Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Meeting the ‘Best Creative in Pakistan’ Over Noodles

Published in Nov-Dec 2020

Marylou McCormack profiles Huma Mobin.

In 2016, Huma Mobin made local and international newspaper headlines as ‘the girl who honeymooned alone’ when her husband’s Schengen visa was rejected and she proceeded to go on the trip with her in-laws, using social media to post sad photos of herself from different locations. Despite the criticism for being a publicity seeker, her Instagram account still proudly proclaims the fact that she honeymooned alone and became famous for it. In many ways, this describes her personality quite appropriately. Mobin has a no-holds barred, discuss-anything-and-everything-openly approach towards social media and life and is totally unapologetic about it.

As I Zoom-interviewed her for this profile, Mobin happily ate a bowl of noodles while sitting in her beautifully decorated bedroom, wearing a Friends shirt with her hair up in a bun and with no make-up on. We talked about the career decisions that led to her being named the ‘Best Creative in Pakistan’ by Campaign Brief Asia earlier this year and as she talked about her lows, I asked if these anecdotes were off the record. She was quite clear they should be mentioned.

“I don’t think of myself as a successful person but how can people appreciate my highs without knowing about the lows? They need to know the whole story.” Her story began at the National College of Arts where she graduated with a major in Communication Design. “Early on, I realised that creative strategy was my calling.”

The realisation hit her while she was working at Farigh Four in Lahore. Wanting to move to bigger and better things, she applied for a position at Ogilvy Lahore and got in. This, however, proved to be a mistake. She was assigned to work on the Warid account which she says required no creativity so before her probation period was up, she resigned and went on to work at the Lahore Grammar School (LGS) as the media coordinator for their website and school magazine. Then came one of her major lows.

“I was able to do some great work at LGS, but around the same time I broke up with my boyfriend and I went through a major period of anxiety. I wouldn’t go into the office for days until eventually I was fired from the job.”

Taking a couple of months off to “embrace the low”, Mobin put on her agency hat once more by accepting a job as Creative Manager at Starcrest which proved to be a formative experience.

“I was working in a small office set up and one of my best friends was also working with me. This helped because I felt emotionally supported. We did a lot of work together and ended up winning every client we pitched for, including Huawei and Hush Puppies.”

This gave her confidence, and along with some friends and professional contacts, she started her own agency called Mantis Advertising. This was another mistake and the agency folded in six months. She then decided to work for the fashion brand Sapphire as Social Media Manager. The move was triggered by a desire to work with Khadijah Shah.

“All my life I have wanted to work with strong and successful women, women who have made it big. I wanted to learn from them.”

This motivation prompted her to apply for a job at the award-winning agency, BBDO, so that she could work with creative director Madeeha Noor.

“Madeeha had a reputation for being blunt but I decided that I would put aside my ego and learn from her.”

As it turned out, Noor left BBDO a month after she joined the agency, leaving her to undergo a baptism of fire as the only person in the creative department.

“For six months, I was handling creative all alone and I didn’t have a boss, although Faisal Durrani [former MD, BBDO Pakistan] was my mentor and helped me out whenever I was stuck.”

Mobin is clearly grateful for and proud of the BBDO experience which lasted for four years. Not only did she work on the Pepsi account and make a name for herself within the wider BBDO community, she also had the opportunity to work with Ali Rez and Hira Mohibullah, both of whom she considers to be her mentors. BBDO also required that all creatives, along with juggling work for paying clients, work on pro-bono projects, and this is where all of the award-winning work, like ‘Not a Bug Splat’, ‘Bridal Uniform’, ‘Truck Art Childfinder’ and others, originated from.

Mobin is married to architect Arsalan Sever Butt, who along with his interior decorator father owns SA Designs & Associates, a company that does plenty of building and interiors projects for high profile clients in Lahore and abroad.

“That,” she says laughingly, “is the secret of my beautiful home… it has absolutely nothing to do with me.”

A change in the management at BBDO and a new MD brought with it “toxicity” to the agency she had once considered to be her second home. As her anxiety spiralled, she started looking for other opportunities, adding that she was turned down by a well-known agency (she refused to name it) because she asked for day-care or for some allowances to be made so she could take care of her new born daughter. Eventually she quit her job at BBDO without having secured another job.

“I took a vacation and then had absolutely no clue about the future, except that I wanted to start a YouTube channel that focused on women’s issues that are considered taboo.”

She sees herself as a feminist and her Instagram account is evidence that she will not shy away from talking about taboo topics. She has written about post partum depression and being unable to love her daughter right after she was born, about sexual desire for her husband and about mental health problems – issues that even the most candid bloggers are reluctant to talk about.

Then, just as she was getting herself back in gear, the pandemic struck and her plans for the YouTube channel went up in smoke. Once again, she demonstrated her ability to land on her feet when she, along with her friend, photographer Hamza Lari, pitched content ideas to Oraan Tech (a start-up working for financial inclusion in Pakistan) and managed to get the client on retainer. This led to the launch of Contentory Inc., which is co-owned by Mobin and Lari. Contentory has given her another opportunity to do what she does best – storytelling. This is evidenced in the company’s recent work for Bisconni’s Eid campaign where she used her own home, family and staff to shoot a TVC about celebrating a simpler Eid as well as the work she did for Hush Puppies where the words chalna (walking) and chalana (running a country or system) are juxtaposed to talk about the brain drain in Pakistan and how some young people are staying behind to help build the nation. Mobin believes that Covid-19, while it has challenged every business, is also a huge opportunity for creativity.

“Everyone has had to re-examine their budget and do more with limited resources. Clients who were once concerned about an agency’s turnover and the state of their offices, really only care about the strength of the idea now.”

Working from home has meant that Contentory doesn’t need an office and the company is able to work with young freelancers from across Pakistan. At the end of the day though, she does dream of having an office where she can create a safe and comfortable environment for women.

“There is research by Google that the productivity of your company increases by 70% if there are more women in the workforce. I want to make a space where women can come and work together and where I can teach them about creativity. It may sound utopian but why not?”

Marylou McCormack is a former member of Aurora’s editorial team.