By Ahmed Qaiser Naqi
Synergy Advertising, though a relatively new entrant in the field of advertising, has proved that it is here to stay. In a short span of five years, the agency has not only managed to swim the choppy seas of the advertising world but has made some high waves in the industry. Riding high on the crests of these waves is Ahmed Hussain Kapadia, Synergy’s Managing Director. In the last year alone, the firm won a record 7 PAA excellence awards plus the first ever ABBY Award in India by a Pakistani agency, an award which is considered to be the Oscar for the Indian advertising industry. Here Boss talks to Ahmed, Popularly known to his troops as AK, about what it really takes to create Synergy…
Where did you receive your education?
I did my matriculation from BVS Parsi School in 1978 and went on to do my graduation in Arts. I then enrolled in the IBA and completed my MBA in 1991. Though I was never a good student, the experience of doing an MBA really sharpened my managerial skills.
What inspired you to choose this line of work?
Accident (laughs) I started my career at MNJ Advertising. The agency at that point was a melting pot of the greatest talent in the country. I learned my craft under the tutelage of Javed Jabbar, one of the legends of the ad industry, and that has held me in good stead ever since. Then I took a
sabbatical from advertising and worked as brand manager at the Lakson Group. That gave me the courage and inclination to step back into advertising. I’m perhaps the only one in the field who did not inherit his agency. I felt strongly about the profession and that I could really make a difference.
I jumped back into advertising when I joined Orient McCann Erickson, the first multinational-affiliated agency of Pakistan. The restructuring of the biggest advertising agency of Pakistan, followed by a stint at Evernew Concepts where I established the agency in Karachi enriched me considerably to a point where I felt I had the required insight into running an advertising agency.
Are you a workaholic?
Being a workaholic is a relative term. I wouldn’t call myself one. But the women in my life (my wife, mother and three daughters) all say that I am which, I guess, is only natural for any ad man. The important thing is that I enjoy what I do immensely and at the end of the day they understand that.
What cable channel do you watch the most?
None in particular. Whenever I watch TV, I keep channel surfing.
A movie you consider unforgettable?
I love movies, am a big film buff. My collection of movies has over 600 titles. It is hard to name any one movies as my all time favourite, but the two more contemporary ones that come to mind are LA Confidential and Moulin Rouge.
Who is your favorite artist?
Robert de Nero and my father, Latif Kapadia.
Are you a family man?
Yes, I like to spend time with my family whenever I get the opportunity.
How do you spend your day off?
Spending time with the family, watching movies and catching up with friends, all those who claim to be victimised by my advertising career!
Do you have any superstitions or fears?
I don’t believe a man should be a slave to his superstitions. If you work hard, have faith in Allah and are thankful, you will blessed beyond belief. This has been integral to my upbringing and has seen me through a lot of turbulent times.
What kind of music do you prefer to listen?
I am big fan of rock. But success in advertising means that the only music to ring my ears now is ad jingles.
Are you big on grooming?
Yes but to me, grooming is not just skin deep and it has to go beyond sartorial elegance. I believe that apart from the appearance of people, their substance, skills and talents all need to be groomed and that is the area where I ultimately see my role in this agency. I have instituted systems to ensure that the horizons of my employees are constantly broadened. Every Tuesday we hold a meeting of the Leadership Empowerment Committee (LEC), as I firmly believe you can’t grow unless you empower and trust the people around you. We maintain a kitchen on the premises as well as a full-fledged gymnasium. Furthermore, there are visits to a doctor on a weekly basis to undertake medical check ups of the staff. The idea is to inculcate a sense of belonging for everybody. People at all levels feel that they have a stake in the well-being of this company which goes beyond their pay checks and that
instills in them a lasting sense of responsibility.
Has that helped pave the way for the success for your agency?
Yes it has and we have made Synergy an example of perseverance and leadership. We bagged the highest number (seven) of PAA awards in 2002, given away in 2004. We won nominations for three categories of ABBY Awards, which is termed as the Oscar of Indian advertising industry. We also won two APNS awards last years. What made all of this
more special was the fact that the only thing we have to show for ourselves is hard work. We are exceptionally bad at projecting ourselves or at relationship management, something that is popularly given the misnomer of PR in this country.
At Synergy, we only know how to work hard and to the satisfaction of our clients. Here, I would like to make special mention of Mr Parvez Shahid of Bank Al-Falah. He supported us when we had nothing and the prolific body of work that he let us create gave us the reputation that brought us the business of other clients.
What do you think is the basic theme of advertising?
Great form and solid content Advertising is mistaken by many as being dependent solely on looks and appearance, but it is the content that is of utmost importance. Content can change the image of a nation, that’s why I believe advertising is a barometer of any nation’s psychology. Advertising is a basic measure of how well a nation is doing, how broadminded and outward looking it is in approach and above all, what is the level of thinking and maturity of the population at large.
Have a look at the brands of multinationals like Nike, Adidas, Honda, Mercedes and a lot others. They buit their brands and while doing so, they actually built their nations. They aimed their efforts at getting their brands globally recognized and it ultimately built their economy and the nation.
Do our advertising agencies believe in strategic management as a concept?
There are certain widespread misconceptions that pass for strategic management in Pakistan. People are greatly impressed with the label of foreign affiliation, which in really is a mirage and of hardly any value adding consequence. After all, only local people, devoid of any long-term foreign exposure, continue to run these foreign affiliated agencies.
Secondly, the advertising field is being crushed here. Any client is at liberty to make deductions on his discretion and the agencies have to seek support of APNS. The Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) needs to make its presence felt as a strong regulator along the lines of the APNS to safeguard the agencies’ interests, which is currently being done by APNS out of default. We try to convince the client about the content of the compaign but in our field the motto is ‘the client is always right’. So, we have to respect client’s preferences. However, we do need to change many of the ways in which advertising is practiced in Pakistan as a profession. If we would like the client to respect us as professionals, we must become worthy of it by adhering to impeccable professional standards.