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Babar Ayaz (1949-2024) Pioneer of Pakistan’s PR Industry

Menin Rodrigues remembers Babar Ayaz.
Updated 08 Apr, 2024 02:49pm

Babar Ayaz, a luminary in the journalism fraternity of Pakistan and the pioneer of Pakistan’s public relations industry, bid adieu to this world after a protracted illness. He leaves behind a legacy that traverses decades and shapes the narrative of a nation in flux, and a business and economic environment devoid of strategic input.

A conscientious professional scribe, whose life journey unfolded across the tapestry of Pakistan’s evolving socio-political landscape, he was more than just a journalist, author and PR trailblazer. His narratives transcended the ink on the pages of newspapers, extending to the very fabric of a nation seeking its identity, and a business community pursuing to safeguard its public interests.

Born in 1949* in Sukkur, Babar’s early years in Karachi marked the genesis of a career that would shape the discourse on politics, business, economics and PR in Pakistan. His indomitable spirit and unwavering commitment to truth and progress marked him as a voice that resonated through the corridors of power and media houses.

The mid-seventies witnessed Babar’s foray into the world of journalism. This journey saw him write piercing stories, news reports and op-eds for reputable publications such as The Sun (now defunct), Dawn and Business Recorder. His insightful columns became a staple in these publications as well as in the Daily Times, Newsline, Express (Urdu), and Awami Awaz (Sindhi). As Pakistan’s correspondent for several international newspapers, he became a bridge between the local and the global, painting a picture of a nation in constant economic and political strife.

I asked a long-time friend and Pakistan Television (PTV) supremo, Jaffer Bilgrami, to shed some light on Babar’s career. He wrote: “He was a man full of warmth and possessed a gregarious personality. He was part of Dawn‘s Economics & Business Review (EBR) pages team; economic reporting was his forte, but he was equally comfortable in political writing. His penetrating dispatches in the repressive rule days of Zia were quite hard-hitting. His book, *What’s Wrong with Pakistan*, was also translated into Urdu. Babar was a hard-core leftist. He introduced commercial and business news on state-owned PTV which hitherto was a dull and drab production. Babar infused more information and innovation, making the news show quite popular.”

S.M. Shahid, a close friend of Babar, in his eulogy, said: “During the epic 16th Asian Advertising Congress (AdAsia 89) held in Lahore in February 1989, Babar was selected to handle the media, and he did a splendid job in a fascinating book he wrote by highlighting the cultural landscape of Pakistan.”

Babar’s intellectual prowess and penchant for unearthing the truth led him to establish Mediators in 1988, Pakistan’s first independent PR agency. In an environment dominated by traditional notions of personal relations, Babar envisioned a future where strategic communications and public relations advisory played a pivotal role in shaping corporate narratives outside of advertising slogans. His collaboration with global giant Burson-Marsteller brought innovative PR concepts to Pakistan, challenging existing norms and ushering in a new era of professional consultancy.

During the nineties, Babar extended his influence on the visual medium, producing commercial bulletins for PTV. His ground-breaking show, Pakistan Business Update, became the country’s inaugural weekly business news programme, showcasing his foresight and dedication to bringing vital information to the public. In addition to his television endeavours, he left his mark through thought-provoking documentaries that tackled significant socio-economic issues. His writings as a journalist, thoughts as a TV anchor, and vision as a producer were characterised by discernment and passion. It reflected his unwavering commitment to championing the causes he believed in.

My connection with Babar dates to the late seventies and early eighties, when we both navigated the journalistic landscape as associates of Dawn and Morning News. While Babar focused on the intricacies of business and economics, I embarked on my journey in journalism. His gentle demeanour, precision in crafting business articles, and dedication to the craft left an indelible mark on those around him.

When novices embark on assignments, they set benchmarks by observing situations, occasions, achievements and the individuals involved. During that era, there were numerous seasoned journalists to glean insights from – learning the intricacies of researching stories, the meticulous process of generating sources and verifying facts, filing timely reports, and the art of drafting articles – all accomplished on typewriters. In a time devoid of computers, laptops or Google, every intellectual input was authentic, not artificial. Working alongside and influenced by some of Pakistan’s most renowned, honourable, and unwaveringly dedicated journalistic minds was a privilege. Among them, I take pride in acknowledging Babar as one of the luminaries who significantly shaped my professional journey.

During that time, Zohra Yusuf was also among the forerunners; she was my editor at The Star, and I asked her if she could comment on Babar’s genius as a journalistic mind. She said spontaneously: “Babar Ayaz was my colleague when I worked for Dawn in the early eighties. He was already renowned for his writing and reporting on economic issues. His commitment to his leftist beliefs and people’s rights gave his writing a humanitarian perspective. Years later, he would contribute to the Economy Watch reports issued by the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan (HRCP) annually post-budget. His analysis of the economic situation was always based on its impact on citizens’ rights, more so of the marginalised.”

Our paths diverged temporarily as I ventured into the hospitality industry in 1982. However, fate orchestrated a reunion in 1992; a reunion that marked the inception of a profound friendship and professional collaboration. Babar’s vision for PR consulting had led to the establishment of Mediators, and the Avari Hotels Group became one of its first clients. This convergence not only rekindled our friendship, it set the stage for a partnership that would shape the PR landscape in Pakistan.

Babar played a pivotal role in challenging the status quo of PR consulting in Pakistan. By affiliating Mediators with Burson-Marsteller, he brought global best practices to the forefront, emphasising the importance of strategic communication in handling corporate issues and crises. His influence extended beyond Mediators, inspiring others to delve into the world of communications and PR. Syed Jawaid Iqbal joined Babar on the PR circuit to launch CMC, another consultancy.

In 1995, buoyed by Babar’s inspiration and the encouragement of advertising guru Anwar Rammal, I ventured into the realm of communications and PR and spearheaded Asiatic Public Relations (APR). Thereon, Babar, Jawaid and I led the charge, working on pivotal issues at the intersection of country, corporate, and business interests.

In the sphere of corporate endeavours, Omar Kureishi and Khalid Butt from PIA, along with Zia-Ul-Islam Zuberi from Sandoz/Siemens, were innovators in the field, all of them having sharp PR acumen. The mid-to-late nineties marked a transformative period for PR methodologies in Pakistan. Through our combined endeavours, we imparted valuable training to several prospective PR practitioners, laying the foundation for a fresh cohort of communications professionals. Babar’s foresight and leadership led to the establishment of approximately 20 diverse agencies in Pakistan today.

The passing away of Babar Ayaz has left a void that words can scarcely fill. He was not just a professional comrade but a source of inspiration and guidance to many a budding journalist and PR professional. As I bid you farewell Babar, I carry with me the lessons learned from your unwavering commitment to truth, your courage in challenging norms, and your vision for a Pakistan where communications must be envisioned as a force for positive change.

Rest in peace, my friend.

Menin Rodrigues is a marketing and communications consultant.

*In the original article, Babar Ayaz’s birth year was mistakenly printed as 1955. The error is deeply regretted.