver them to the homes of our local speakers because... well, protocol. Having more delegate cards printed, sorting out differences between teams and practically babysitting people to make them do their job. To cut a long story short, we worked until 5: 30 a.m.
On the first day of AdAsia, I had rested my eyes for literally 30 minutes when a sponsor’s frantic call brought me back to life, reminding me of the day and of what lay ahead. I got ready in a rush and reached the venue. After a brief look around, I went backstage, which turned out to be my hub for the next three days.
Let me tell you something about myself. I am big on commitments and I don’t like last minute changes. I worked hard for months to bring in the speakers and set the agenda – and putting much thought into it. All the sessions should not be alike and every day should have local representation too. Every day should also have at least two keynotes, and so on. So last minute, unwanted changes agitated me.
The biggest setback of the day was the absence of Fernando Machado, who was supposed to be the closing speaker but had visa issues. He was one of the star speakers. Here, I would like to say that although I was looking after a lot of stuff, speakers and the agenda was actually the task assigned to me originally, which is why, it held a special place in my heart and every time a speaker pulled out or could not make it, I felt very disappointed.
That was not the end. I then received an email from Fernando Machado saying his visa issue has been resolved. I asked him if he was willing to fly out immediately and speak on Day 3. It was a long shot. To my surprise, he agreed. In the middle of that day, during all the sessions and running around, I booked his flight.
That night at the Food Street dinner, people from the advertising industry celebrated. I, however, arrived when the performances had ended and the restaurants were wrapping up because hey, I was working at the hotel and was still on email on my way to the Food Street.
Day 2 of the Congress was the same. We began a little late, owing to our Pakistani nature and to my utter frustration. Apart from backstage duty, I personally escorted a couple of speakers, holding their bags while they posed, took pictures and showed them around. All the while I was thinking about where I was actually needed. We skipped both tea breaks to finish the event on time.
When everyone went back to their hotels to freshen up for dinner, I went back to the hotel to discuss the next day’s agenda with my team. Yet again, I arrived at the dinner when the performance had ended. There was, however, some food left; no dessert, mind you. The day did not end there.
Suddenly, we did not have an MC for the start of Day 3. So we started texting on our MC WhatsApp group for suggestions and possible names who could do the job. Finally at 3: 30 a.m. Shahzad Nawaz graciously accepted to open the day. I took a sigh of relief.
On the subject of WhatsApp, every day I had around 250+ unread messages because I didn’t have the time to reply. Add this to repeated calls from sponsors for one wish to be fulfilled after the other.
Finally, Day 3 dawned. I was woken up by a call from Randi Zuckerberg’s assistant. He was in a panic because the hair and makeup stylist was not going to do Randi’s hair. I called the stylist’s manager at 5 a.m., who confirmed that she would do Randi’s hair. When I called Randi’s assistant back, he apologised, saying that it had all been a misunderstanding! Yes, at 5 a.m. That was also a crisis.
Anyway, I reached the venue on time and made sure all speaker profiles were ready for Shahzad Nawaz, and the agenda was set. As the second speaker of the day started the session, Fernando Machado arrived. As he had ‘requested’ to see me as soon as he stepped out of the car, I handed the profile pointers to the backstage staff and rushed to meet him. The moment I introduced myself, he hugged me and I realised the happiness was mutual. I was touched by this man’s commitment. High regards for him. He was the only speaker I had a photograph taken with.
During the first half of the day, I couldn’t feel my legs. It was not going to be an easy day. The President was scheduled to speak and the second half started off late again and we were in a race against time. Besides this, we had three big speakers that day and it was difficult to cut short anyone’s time. I will not go into the details of the countless small issues I was confronted with, but the day ended. And it was also going to be the day I would go back to the hotel, relax and be at the dinner on time as there were no ‘next day’ meetings. I was proven wrong as we had an in-house closing ceremony post event to celebrate the successful execution of AdAsia Lahore. And so I was late to the farewell dinner again, although I was able to see the Chinese dancer perform Mahira Khan’s song. What a treat! As someone on the table playfully commented, “China sab copy kar sakta hai.”
That night, I slept like a baby and took the first flight back home in the morning. Honestly, even today, when I hear the AdAsia music (doing my post Congress follow-ups) I get goose bumps. And silly as it may sound, I still dream about AdAsia and something going wrong – even weeks after the event. It just tells me how invested I was in the project.
Although at the time I had been extremely frustrated and stressed, I miss it now. And as AdAsia coming back to Pakistan after 30 years has made advertising history, I can proudly say I played a small part in it too.
Fatima Zakir is Senior Manager, Marketing & Communications, Jang Media Group.