They brought us New Years’ Eve parties, high profile social events and, most importantly, Bryan Adams! They are the pioneering force of the event management business in Pakistan. They are a duo whose initials are not just a company, but a powerful brand in the marketing arena. They know what to do, when to do it and how to do it well.
They are J&S.
Together, Jalal Salahuddin and Omar Satti began their journey by accident – which culminated in the successful launch of their event management company. Today, they are the market leaders in their field. J&S is best known for not just arranging events but for creating memories. Whether it is a party, a music concert, or the launch of a corporate brand – no one does it better.
Omar Satti talks to Blue Chip about the J&S journey and how they manage to do it right, each time.
At the time you entered the arena, event management was an unconventional career option. I believe J&S was a pioneer in the field. What made you opt for it?
Omar Satti: “We are two partners in the business. Before the company was formed, we had ‘conventional’ careers. Jalal was working for a bank in Karachi and I was working for the Daily Times newspaper group. I always had a passion for marketing and organising events, but J&S was founded by pure accident! We were about 10 friends who were going to organise a New Years’ Eve party in Karachi but at the last minute, all the others bailed out on the two of us and that’s how Jalal and I ended up organising a party for about three hundred and fifty people. It was a big success and we captured it as a leaping point.”
There has been a great influx of event management companies in the recent years. How do you position yourselves against the prevailing competition, especially in times of an economic recession where corporations have cut back on spending?
OS: “It’s true that recent years have seen plenty more event management companies cropping up but we pride ourselves in having a firm clientele who come to us repeatedly if they want any event organised. Also, companies that are in expansion mode right now, despite the global economic conditions and what not, will continue to spend no matter what. We are known as their ‘one-stop’ solution.
In the past few years, we have evolved from being a mere event management company to a ‘360 degree’ marketing solution company, meaning that not only that we organise events for them but we are also involved in the initial stages of the brand launch.
We at J&S strongly believe in bringing our own unique flavor to all activities that we are part of. Whether it’s a party or a corporate event, it has to stand out from the rest. For example, at this event we recently organised for Emaar, which is the largest construction company in Dubai, we had entertainers especially flown in from Germany with exotic laser shows. It was widely appreciated.”
Outline some of the main challenges being faced today by J&S in terms of Pakistan’s highly volatile socio-political situation.
OS: “Given our current socio-political environment, the last one year has been tough. We, along with many others such as our friends in the advertising business, happened to experience a slow time. But then again, work goes on and one has to learn how to adapt around these kinds of situations. After all, it’s always the survival of the fittest!”
Over the years, J&S have shown exponential growth by branching out and offering various other corporate services such as marketing, public relations, advertising, and even database management. What propelled this horizontal integration?
OS: “It’s very simple actually. Although arranging wedding affairs has always been a key division at J&S but having focused only on that aspect would have limited our business prospects. Therefore, one has to keep in mind that once a company starts to grow into becoming bigger and better, the client confidence level rises in direct proportion. When that happened at J&S, we were smart enough to capitalise on it and became involved in various other phases of the marketing segment. Today, we pride ourselves in having an extremely strong PR department, and if I may say so myself, a very talented in-house creative department, which means that we are involved in the entire process from conception through the final staging.
Our creative team does not only offer design solutions but is equipped to handle different stages of the marketing operation including graphics and complete campaign packaging.
On an additional level, we also have an entertainment division and artist management subdivision. We are currently managing the Mekaal Hassan Band and have recently started serving as exclusive agents for Indian music artist, Sukhbir, in Pakistan.
Apart from that, we have also expanded operations to Karachi where Reema Siddiqui is taking care of the southern belt.”
How does J&S market itself to potential clients?
OS: “J&S does not have any direct marketing strategies to reach out to potential clients. We market ourselves through word-of-mouth and referrals only.”
J&S entertainment events have a snob appeal and are always completely sold out. How difficult is it to maintain the reputation you have built over time?
OS: “Half-true! Our events such as the much touted New Years’ Eve event was a high-ticket event, but it hasn’t been organised ever since Benazir Bhutto was assassinated. In order to maintain standards, such events have limited tables and our guests fly in from Karachi as well as Islamabad. New faces can hardly be spotted unless referred.”
What has been the greatest challenge faced by J&S so far and how did you overcome it?
OS: “In a country which is best known as the most dangerous nation on Earth, we organised the first international music concert in the volatile city of Karachi. Bryan Adams was performing live for Shahzad Roy’s charity organisation, Zindagi Trust. Some 20,000 fans attended the concert. We coordinated the entire ground management to ensure that the event went smoothly. Bryan Adam’s team was also impressed with our arrangements and the fact that not even one minor issue was reported. So, I believe this was the one of the greatest challenges that we overcame.”
Has the security situation of Pakistan in the last two years have had any impact on J&S events? How do you provide security for the events you organise?
OS: “We generally outsource our security from two different companies that are well equipped with the latest weaponry and ammunition and whose guards are highly trained professionals.
However, it cannot be denied that we have lost a lot of business since the assassination of Benazir Bhutto in December 2007. These days, it has become a massive challenge to organise an event because of our current security situation which just does not seem to be getting any better. In fact, it has gone from bad to worse!
We were recently organising an event for AAG TV. It was going to be a one-of-its-kind event with 22 bands playing music for 12 hours live on TV. Some ten thousand people were expected at this music festival that was to be held on October 24, 2009. Unfortunately, it got cancelled because of safety and protection concerns.
But then again, there are businesses that cannot hold back for too long and need to market themselves constantly. Those are the corporations that are helping us keep afloat during these tough times.”
With high fluctuations in the prices and shortage of commodities, how do you control and maintain cost budgets?
OS: “The price hikes do not affect us in real terms as there is no fixed price for an event. Depending on the clients and their requirements, we have organised affairs that cost Rs.1 million and have arranged events that have cost even up to Rs. 40 million. Recently, we have also ventured out into catering services but again we manage everything keeping close to the budget that is quoted to us.”
Where do you see J&S in the next five years?
OS: “The aim is to keep growing. Apart from setting up our catering division, we have recently become involved in a motor-sporting event called Racing Pakistan. In the meanwhile, we are also looking at other sports related events for the youth, which at this point is too early to discuss.
At a glance, our portfolio boasts of some 700 events we have organised so far and a clientele comprising of more than 300 entities at an individual and corporate level. We began from scratch and managed to achieve all of this with zero investment! So, I don’t see why we should stop now. The next five years will see us acquiring more growth in the business in terms of both market share and profitability.”