Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

From Telecom Expert to Trailblazing Creative Director

Zeenat Chaudhary profiles Hamza Amjad, ED, Creative, Social Media & Performance Management, Ogilvy Pakistan.
Published 18 Jan, 2024 01:20pm

Hamza Amjad, a dynamic and unconventional ED at Ogilvy Pakistan, is currently in London for a well-deserved vacation with his family. He appears on my Zoom dressed in a black sweater and despite his tentative smile, he seems nervous about being interviewed. I tell him not to worry and to treat this as a chit-chat session. Then I make the mistake of asking him to “tell me a bit about your background.” “Oh man, that sounds like an interview question,” he says, chuckling. And since he is quite right, I change my question to “Okay, what did you study in school?”

A proud Pindi boy, Amjad was a pre-med student at Beaconhouse Islamabad before he went for a Bachelor’s in finance and then a Master’s in HR from NUST Business School. He readily acknowledges his educational background does not align with any job he has held, stating that everything he has learned about advertising was on the job.

He started his career nearly 15 years ago, as an Employer Branding Associate at Pakistan Mobile Communications (now Jazz), followed two years later by a role as an Employer Branding & Communications Specialist at Warid. With over 10 years in the telecom industry – all during a transformative period for the industry – behind him, he became an expert in digital content and strategies.

Then an incident between a client he worked for and an ad agency sparked his interest in transitioning to the agency side. “During a pitch, the agency presented a mascot idea with a standee which impressed me. However, I was asked not to express my outright admiration on the basis that clients should not show overt enthusiasm for their agency’s work. Internally disagreeing, this incident sparked my reflection about the constraints of my own creativity.”

Shortly after, he began to re-evaluate his career choices and a pep talk from a brand manager eventually led him to consider entering the creative field: “They said I might be in the wrong place and to take the plunge into agency life. I edited my resume, and began the job hunt for a role that would suit my creative side.”

Eventually, in 2013, he landed a role as an account manager at Adcom Leo Burnett. Unsurprisingly, but with fervour, he began by working on a telco account. “Not to say it was easy – it was completely uncharted territory,” he clarifies.

During the four years he spent at Adcom, he worked on brands like Djuice, Easypaisa, Telenor Corporate and TalkShawk. After two years as an account manager, he moved into digital strategy and then became a senior creative manager.

As his LinkedIn profile suggests, his work for Djuice helped the brand become the “fastest growing YouTube brand of 2016 in Pakistan.” It also won a PAS award for the best PR campaign of 2016. He was also responsible for devising the strategy and execution plan for the launch of Telenor 3G in Pakistan, which involved “awareness and engagement-based content and promoting product use cases through tutorials, vines, blogs, testimonials and applications across owned, paid and earned platforms.”

In 2017, he moved to Ogilvy Pakistan as a Creative Director, where his role involved conceptualising and designing “innovative communication solutions” for Telenor 4G, Nestlé Fruita Vitals and Surf Excel.

Suffice it to say that he continues to shine on the creative side, as showcased by the dozens of national and international awards he has won in the last three years. He is reportedly the most international award-winning senior creative director in Pakistan (2020/2021) and was the only creative from Pakistan to win three awards at Spikes Asia in 2021. His proudest moment was receiving Pakistan’s first Grand Prix during Covid, a testament to his dedication and creativity.

Suddenly his family appears in the background and he apologises for the distraction, although I remind him that he is on vacation. I seize the moment to inquire about how his family views him as a father and a husband. “They would describe me as ‘chaos.’ I’m a cyclone that needs to be tamed sometimes, or rather a hurricane with a heart,” he smiles cheekily.

Returning to professional matters, I ask him what distinguishes him in the creative field, given his obvious successes. He attributes it to his passion for merging technology with creativity. Basically, while everyone was still stuck on Facebook, he was already a digital trailblazer, learning the ABCs of digital channels. He highlights his early adoption and mastery of digital channels when most companies were hesitant to invest in them.

Along with taking advantage of technology, he is also a firm believer in “cause-metising” – using advertising to positively impact culture and challenge stereotypes. “In a world full of Glow and Lovelys, we have a responsibility as marketers. For example, forcing ideas about feminism doesn’t make a difference to audiences, but if you do it subtly it does; even if a little.”

One of his favourite career memories is a recent campaign for Mondelez Pakistan’s Cadbury Dairy Milk. As a massive cricket fan, he and the team wanted to use the opportunity to pay tribute to unacknowledged players, particularly women cricketers, which is how he and his team created the ‘Get in the Game’ campaign. He asks “Have you ever seen commercials during a cricket match that are aimed at women? Nope. That was our starting point.”

He goes on to talk about the need to represent more “real” women on TV, and the need to show diverse body types on screen: “We should not care if the talent is skinny or not, we need to be able to tell a story and the talent needs to know how to act.”

He cites a PUBG ad project as an example. The team aimed to feature a regular-sized girl playing cricket to promote inclusivity and body positivity. However, explaining the concept to the talent agency proved challenging, and they had to resort to using the term ‘fat’ to convey their message. “Despite the fact that the ad’s focus was not on feminism or body positivity, the experience highlighted the need to normalise concepts that should already be commonplace.”

As much as he thrives in the world of creativity, he notes (like many others in the profession) that balancing work and personal life is incredibly difficult, the more so in a culture that often overlooks the importance of empathy and respecting one another’s time.

While showing me his carpal-tunnelled wrists due to the constant use of WhatsApp for work, he says, “I emailed a colleague in London asking to meet for coffee. The reply had a disclaimer that shook me. And I plan to take it back with me. It said: ‘I believe in a flexible working environment. I’ve sent you this email at my convenience, respond at your convenience.’ I wish we could school more people about being empathetic and valuing other people’s time.”

His daughter is now staring at him because they are supposed to leave for an activity. I promise I need two more minutes and quickly ask what he would be doing were he not in advertising. With a twinkle he replies, “I wish I was more well-read than well-watched. I consume a lot of content. I read and watch spoilers/reviews before watching a TV show or movie. I even created an Instagram account called ’Filmein Chalao’. So, I would love to be a film critic, or better yet, a food critic.”

However, since neither of these professions will pay the bills, it is advertising for now, although later (and more realistically), he envisions starting his own agency, which he may name ‘Guts’, symbolising the courage to challenge norms. He sees himself asking clients if they have the guts to break stereotypes.

Until then, he will continue to work for Ogilvy, and blow off steam by spending time with family, running, watching TV and socialising.

As we wrap up, I realise it’s a rare treat chatting with someone genuinely head-over-heels in love with what they do. Then, as a good dad, Hamza Amjad rushes off.

Zeenat Chaudhary is a former member of Aurora’s editorial team.