Published in Nov-Dec 2020
From the famed Rooh Afza (which most Pakistanis love and others love to hate) to Naunehal Gripe Water, Hamdard has been a household name in this country for several decades. Yet, the consumer and over-the-counter (OTC) brands (which fall under the Hamdard Laboratories division), are just one part of this sprawling empire established by the late Shaheed Hakim Mohammed Said in Pakistan just after independence. The other major division of the company is the Hamdard Foundation, under which renowned educational institutions such as Hamdard University, Hamdard Public School and many others operate.
It was under the aegis of the Hamdard Foundation that Said started publishing Naunehal, a magazine for children in 1953. His vision was to improve the language skills of children and contribute to their moral development. Distributed through hawkers and retail outlets, the magazine has been continually published in its beloved black and white risala style in Urdu for the last six decades. However in recent years, there were murmurs, even from loyal readers, that it was time for a change.
Then, about a year ago, RG Blue Communications (Hamdard’s communications agency since 2017) approached the Hamdard Foundation with a proposal to revamp Naunehal. Hamdard gave the go-ahead but on the condition that the entire project – from content and design to marketing and distribution – would be handled by RG Blue on a turnkey basis. This played to the agency’s strengths because even though advertising remains their core business, RG Blue have been responsible for the content and design of Humsafar (PIA’s in-flight magazine) for the last three years. Nevertheless, it is a little surprising that the agency would want to venture into publishing a children’s magazine.
Khalid Saleem, CEO, RG Blue Communications and Editor-in-Chief, Naunehal, explains: “We have always wanted to work in the domain of children’s content. We already had in-roads with Hamdard because of our communications work and Naunehal is already an established platform with a massive content archive and a base of loyal readers, so it made sense to work on this rather than starting something from scratch.”
In the first phase of the revamp, RG Blue envisioned improving the content, design and printing quality and making the magazine bilingual. Therefore, the October 2020 issue of Naunehal (the first to be published under the aegis of RG Blue) has been printed in full colour on glossy paper and has 100 pages of Urdu content and 60 pages of English content.
Speaking about the new content, Uzma Khateeb-Nawaz, Editor, Naunehal, says that “we realised that our readers – children between ages eight and 14 – are already quite well informed, so they needed to be engaged in a way that they would remain loyal.”
Keeping reader engagement in mind, the new Naunehal is divided into four sections: fun elements which include jokes, riddles and puzzles; English and Urdu literature which is closely linked to what is being taught in schools; currents events and profiles.
Unlike other bilingual magazines where the English and Urdu sections are usually translations of one another, here both languages come with their own unique content, and there is a clear purpose behind this.
Meher Shaikh, Project Director, RG Blue, says, “One of the main reasons for not translating the content is because we want children who are reading in Urdu to explore the English side of the magazine as well and vice versa. The idea is to get children to explore both languages and not just the one they are comfortable with.”
Along with the changes, the price of the magazine has also doubled from Rs 50 to Rs 100, but Saleem doesn’t think this will deter loyal readers, saying that “the new prices come with many improvements and what we have here is a magazine similar in look and quality to Readers Digest or Nat Geo for kids but for a fraction of the price.”
Although the Naunehal team strongly believes that Pakistani children still prefer to read the magazine in print format, they have also launched a website with some content from the issue. In Shaikh’s opinion, “Even though children are attracted to screen time, in Pakistan most children still don’t have access to the internet, so the majority of our readers still read in print.”
Despite this, RG Blue’s future plans for Naunehal are focused on digital. Although the agency will continue publishing a print magazine, the next step is to launch an app with interactive content with the eventual aim of launching a YouTube channel.
In the meantime, plans are also in place to make the magazine – which is currently heavily subsidised by both Hamdard and RG Blue – into a self-sustaining entity by distributing it through schools and by direct subscriptions, as well as by securing advertising that is relevant to children.
Ultimately, however, Naunehal is a “passion project” for RG Blue, says Shaikh. “We believe in reading and inculcating that love for reading in every Pakistani child both in Urdu and in English. We also want to make sure that our magazine gets to every child and that they love and benefit from the content.”