"My trusty weapon (clichéd though it sounds) is the idea."
Running a business is hard work. It is harder still when you have to dodge the infrastructural weaknesses that affect Pakistan’s economic potential.
And in the creative services industry, where ideas are your primary product, the difficulty level spikes up exponentially.
I happen to run a little shop that shares its habitat with some of the giants of Pakistani marketing. We are a tiny operation, but we are regularly pitted against stalwarts who have been defining advertising practices in Pakistan for decades.
Every morning, all of us, big or small, race off into the horizon to hunt our prey – brands and corporations that want help in order to sell their brands. My competitors are large and in-charge. Their main weapons are their hefty clout and deep pockets.
Of course, I play to my own strengths. Flexibility and an attention to detail which larger set-ups have difficulty justifying on their even larger balance sheets. My trusty weapon (clichéd though it sounds) is the idea. I will not lie, it is very effective. It captures the attention of the big corporate entities and breaks through the toughest of pitches. It is both our saviour and our breadwinner.
But ideas are delicate and fickle and managing them is a real bitch. The first disadvantage is the fact that they are abstract constructs. Sure, they can be laid out in neat PowerPoint slides and showcased on large projection screens in massive boardrooms. But they don’t stay there. You cannot cage an idea. It flies off the screen and plants itself in the head of its recipients, who then can do with it as they wish. So the moment I propose an idea, I have already used it up by communicating it to someone else.
Which would be fine, if ideas weren’t so hard to find in the first place.
Good ideas are not locked into the brief, waiting to be cracked open by the right person. Admittedly, some do come more easily than others, but those are half baked random ideas to be killed and resurrected, rejoined and reconnected until they become relevant. Sleep on it, or go to the loo with it, in time the idea will evolve into a gloriously good idea.
Like cats, ideas which know they are good are proud, impulsive beings. They have no loyalty. They will stop at nothing to bite the hand that feeds them, and worse leave you for the next person willing to give them a new lease on life. This is where our hands are tied. We can only suggest something – the power to approve or reject lies with the client.
Here are a few ways the situation can play out. The best case scenario is the client loves the idea, has the monetary muscle to execute it and pays us to do it. Most of our clients fall into this category. The second situation is when the client decides the idea is not good enough. We are perfectly okay with that. We know it’s a dog eat dog world and if what we are proposing is not executable, we gracefully bow out and live to fight another day.
But then there are those freak events where the client loves the idea, gives us all sorts of positive vibes and then disappears. We let it go, mistaking it to be a situation where the client was too polite to tell us the idea was a miss. Then suddenly we see the same idea executed, word by word and colour by colour by another agency. This is when you realise the game is up. The client stole your idea and paid someone else to bring it to life. You can cry foul, decide to fight it out in court, or cry yourself to sleep. Yet the harsh reality is that in Pakistan, where intellectual property laws are hardly enforced, spec work is the norm and business integrity is just mere words.
As a small agency which stands shoulder to shoulder with the big boys, we have decided to deal with it in the best way we can – by creating even more good ideas. Steal one, steal two, steal the whole lot. We’ll be back tomorrow with something new, something better. But we will never work for your brand again.
Umair Kazi is a partner at Ishtehari. firstname.lastname@example.org