For the last 22 odd years, as I made my way to my office in the morning, meandering through the corridors of Haroon House, I would pass a door. It was a spot I had come to look upon as Haroon House’s ‘magnetic field of sound and energy’, as more often than not, an orchestra of high voltage sounds would seep through, as if on a loop, alternating between loud vocals and high pitched laugher punctuated by an intermittent and sharp clearing of the throat. And I would smile to myself, thinking... “all will be well today.”
On the other side of that door, there sat Masood Hamid conducting his business of the day.
That was Masood Hamid. High voltage energy, brimming with ideas.
For 22 years Masood has been my colleague and my friend. In each other’s office, the corridors and staircases of Haroon House, we would discuss work, exchange office gossip, share a joke and occasionally plot a prank on an unsuspecting colleague (which when executed would send us into bubbles of mirth, leaving everyone else to wonder about our respective mental ages). His was one of the voices most frequently heard at the end of my extension and whose texts would regularly pop up on my mobile’s screen. He was the person I would go to when I needed something to be fixed.
To write about Masood now, means taking a giant leap backwards, readjusting the focus and looking beyond the cut and thrust of the routine and the mundane. It may yet be too soon to gauge the full extent of his legacy; but there is no doubt in my mind that his place will be among Pakistan’s most outstanding media marketing professionals of his time. A role model for young Pakistanis ambitious to succeed by playing it straight and by the rules.
I first met Masood in late 1993 when I joined DAWN and he had been recently promoted from Manager Supplements to GM Marketing, DAWN. At that point, DAWN was still in the enviable position of not really needing a sales department for its ROP business (tellingly, Masood had honed his skills in the supplements section) as advertising would literally walk in through the door. In fact, the busy people in the Sales Department were those in charge of placing the advertisements and making the ‘dummy’. Of course, sales visits were made, but it was more about keeping the PR going and ensuring that no advertising slipped though the net.
The times, however, were changing and over the course of the next 22 years, Pakistan’s media landscape would evolve beyond recognition. New newspapers and magazines were launched, the number of TV channels went from one to two to five to 80 plus, FM radio burst upon the scene and finally everything seemed to be going digital. Consumer finance came and went, but by then consumerism became an entrenched Pakistani habit as more and more brands set their sights on a market which despite economic dysfunction promised a healthy bottom line. Media became the battlefield where brands slugged it out for market dominance. Walk-in advertising was a luxury long gone and all media, including DAWN, had to go out and compete for every advertising rupee.
And so it was that in 1993, under Masood’s leadership, DAWN’s marketing department began its transformation. Sensing the changing times, one of his early moves was to rename his department the Marketing Department. He then went on to build one of the strongest newspaper and magazine marketing teams in Pakistan; a team able to work with successive tariff increases and still deliver the advertising, even in times of crisis, when clients abruptly pulled back on their spend across all media due to a faltering economy or a political blowback. In fact, Masood was virtually unstoppable. His buoyancy, his professionalism, his ability to improvise and his talent for spotting an opportunity, even in economically adverse times, enabled him to keep pulling in the advertising, as the Dawn Group of Newspapers evolved into a multimedia organisation – from print to digital, radio and TV – to become the Dawn Media Group in 2008.
Masood was the architect of DAWN’s high profile and commercially successful events. As early as 1997 he organised a conference at the Finance and Trade Centre in Karachi called Vision Pakistan 2010, in collaboration with the World Bank. In 2000 he took the idea further by staging the exhibition IT: The Future of Pakistan and holding it at the Expo Centre, paving the way for the venue to become the established choice for all other high profile commercial events held in Karachi. In 2001, he launched what was to become his nationwide blockbuster success, the Dawn All About Lifestyles exhibition, which continues to be the largest brand-to-consumer event in Pakistan, and in 2004 he established the Dawn Education Expo; now in its 12th edition, this is the only platform in Pakistan to consistently, year-on-year, attract senior representation from foreign higher educational institutes to interface with students in Pakistan. In 2011, he launched the Dawn Agri Expo, now in its 4th edition, and recently he was busy planning another major event aimed at encouraging direct foreign investment in Pakistan. There are so many initiatives to his credit and it would be impossible to catalogue every one in this space.
In his pursuit of DAWN’s commercial success and his dedication to promoting all that was hip, happening and good in Pakistan, he was nothing but dogged and determined. If one door closed he would try another, then another, until eventually he found the one that would open. He never gave up, and if on occasion he had to retreat, he would bide his time and then have his way.
Yet, despite his driven schedule, he was immensely generous with his time. He had a large professional and social network which he used liberally to help any cause or person that might benefit from a word placed in the right place. Walk into a room full of marketing professionals and over 50% of them will tell you how, in one way or another, they owe their progression to Masood’s support and advice. Part of his legacy will be found in the many marketing professionals, swiftly progressing up the corporate ladder and whom he mentored.
Then there was his family. And he was devoted to them. To his late parents, his brothers, Mahmood and Majid; his sisters, Shaheena, Seema and Samina. He cherished his wife Afshan for her gentleness, patience and unquestioning companionship. Tooba, his daughter, Asad, his son, were the apple of his eyes.
Despite his success, Masood remained an intrinsically modest man. Self congratulation was never part of his repertoire – although when it came to his team, no one could ever mistake his delight when their efforts were recognised. There was no arrogance about Masood. He was immensely approachable; no request was too trivial to entertain, no person too unimportant to give time to, and no idea too far-fetchted to not explore.
He had energy, bounce, vitality, fizz, pizzazz. He brought with him the promise of endless new ideas.
And then he was gone.
Mariam Ali Baig is Editor, Aurora.