Ahmed Kapadia Looks Ahead
An interview with Mr. Ahmed Kapadia, Managing
Director, Synergy Advertising
Let’s start with a brief background about Synergy Advertising.
Synergy Advertising was established in May 1999 and in a very short span of time I’m pleased to say we have made a name for ourselves as a centre of excellence in brand communication. We are currently Pakistan’s fastest growing integrated media communications group and have service that straddle the complete spectrum of advertising services ranging from traditional advertising, to media exploitation, media planning and buying, events, BTL, brand development, media marketing, research, PR, productions, publication management and strategic communications.
What inspired you to take up advertising as a career?
It was a twist of fate actually that got me into advertising but once I got into, the many components of this field came to be May sources of inspiration. After my graduation I joined MNJ, where I got the opportunity to work under the guidance of Mr. Javed jabber, one of the key figures of the advertising industry in Pakistan, In 1992, with an MBA degree to my credit, I joined “Lackson Tobacco’ as ‘Brand Manager’ where I managed also the ‘ Red and white brand for the next three and half years, From there on I worked with Orient Mccann Erickson, Pakistan’s first internationally affiliated agency and was also instrumental in establishing Ever new concepts in Karachi. Both these experiences helped sharpen my agency management and strategic management skills.
In a short period of time Synergy has gained a client portfolio that consists of some of corporate Pakistan’s biggest names? When you were starting synergy, were you confident of making it big in such a short time period?
We wanted this agency to pursue things differently rather than follow set standards right from the start. In Pakistan, most agencies are acquired as inheritance and run thereof as one man shows. Synergy, on the other hand is a collective of ad agency professionals which though it may sound Marxist, is nevertheless a concept that has very evidently worked, everyone at Synergy, including myself started our careers at the bottom rung of the corporate ladder, our true strength has been our adherence to meritocracy. Where we are today is the result of our honest intentions, hard work, fortitude and resilience, qualities that are integral to the success of any business model.
Your agency has ventured into many areas such as Synergy Brand, Publications and marketing. Are you satisfied with the progress made so far?
I’m quite satisfied with most areas we have diversified into including our in- house magazine which has given us a leeway to speak the truth. Under the banner of Synergy Marketing, we have organized a number of launches, conferences, fashion shows and award ceremonies. Synergy Brand is a new concept which too is doing well. My experience in marketing and the relevant FMCG experience of my Executive Director Ali Reza Merchant have helped us synergize our efforts to create our own brands. These ventures are ample proof that Synergy is not afraid to boldly go where none have gone before. The trouble with our people is that they look for instant results, not realizing that on the road to success that slow remain steady and are the steady are the ones to win.
Some commentators say that Pakistani ad industry is on its way to boomtown, if its not there already. Do you subscribe to this view?
The ad expenditure is direct corollary of the economy growing. While the overall economic pictures is bullish and the ad expenditure is risen by some estimates over an astronomical figure of 30% per annum, so the boom town theory has some merit to it. However the real challenge is sustaining this growth. While growth in some sectors like telecom, automobiles and banking have fueled this growth, it is important that we ensure that benefits of a healthy economy go to a lot more people. Concentration of wealth will only ensure that the economy overheats in the long run.
In terms of development of the advertising industry we still have to go considerable distance, particularly in areas of content. So a boom in terms of money value may have taken place but in terms of talent, creativity, advertising management processes and improvement in the regulation of the system we operate in has unfortunately not happened.
Do you think agencies can survive by just providing traditional services?
Yes, they can continue to do so. If you do something right and do it consistently, there will always be market for your product or service, The secret is that Synergy is not a one-man show, it is a collective effort. We understand issues of the clients and by using our marketing knowledge to understand client problems, we are able to provide them with total solutions and that’s what makes us different. It takes two to tango. I have always stressed on the fact that good advertising is the outcome of both parties working together giving each other the respect that is here due.
Are you open to the idea of foreign affiliation?
Yes I am. What needs to be realized is what foreign affiliations are. Foreign affiliations are unfortunately seen as a panacea of all that is wrong with advertising in Pakistan. That is not true since even the MNC affiliated agencies are being run by local people who scarcely get any foreign exposure. In our industry affiliation are only used to secure business and that results in
binding unwilling clients to unwilling agencies.
