Managing Director, Synergy Advertising (Pvt) Ltd
By Nasir Mahmood
Ahmed Kapadia, the only son of prominent TV star late Latif Kapadia, has given a new dimension to the advertising business in the last last 10 years. He has many success stories to his credit including the re-launch of Coke in Pakistan, organizing the World Snooker Championship and marketing the movie Jinnah as well as the success of an ever increasing plethora of brands.
PO2: How did you kick-off your professional career?
Kapadia: After completion of my studies, I joined a bank. However, I soon realized that banking wasn’t my calling. In 1986, I moved to take up a position at MNJ advertising, which at the time was a great institution of learning for advertising professionals under the leadership of Mr Javed Jabbar. I also had the opportunity to enroll myself into an MBA programme majoring in marketing at the IBA. In 1992, I joined Lakson Tobacco Company as a Brand Manager got my first taste of a true large-scale marketing function in a big organistion. Working for a large organization like Lakson encouraged me to single-handedly take on gigantic projects like the World Snooker Championship and see them through.
PO2: So how did you come back to advertising?
Kapadia: In 1995, Orient McCann brought back the multinational affiliated agency model back to Pakistan and it was in the process of restructuring. It was a great challenge.
So I came on board as Executive Director Business Development to see the transformation through. I had the carte blanche to restructure the organization. We were very hopeful that the influence of multi-national companies (MNSs) would be a boon to Pakistani advertising. In hindsight, I feel MNC’s influence has been so misused in this industry that it has only resulted in complacency and mediocrity setting in the advertising practitioner ranks. Then in 1997, we launched Evernew Concepts in Karachi, which was a Lahore based company till then. From there on, I decided that the time had come to venture in with my own agency as that would be the only way I could ever hope to initiate the changes to the agency structure in the way that I had envisioned and the journey to Synergy hence began in 1999.
PO2: Synergy has earned repute as a creative agency and that has been rewarded many a times. How it has been possible?
Kapadia: In my opinion divine intervention is always most important and not only me but also every member of my team feels that Allah has been kind to us. Allah has led Synergy through many a difficult time. As to the awards, we have been very lucky. Last year, we received a record seven PAA excellence awards. This year we received another five plus. We have had the honour of wining for Pakistan the first ever-ABBY award, which is called the Oscar award for the Indian advertising industry. The fact remains that we are a total Pakistani homegrown agency with no foreign support made that victory sweeter.
PO2: What lays in the system of Synergy that encourages high performers?
Kapadia: Synergy came into being when a group of advertising professionals had got together and decided to change the things in this industry and the agency remains true to that vision. To us Synergy means one plus one equals eleven. It is about creating a system of inter-dependence where the people bring out the best in each other and conceal each other’s weaknesses. Synergy is to be transformed into an institution that is committed to quality brand communication solution. It is a happy place where individuality is respected, pluralistic views are expressed, concerns highlighted and dissent tolerated. We have made systems whereby our working environment is very congenial. We have a comprehensive employee benefit programme with an onboard gymnasium, medical coverage, travel benefits and even a hairdresser (laughs). The idea is that Synergy is a place where a creative mind can find expression. We don’t say we are perfect but the fact is that we are trying to get as close to perfection as humanly possible.
PO2: What exactly does the Synergy Group of Companies comprise?
Kapadia: We firmly believe that whenever we venture into a new business unit, it should be a 100 per cent effort. Profitability can take time but we must have the quality of output from the day one. That is why, you see, Synergy did not rapidly expand itself into new areas like others. However, whenever we do we never pull back and do so when our planning is immaculate. At present our flagship company is Synergy Advertising with 77 people here in Karachi and staff of 25 in Lahore, which is our new station. Then we have a marketing consultancy that is called Synergy marketing that handles launches, events, BTL and productions. We then have a company called Synergy Brands, which is committed to the creation and support of indigenous Pakistani brands. Recently we have got into a strategic alignment with a company called Syntax Communication. It is committed to creating a new level of strategic brand communication in Pakistan. Though slow but the fact remains that we step ahead in a very well planned manner.
PO2: How do you view the foreign agency alignment system that is prevalent in the country these days?
Kapadia: As I have already pointed out, when international affiliations came back to Pakistan we were extremely hopeful. I myself quit brand management to go into a company as I felt multinational standards would truly change the agency culture but regrettably that has not happened.
If you look at the ad landscape today, I feel that all the aligned agency business has done, has secured business for these few big players. The fact is that these agencies have over the years done little or nothing to take advantage of the processes and the models that their foreign principles have applied in the world. These companies remain to-date for the greater part sole proprietorships that are concerned only about the bottom line. The sad part is that these people despite being in the business for so long have done nothing for the industry.
They have not trained anybody over the long term, haven’t given anything back to the system, but now they are viewed as the pinnacle of creativity by the industry. The fact is that the future growth in the advertising will not be done by the aligned multinational business but the national companies. Therefore, it is imperative that the national companies see advertising differently from the MNCs and work towards creating creative differentials in their advertising. This is what will secure the future of their brands and of Pakistani advertising both.
PO2: How do you see the present standards of professionalism in the country?
Kapadia: Pakistan is a land of extremes. From the geography of the country to the people living in it, all are extremists. We are capable of the most joyous good and the most maniacal evil. We live in an age where civility and ethics in everyday life are fictitious commodities at best. We as a nation have a very negative orientation towards life. That is why we are seen as killers of merit and are now having to face issues like the majority of the population being depressed. However, there are bullish sides to it as well. The recent earthquake has shown the finest side to the Pakistani nation. The entire country resiliently stood up in the face of a natural calamity. This gives me great hope that we as people are capable of great things. The fact is that what Pakistan is suffering is a chronic crisis of leadership and that permeates all levels of society. We need to move to a point where we put up some basic standards of acceptable norms and then live and die by them. We need to make clear what is right and what is wrong. Everything will become okay once the leadership takes appropriate initiative.
PO2: How does that translate into the advertising context?
Kapdia: Today the industry stands decadent and divided. We have over the last 10 years institutionalised policies that have made a practice of shooting ourselves in the foot. Right now there is no development of talent in the industry, no training for the greater good of the agency. Today we are so divided that there is no ownership of the advertising profession in Pakistan. No one looks out for the collective interests of the industry. There are fundamental issues that need to be addressed, service standards that need to be sorted out. We need to decide what role the advertising agency is to play. What are the areas, which we are to serve? What will be the remuneration standards? How long should working hours in the industry be?
How will be punishing clients who don’t pay their agency? Today all forms of media and other service providers have their own associations to safeguard their interests. The advertising industry stands out because of a lack thereof. We have the PAA but that has come of naught for so many years. Now a group of younger agency owners is coming into the PAA. We need to transform the PAA from a club of agency owners into a genuine society concerned with the welfare of advertising professionals at all tiers of the advertising value chain.
PO2: What do you feel, what are the main achievements to your credit?
Kapadia: I feel I haven’t yet reached the stage where I can get that nostalgic on what is my best work, Synergy is young and I feel the best is yet to come. I have been proud of all what I have achieved so far. From the re-launched of Coke, to the restructuring of McCann to bringing Jinnah to Pakistan, everything has been a great milestone and that is the great rush of advertising as a profession.
Even today we work with some world class brands and do some exceptional work for them. Brands like LG, Habib Bank, Bank Alfalah and Warid Telecom work with Synergy. We have made small backline brands like Silk Soap and have brought them into mainstream players who have won international awards. Everyday dawns with a new challenge and everyday gives me more reason to be proud of. This is what still makes me put in 16 hours a day.