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Q&A with Jamal Mir, CEO Prestige/Grey

Q&A with Jamal Mir, CEO Prestige/Grey

What are your views on the advertising industry in Pakistan?
Jamal Mir: “The advertising industry in Pakistan is going through a very interesting phase. We recently got the license for a new association, namely the Advertising Association of Pakistan (AAP), and over 90% of the members of the previous association (Pakistan Advertisers Society, or PAS) are part of it. The idea for a new association came around 15 years ago when about eight of the major agencies of Pakistan decided that we need a serious change. We realised this when the Pakistani delegation went to Jaipur for an advertising congress and saw that in Asia, and especially India, advertising had developed so much and although there is a lot of talent in this market, we are not able to channelise it properly. So, we took that as a challenge and started working on it and it finally materialised last year.
Shahnoor Ahmed, Khalid Rauf, Ahmed Kapadia, Maqsood Ansari and I drove this initiative. We started off with a small group – now we have over 120 members. We recently got inducted into the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA) as all advertising associations in Asia are represented there. Our objective is to bring value on board, lead by example and bring quality thinking on board.”

What are the main challenges faced by the advertising industry?

JM: “I think the real challenge is to build up the human resource which is critical for the industry, and to have rules of the game where it is more profitable for agencies to operate – because if you want quality people coming in, then you have to pay them well. If you’re not paying them well and they don’t have a career path, you will not attract talent. It is going to be a tough situation for agencies in terms of adding value for the client. Over the last decade, real work started happening with the international affiliations coming in and then, economic activity took place in Pakistan with the telecommunications companies and the banking sector expanding. Then, the satellite channels and Pakistani audiences having access to Indian channels and watching quality ads put a lot of pressure on the industry all of a sudden.
It’s going to be a long journey. However, one good thing that has happened with the AAP is that we’ve had very encouraging response from the advertiser. Globally, if you look at it, the real relationship is between the agency and the advertiser.
If the client and the agency work together, it can really benefit the media as well because we sell products to the consumer and we do not do things which will be misleading or against their value systems. Multinationals are very responsible that way, so they are leading in terms of the brands and big national companies and the agencies are all part of it.
Generally, if you look at magazines and newspapers etc, it is across-the-board interest – everyone’s covering everything and no one is an expert and that needs to developed because that will improve the quality of the product and help the client and the media to segment. There will be less clutter – and then you can bring value on board. That way, it’s a great step and unusual as well because never before in the last 60 years have the clients been as supportive of the agencies as they are now.”

What steps were taken to set up AAP?
JM: :We have had some very candid talks in the first phase; the clients were honest in telling us the deficiencies the agencies have, and we accepted that and are working to build it up. And we went back and they heard us patiently – clients are not used to agencies telling them what is wrong at their end – and I commend them because they acknowledged and accepted, and want to work along those lines.
The PAS has played a very critical role in helping the AAP take its responsibility and place within the industry – so, I think these are going to be very interesting times.
This is an enlightened group with a global perspective and I’m sure that even if in the next 10 years, we put things right, it will be at least a step in the right direction.”

What about the liquidity crunch in the country?
JM: “Yes, that is really hurting the agencies. In such times, it is essential to have a good business model. We always talk about the image of Pakistan and our relationship with international donors, it’s strange that Pakistan today has almost all the multinational communication companies over here, but not even 5% of them work on critical issues that the government works on, such as health and the social sector where you really need a lot of expertise.”

What drew you to a career in advertising?
JM: “I got into it accidentally! I came back from the US. My father was suffering from lung cancer and he passed away after a year.  I took over from him. We started off with the Packages group who I admire greatly as they are very professional.  I have no complaints. It has been a very fulfilling journey, difficult and challenging – but that’s Pakistan.”

What about your involvement with the American Business Council (ABC)?
JM: “I got involved with ABC last year because Grey is an American company and by virtue of that, I became a member of ABC. It was a good time to be part of it because it helps me from the industry point of view as I get insight into various people from pharmaceuticals and banks.”

Despite the challenges, you’re positive about the advertising industry?
JM: “Take any aircraft – there is going to be turbulence and everybody has to face it. So, we’re going through a turbulent period and we just have to fasten our seatbelts, but we will come out of it.”

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