Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Stepping onto the red carpet

Updated Nov 21, 2017 08:41am
The trials and tribulations of being a woman in a man’s account handling world.

I have always kept the following Chinese proverb as my guiding principle: “Anything you can do I can do better.”

Gone are the days when people working in client service were considered to be glorified dispatchers. Today, account handlers play a vital role in business development. They not only enhance the client relationship, they have the capacity to make a business profitable.

It was destiny that brought me to advertising, and over the years, every day has been different. The red carpet was never rolled out for me, yet I made it a point to ensure that it was there the next time I came round. Not by throwing a tantrum, but by proving my worth as reflected in my work. I had to learn the hard way, and the best way to go about it was to keep my ego at home (I still haven’t picked it up).

When I started, there were very few women working in client service. The biggest problems used to be the late hours, travelling unescorted out of station and the fact that the environment of an ad agency was considered a no-no because in a male dominated society, men tend to take advantage of the fairer sex (both clients and employers fall in the same loop). And there have been instances where clients have tried to misinterpret having a woman as their account handler, which is probably one of the reasons why women prefer to opt for the creative side, as there is less exposure on a ‘one-to-one basis’.

For a woman on the other side of the desk, the clear cut steps are discipline, presence of mind, confidence and no compromise on self respect. If you can manage these without changing the order, you are a winner.

"No doubt a pretty face is a plus point, but for how long? At the end of day, what counts is credibility and the ability to deliver. "

When it came to choosing my wardrobe, I made sure that I bought prints and material that were not too sheer and chose designs that were not revealing. The reason being, why provide an opportunity for a comment or a stare? Yet, I was never considered a schoolmarm. The crux is how you present yourself. No doubt a pretty face is a plus point, but for how long? At the end of day, what counts is credibility and the ability to deliver.

Let me narrate an incident that happened in my early days.

I had to deliver 5,000 ballpoint pens, with the company logo printed on them, to a client. The gentleman in question would not accept them until I opened each packet and showed him the print quality of every pen!

Later on, this gentleman and I had to travel out of station for a conference. Once we arrived at the hotel, he informed me that to save on his budget, I was expected to share a room with one of his female staff members. When I told him that this was unacceptable and complained to his boss (who was also there), I not only obtained a separate room; it was upgraded.

When I narrated this incident to my then boss, Mr Shahnoor Ahmad, CEO, Spectrum Communications (now Spectrum Y&R), he said to me: “Shazieh, you have to be in the driving seat, at the helm of affairs. Don’t lose your grip!”

Had it not been for his trust in me, I don’t think I could have reached the milestones I have so far.

Thank you sir, for all that you have done.

What takes the cake is that to test the waters, women are often given either a local or dormant account to handle, and are then expected to perform miracles. They are never given responsibility for a multinational account, as the preconceived notion is that they will mess up or will be unable to handle the pressure.

"What takes the cake is that to test the waters, women are often given either a local or dormant account to handle, and are then expected to perform miracles."

How the tables turned in my favour was the result of one such instance, when I was asked to assist an account director. I was basically his ‘go for’ as in ‘go for this’ and ‘go for that’.

We were in the middle of organising a huge convention with delegates coming in from the SAARC division. As luck would have it, at the eleventh hour, the hotel management informed me that the required NOC from the Tax & Entertainment Authorities was missing and that therefore the musical performance booked for that evening would have to be cancelled. I was taken totally by surprise and as Murphy’s Law would have it, both the account director and the client overheard the conversation.

As I said, if you do not have the presence of mind you are doomed. So I asked the hotel manager what the procedure was, and then rushed off to the relevant office, waded past the guards who were trying to deny me entry, and having reached the concerned person’s office I was told he had left for the day. But then luck intervened and at that moment the man himself walked in (he had to collect an important document). Having explained my predicament, I got my NOC. The result of all this was that not only did I receive a letter of appreciation from my client, I also bagged the account.

The highs and lows of client service have their own story to tell. There have been instances of clients trying to act smart by passing comments such as:
“Why do you work?” “Why aren’t you married?” “You should take up teaching; it is the best profession for women.” And my all time favourite: “Aap samaj rahee hain na? Yeh kaam mardon ka hai, aap kar lain gee?”

Yet, what still amazes me is that being a daughter, a sister, a wife and a daughter-in-law, I remain a woman who does not overlap her roles. Every segment of my life has its own cast of characters, along with responsibilities which come with deadlines that are no different from any client’s.

However, such multitasking is only possible if you are a very motivated person, with a sense of humour to match.

There is never a dull moment in client service, and I have learnt, all the way to my present position. My current boss, Mr Imran Irshad, CEO, Pirana Advertising, has taken me to another dimension. His simple rule is: winning starts at the beginning.

Having done this for 19 years, the job is now second nature to me. So much so, that I consider my mother-in-law to be my most important client and when I talk to my husband, it goes like this: “What is the next step?” “Who is responsible for doing this?” “What kind of time frame are we talking about?”

Shazieh Moin is Director, New Business Development, Pirana.