At Synergy, We believe that a foreign affiliation must provide the agency with substantive advantages and insights. We are a part of independent Communications Network (iCOM) which is group of a number of agencies representing 81 countries.
When it comes to advertising, what are some of the areas in which Pakistan lag behind India.
In India, back in the 80s there was virtually no television and so they were nowhere close to us. Back then the quality of ads across border was pathetic. After 1992, when the Indian market was deregulated, a market improvement was seen in the quality of ads because the ad industry started drawing its technical strength from the cinema which was an industry that India invested in for over now, Another reason is that worldwide no particular ad is created by an agency alone, As I said earlier, good advertising is the rest parties working together, In Pakistan, where we lag behind is total lack of knowledge about advertising processes not just from the side but also from the brand management side and this result in total confusion and chaos. Advertising in Pakistan is reflective of the nation. Unfortunately, our ads are visually oriented. Nobody talks about the concept, about the big idea. We blatantly use strategic thinking but never use it. Then there is no consumer insight, on what is it exactly that we need to say to the consumer. If Atiqa Odho, Atiqa Odho is it. We are also marred by a lack of trust between the client and the agency. In Pakistan nobody trusts person due to one’s own insecurities. See, advertising is like cricket in Pakistan- everyone has an opinion about it and a client is no
In your view, what is good advertising?
Solid content and great execution, Good advertising catches your attention not just by looking great but also being relevant to your needs and provides you a solution. In Pakistan the emphasis is always on the form as opposed to the content and that is where the disjoint accurse. Good content means you go through a particular process to determine the objectives and purpose behind the ad. Ultimately it should not only sell but also achieve the long term objectives of the brand.
Is it true that when the advertisements fail the creativity test, most agencies blame the clients?
Now what is creativity? You see creativity is a misused word. First you need to exactly define what creativity is since what may be creative to you may not be creative to me. We talk about Indian ads. Sure they are lovely but do you think they are created by agencies alone? The answer is no client input is always there. There are parameters of the creativity test and the fact that the quality of input is equal of the quality of input. Then of course the deadline has to be mutually agreeable. It’s true that in certain cases, agencies do blame the client. Actually, a client blames the agency more often. The trend is that when something is good it is to the client’s credit and when it is bad it is the agency’s fault. There is no collective accountability or ownership and that is where quality of advertising in Pakistan sinks faster than a lead balloon. The problem compounds when there is mediocrity on both sides simply because people are not trained with regards to the value addition processes involved. Creativity does not happen in a vacuum. There are processes to it. Any good advertising in Pakistan has an equal client and agency involvement written all over it.
Given the high rate of turnover in the ad industry, how do you convince your employees to build a career at Synergy?
I have developed a very good reputation in the market because I have done things that were unheard of. And this is not an idle boast. I have a system of empowering people whereby if my employees have a talent in a certain area I try to nurture and develop by letting them do things which they know best. I am open to every suggestion and any idea provided it is a win-win situation.
Also when you want the right people you start to trust them and invest in them. I take fresh graduates mostly and train them. Like Ogilvy said that a good agency must be like a training hospital. I sincerely believe that. I hire people fresh or experienced only on the basis of three things honesty, hard work and a positive attitude. That is all I need everything else creative talent included, God provides.
On the operational side, every week we hold a meeting of the leadership Empowerment Committee (LEC) whereby they can say whatever they want to about the company as well as give their suggestions and register their grievances. Plus, we have our own cafeteria-cum-kitchen as well as a gull- fledged gymnasium. Then on a weekly basis a doctor visits to undertake medical check ups of the staff, all at the company expense, I am not interested in stars but people who can create synergies. to help them do that, I believe in investing in our employees so as to substantially reduce the high employee turnover.
What is your long term vision for Synergy?
My long term vision is to synergize the immense talents which we have in Pakistan in terms of human resource. Pakistani people are highly talented but what they lack is direction and proper guidance. And of course they are extremely despondent with the current state of affairs. I want to leave a legacy behind of Synergy being not a one-man show but an agency run by people who can contribute something that will change to the advertising sector as well as contribute to humanity at large. My role should be to give something back to the system.