Syed Shahzad Shah, Executive VP, Marketing & Corporate Communications, PTCL, speaks to Aurora about his company's role in shaping Pakistan's digital future.
MAMUN M. ADIL: In the last two years, PTCL’s advertising campaigns seem to be more thematic in nature, compared to previous ones, which were more functional. What has brought about this change?
SYED SHAHZAD SHAH: Last year, on August 14 we executed our Hum Hain Pakistan campaign, which received a lot of positive feedback; several bloggers wrote about it and Aurora mentioned us as well. This year, we adjusted our approach further to change the perception that PTCL is not just an internet or telephone company. We wanted people to realise the important role we play in various aspects of their lives. The campaign centred on the word aitebar (trust) and the tagline was: ‘Isi liye PTCL bana un sab ka aitebar, jin pay hay apko aitebar’(PTCL is trusted by the people you trust). We wanted people to know that, for example, thanks to PTCL, they can use an ATM machine, bank online, fly, or use their mobile phone. All these things are possible due to our infrastructure, which allows connectivity and security. Most people were not aware of this.
MMA: Has the increasing number of internet providers affected PTCL?
SSS: I would be lying if I said that is not the case. It is affecting us, but people need to understand our business dynamics. We have a presence in 2,000 cities and towns across Pakistan and we have four international submarine cables that connect Pakistan to the world. As a result, we handle more than 70% of Pakistan’s internet traffic in terms of infrastructure. That said, we are striving to improve the quality of our service. I cannot give actual numbers but we are spending billions on doing so. We have an 80% share in the fixed broadband market; we may be losing customers, but many of them come back and that gives us confidence. Our core focus is to provide better internet services; we want our customers to graduate to higher speeds and we are investing heavily to do so. Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t understand how the internet works; they connect up to six devices on a two Mbps connection and then complain that their internet connection is slow. YouTube and Netflix require a lot of bandwidth, which is why our customers need to upgrade their speed.
MMA: Some people perceive PTCL to be a somewhat staid brand; is this perception changing?
SSS: Yes; we have been in Pakistan since 1947; not many companies can say this. Now, rather than thinking of us as an ‘old’ company, people have started thinking of us as an ‘experienced’ one. And this has to do with the fact that we have conducted several brand activities in addition to ATL over the years.
MMA: Why is this important to PTCL?
SSS: As a brand, you need to connect with people; you need to be where people want to be; that is why, for the past few years we sponsored Islamabad United. Pakistan is a cricket crazy country and we tapped into that. We have also sponsored Pakistan’s T20 team several times. We have sponsored films, such as Sherdil and 7 Din Mohabbat In. We try and connect our brand with things that interest our consumers, so we stay in their minds. Such activities have changed the perception of our brand. We are doing a lot on digital – as the biggest telecom operator in Pakistan, we recently started an educational series called Talks@PTCL; we invite various speakers and they give 20-minute talks on various subjects such as arts, entertainment, start-ups and technology. Only one session has taken place so far, which featured Aban Haq (Head of Innovation, Karandaaz), Yusuf Hussain (CEO, Ignite) and Badar Kushnood (Former Country Consultant, Google Pakistan).
"We want to be prepared for anything that comes Pakistan’s way as far as technology is concerned. Ultimately, we want to be the operator of choice for our customers and a partner of choice for our corporate clients. Our tagline ‘Hello to the Future’ says it all."
MMA: The Lahore Development Authority (LDA) and PTCL recently signed a MoU for the ‘beautification and renovation’ of 19 underpasses in Lahore. What does this entail?
SSS: Many of these underpasses are named after prominent personalities, such as Justice Cornelius, Ahmed Faraz and Waris Shah; when you drive through an underpass, you will see information highlighting their importance. We are renovating these underpasses so that they look appealing. However, the idea is to beautify Lahore, not to overcrowd it with PTCL’s branding. We have done other CSR activities in the past; we organised the biggest blood donation drive in the country, during which 9,900 pints of blood were donated; we set up free clinics and medical camps from time to time as well. Recently, with WWF, we are planting 200,000 trees in Balochistan.
MMA: What are PTCL’s new consumer initiatives?
SSS: We recently started GPON, which is our high-speed internet based on a fiber network and in certain areas it can provide speeds of up to 200 Mbps. We are spending more on this initiative in order to make it available in all tier-one and tier-two cities. Customers have responded favourably to our Smart TV service as well. We allow streaming via Netflix and more recently, Starz Play. This is especially important because through PTCL they can access these services without using a credit card; a major benefit as many either do not have a credit card or they do not want to use it online.
MMA: What services do you provide to your corporate clients?
SSS: We provide satellite communication and cloud services, in addition to data centres, which we are constantly expanding. Our data centres are Tier 3 certified; they are used by banks and other organisations because they are extremely secure.
MMA: Are urban markets saturated as far as internet penetration is concerned?
SSS: There is room for growth in Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad, as these cities continue to expand. In rural areas, usage is low and a lot of this is due to low literacy rates, but this is changing and people have started using streaming services in addition to accessing the internet. As literacy increases so will bandwidth requirements. Cities such as Faisalabad, Gujranwala, Multan and Sialkot are promising markets.
MMA: What is PTCL’s vision for 2020?
SS: We want to be prepared for anything that comes Pakistan’s way as far as technology is concerned. Ultimately, we want to be the operator of choice for our customers and a partner of choice for our corporate clients. Our tagline ‘Hello to the Future’ says it all: it is a very forward thinking statement and came into being approximately seven years ago. If you look at PTCL’s journey since then, we have done a lot in the digital space – be it in terms of our network, our infrastructure, content and services. We are playing a very important role in the digitisation of Pakistan, and we want to take Pakistan into the digital future.
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