Published in Sep-Oct 2021
The anxiety was evident from the droplets of perspiration forming on the brows of the students as they sat in the massive boardroom, waiting for the executive management to enter the room, along with the brand team they met a week earlier. The windowless room was laden with posters of past advertisements and portraits of the bank’s founders. The three students – a formidable young man whose job was to manage the account and two smart young women – a creative and a strategist – were accompanied by their teacher who was acting as creative director for this meeting.
“Sir, what if they don’t like the concepts?” asked Sara nervously. Before Mr Ahmed could respond, Talha said reassuringly: “We’re all obviously a little anxious about meeting the top management for the first time, but I’m sure they will like our concepts.” Mishal added, “Yes, the brand team is on our side; that’s a good sign. Mr Ahmed said the strategy is on-point too. We are going to win this thing!” Their teacher, Mr Ahmed, looked at the large clock placed on the wall behind the head chair, wondering how things were holding up back at the campus. It was 11:25 a.m. and this meant another group of students was scheduled to have a pre-production meeting (PPM) with another brand and production team in about 35 minutes. He turned his thoughts towards another campaign that his students were developing in the design studio back at the campus, when the large boardroom doors swung open.
Three suited men and two middleaged women walked in and exchanged greetings with the students. It was show time. Mr Siddiqui was the course supervisor for digital marketing in the media sciences department and was also overseeing the two digital teams they had formed this semester. Every Monday and Wednesday after class, he would gather the teams for updates on how they were doing with their clients. “Sir, the content strategy and calendar for Al-Hayat Construction are ready and have been shared with the client. We are waiting for their go-ahead on design and posting,” the team lead said to his teacher. The other team lead upped this update by proudly stating that his client, Borges Construction, had already approved their content calendar and they had started work on the website. Mr Siddiqui noticed the strong sense of healthy competition between both teams; a feeling he had worked hard to inculcate from the onset of the project.
After all, the students had an incentive – their final grades depended on how they handled the client and the quality of their output. Back at the university’s design studio, the other students were deep in discussion on how the design should be approached. Ms Amber was happy to see copywriters working with designers to produce effective ads for the brands they had managed to bring on board. When she joined the university as a design instructor, she never expected to supervise real-time advertising operations for real clients at the university. This was the first time that teachers were able to assign their students commercial projects that would need to be presented to real clients; film students were often given assignments that required making TV commercials and digital video content, and the interdependence of various sub-departments in the faculty of media sciences enriched the academic experience for all involved.
When Mr Ahmed and his team returned to the university, he was pleased to see the PPM already in progress. “THEY LOVED IT!” announced Sarah as she entered the hall dedicated to advertising operations. Her classmates, who were now also her colleagues, congratulated the team. Mr Ahmed could not help smiling as he reflected on how his vision had finally materialised. He thought about how, a year ago, he had proposed the idea of setting up an agency model inside the campus that would benefit both the academic and commercial side of the university. It was a simple idea, but required relentless efforts to pull off. The university already had all the resources – from hardware and machines to licensed software, and even the human resource – in the form of students. Quality assurance, he knew, would be implemented by the teachers themselves – experts in various facets of advertising. He directed his attention towards his phone, which had been ringing for a few seconds. It was the Dean of Media Sciences. “I just got off the phone with the Director Marketing of the brand you pitched to last month. They have decided to allow our students to work on the project and will be visiting the campus next week. Good job, Ahmed!” Mr Ahmed exhaled a sigh of relief and announced the good news. A few minutes later, the in-campus production and creative teams returned from their PPM and reported to Mr Ahmed.
When getting the brand on board, he had successfully convinced the brand team to invest a small amount in producing a film concept his students had worked on. This creative asset would be released on digital platforms without any ad spend. However, the account manager – another student – on this project informed Mr Ahmed that the brand team had reconsidered their decision regarding ad spend, and asked the creative team to develop an adaptation of the digital film to be aired on TV. Mr Ahmed could not be any happier at this point. One of the students suggested they take the initiative of developing a media plan for TV, based on a small budget. Mr Ahmed agreed and decided to begin work on this with another team, while the creative and production teams proceeded with the shoot aligned for the next two days. Every time a new brand would enlist the university’s support in developing a campaign for them, Mr Ahmed would look back at the sheer brilliance of his plan. Why would a brand not want to partner with them? All they needed to do was simply give the university’s advertising team a brief and they would have a campaign ready – with strategy, plans and creative assets – in a matter of weeks without incurring big costs. This brand-university relationship contributed to the hiring rates of the students after they graduated, giving students the opportunity to have brand names on their resumes before leaving the campus to pursue their careers. Students were better equipped to serve brands, not just with knowledge but also experience under their belt. It was a win-win situation for everyone.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy, Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising program at SZABIST-Karachi.