Published in Mar-Apr 2021
MARIAM ALI BAIG: When you joined PAS in 2006, what was PAS like in terms of activities?
QAMAR ABBAS: Very inactive. The membership base was very low and we still did not have any representation from the telecom sector. TV had developed a lot and PAS was completely dormant in this respect as well.
MAB: What led to the establishment of PAS in 1996?
QA: Several issues were arising around advertising. At that point, there was the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) for the advertising agencies and the All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS) for the print media, but there was no association tasked with representing the interests of the advertisers.
MAB: What made you join PAS?
QA: I started my career with the Star newspaper in sales and then moved into marketing at Dawn. After Dawn, I spent two years in the US and then came back and joined Print Media Consultants, a family-based event management business. In 2006, the opportunity to join PAS as an Executive Director came up. Although I had my own business, I thought that working for an industry association would give me added experience and exposure which I could then bring back to the business. When I joined PAS, I realised that I was not enjoying managing events so I stuck with PAS.
MAB: What was your mandate?
QA: To revive PAS and increase membership. TV had grown a lot and the need for a TV audience measurement system had become a priority. Another priority was to initiate research-based training programmes.
MAB: How many members were there?
QA: About 30 to 35, but a lot of them were dormant and when we approached them to pay their outstanding membership fees, some resigned. However, as our membership grew (today we have 38 members) we began offering training workshops and initiated the Television Audience Measurement (TAM) project.
MAB: How active was the Executive Council?
QA: Very and they were passionate. A lot of the credit goes to Abrar Hasan, Rizwan Jamil, Ali A. Khan and Mahmood Nanji; they were the pillars and played a crucial role in getting PAS going.
MAB: How did you go about instituting TAM?
QA: We formed a joint industry committee to include the broadcasters and media agencies. We supervised the implementation process and established the KPIs; after that, we hired an external consultant to do a forensic audit of the data one year after its release. In 2009, we launched our Consumer Multimedia Index to provide information about a consumer in terms of their demographics, psychographics and media consumption patterns.
MAB: Was the new impetus given to PAS driven by the multinational members?
QA: Not at all. Yes, they were there, but companies such as EBM, National Foods and Tapal were very involved. The multinationals already had their global protocols and parameters; it was the local organisations that needed building up because their training and development resources were lesser compared to the multinationals. It is the national companies that have a bigger stake in PAS activities.
MAB: How difficult is it to attract the smaller companies and do they share the priorities set by the large national companies and the multinationals?
QA: There are two very different mindsets. However, by consistently engaging with the smaller companies, some have joined, although a lot of convincing is still required. The way I see it, there are those companies that are interested in issues like advocacy, dealing with the media and the regulators and implementing best practices and then there are the companies that look for hardcore and tangible results; they are the ones which ask what they will get in return for their membership fee.
MAB: When were the PAS Awards initiated?
QA: In 2010, when we started to look at holding awards, we realised that the industry is not that big, so why not do them jointly with the advertising agency association. However, after lengthy discussions for over six months, we could not reach an agreement. We wanted to do effectiveness awards, but the ad agencies wanted to emphasise creativity. We eventually agreed on a structure, but then funding became an issue. In the end, we decided to do it ourselves and held the first PAS Awards in May 2011.
MAB: How did you structure these awards?
QA: I started a conversation with the organisers of the Effie Awards. I adapted their structure and customised it as per our needs. Their scoring criteria was different; they give high weightage to the results, but because many companies in Pakistan are unwilling to share their results, we decided to keep the weightage at five percent and build it up. By year eight we reached Effie’s parameters.
MAB: How do you verify the scoring parameters, especially those related to results?
QA: This is a grey area worldwide. This is why Effie emphasise providing a verifiable data source.
MAB: In Pakistan, what source can one possibly quote?
QA: In the initial years, the results were very vague. Even the big multinationals would claim that their campaign was a hit, without providing concrete numbers. The point is that we did not initiate the awards for the sake of awards; our objective was to get the industry to start thinking in a certain direction and give more importance to their results. To understand that when they develop a campaign, although creativity plays a major part, they must also set KPIs and measure their results based on those. We wanted to change the mindset of the industry.
MAB: Has bringing the Effies to Pakistan been a motivational factor for the profession?
QA: Definitely; they have exposure to the international market and as a result, some of the work done by Pakistani advertising agencies has been showcased at the regional and global level.
MAB: To what extent does PAS interact with PEMRA?
QA: Because of our constant engagement with PEMRA over the last 10 years, we have managed to develop a good relationship with them. One area we work closely with them is TAM because as a result of a case, the Supreme Court ruled that PEMRA should regulate TAM.
MAB: Is Pakistan the only country in the world to have such a system?
QA: Yes. Before the court case intervened, after almost 12 years of effort, we finally managed to get the PBA on board and form a joint industry council, with the mandate to regulate TAM. That is the structure that is operative everywhere else. However, the Supreme Court decided to dissolve the joint industry council. They ruled that there would not be a single service provider, but as many as required. The data would be given to PEMRA and they would provide the data to the industry.
MAB: What other projects are you contemplating?
QA: We are looking at a Retail Tracking (RTS) and a Cross-Media Measurement (CMM) study. We are aiming for a syndicated study for the RTS and we will be inviting research companies to pitch. The objective of the CMM study is to measure four screens – TV, mobile, laptop and tablet – and provide a single currency to ensure un duplicated reach and frequency. Globally and in Pakistan, a lot of the advertising spend goes through Google and Facebook and these platforms are unwilling to share their data. Globally advertisers are seeking to establish a third party independent measurement service for digital in the same way they did with TV.
MAB: Advertising as a function is changing, with more layers of complexity coming in and eventually PAS will have to embrace these changes and provide different services and probably change the format of the Awards.
QA: The industry still has to sort out a lot of things, some of which date as far back as the late nineties. We started working on TAM in 1999 and we are still struggling to establish it. We should have had a newspaper measurement system and the same goes for radio and OOH. These are measurement systems we are still struggling to establish even after 25 years. As an industry, we are against any kind of measurement and this is a very short-sighted approach. Media should start focusing on content and competing with their competition, rather than obsessing about the numbers to look good and earn more revenue. That vision is lacking in the industry.
MAB: Does PAS have that vision?
QA: We do, but we cannot do it alone. All stakeholders have to work together. We need to look at what other markets are doing. Our campaigns are very conventional and based on TV, print or digital, yet other markets have started developing products which technically are marketing efforts to reach out to specific consumer segments. They are no longer your typical, conventional integrated campaign. We are still stuck on doing basic things.
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