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The BUZZ Recorder “Interview with Ahmed Kapadia

Let’s start with a brief background about Synergy Advertising.
Synergy Advertising was established in May 1999 and by the Grace of Allah, in a very short span of time we have made a name for ourselves as a centre of excellence in brand communication. Synergy is currently Pakistan’s fastest growing integrated media communications group as it has expanded its horizon of services that straddle the complete spectrum of client needs ranging from traditional advertising, event management & BTL, media planning and buying, PR, productions, publications & website development and marketing, strategic communications, brand consultancy, media marketing & research etc.

What inspired you to take up advertising as a career?
It was a twist of fate actually that brought me into the advertising industry. Once I experienced the various facets and the unending new developments, on a day to day basis I found a sense of pride and source of inspiration. After my graduation, I joined MNJ, where I got the opportunity to work under the guidance of Mr. Javed Jabbar, one of the key figures of the advertising industry in Pakistan.  In 1992, with an MBA degree to my credit, I joined ‘Lakson Tobacco Company’ as a ‘Brand Manager’ where I managed 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 the Karachi operations of Evernew Concepts. My last two assignments helped sharpen my agency operations and strategic management skills.

In a short period of time Synergy has gained a client portfolio that consists of some of Pakistan’s biggest corporate 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 therefore are run as one man shows. Synergy, on the other hand is a collective of ad agency professionals. This might sound Marxist, but nevertheless is a concept that has evidently worked, for which I thank the Almighty. 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 professional business model.

Your agency has ventured into many areas such as publications and event marketing. Are you satisfied with the progress made so far?
Clear direction and bold actions lead to remarkable results. We are fortunate that my team at Synergy has always reciprocated my trust in them and the results are quite outstanding in most of the areas we have diversified into. These include our magazine “Synergyzer” which is the new voice of the Advertising and Marketing world and is a bold platform for us to speak the truth. Similarly our web portal is another unique and bold initiative from Synergy which not only offers all advertising & allied businesses a chance to showcase themselves but has also made a significant impact on the professionalism and self esteem of the workforce in these companies. Furthermore, our emphasis on marketing understanding & relevant experience of my team has helped us add value through strategy and brand consultancy for our valued client brands. Synergy has thus proved that it has ventured into new areas that have not been treaded by our competition. I hope we can inspire our new generation by setting benchmarks that will leave a legacy in the industry to bring a positive influence.

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 directly linked to the growth of the economy. The overall economic picture is bullish and the ad expenditure has risen by some estimates over an astronomical figure of 30% per annum, therefore the 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 a 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 not improved significantly.

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 our clients and apply our marketing knowledge to offer solutions to client problems. Our main focus is on a solutions oriented approach which does not necessarily have to be through advertising; at times the client needs clarity and support through events, BTL, PR etc., which we offer through our specialized group companies. Thus I am extremely thankful to our clients who through their needs identified the different communication businesses that we have successfully ventured into. We also strongly believe that it takes two to tango. We have always stressed on the fact that good advertising is the outcome of both parties working together giving each other due respect.

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 affiliations 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 the exclusive partners in Pakistan of Independent Communications Network (iCOM) which is the largest group of independent agencies in the world.

When it comes to advertising, what are some of the areas in which Pakistan lags 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 the border was pathetic. After 1992, when the Indian market was deregulated, a marked improvement was seen in the quality of ads simply because the ad industry started drawing its technical strength from the cinema which was an industry that India has consistently invested in for over a century now. I also wish to reemphasize here that good advertising is the result of both parties working together. In Pakistan, it is rather unfortunate that on the one hand there is very little understanding and application of advertising management and on the other hand a weak understanding of the brand building process, in most marketing organizations. Thus this results in total confusion and chaos. Advertising in general reflects the psyche of a nation. Unfortunately, our ads are mainly based on visuals/designs (form) whereas the most important aspect of big idea or concept is hardly given any importance. Whenever you jump on to the execution you are bound to miss the most important step in the advertising process. The big idea is always the first step on which you may build as many lateral executions as you wish. We also blatantly use the word ‘strategic thinking’ but in most cases do not understand what it means; that is why there is very little research & poor consumer insight, leading to a lot of senseless advertising. We are also marred by a lack of trust between the client and the agency, for which I blame both sides. I compare our advertising industry to our cricket in Pakistan – everyone has their own opinion about it irrespective of whether or not they have any experience of playing it on an International level.

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 provide you a solution. In Pakistan the emphasis is mostly on the form (execution) as opposed to content (idea). Good content means you go through a particular process to determine the objectives and purpose behind the ad. In my honest opinion, instead of forced branding and hard sell approach the advertising must build the right perceptions and deliver on the long term objectives of the brand.

Is it true that when advertisements fail the creativity test, most agencies blame the clients?
Creativity is very subjective. Being in the industry for such a long time I have heard this from many clients. I am not defending the poor quality of advertising churned out in the industry; yet I wish to contest the very contention of how we play the blame game of poor creativity when something goes wrong. Let me once again assert to you that advertising is not a result of magic that is created by rubbing Aladdin’s lamp. Advertising is a process which desires a series of steps that include the right brief, key consumer insights regarding their habits and behaviours, clear identification of the target market etc on the basis of which your develop the right communication message. Tell me if you just tell the agency to make a beautiful ad and miss out on all the important information listed above do you expect the agency to create anything brilliant? There are so many other factors that contribute to creative advertising such as mutual agreement of timelines, respect for each others area of expertise etc. My sincere advice to all clients and advertising professionals alike – please focus on the basics and follow the advertising process.

Given the high rate of turnover in the ad industry, how do you convince your employees to build a career at Synergy?
At Synergy we have made a concerted effort to develop new and effective approaches for building employee motivation. One of the key areas of focus has been setting up an effective HR department at Synergy. Realizing the importance and significance of high caliber people we gave top priority to written procedures and SOP’s. Thus Synergy is perhaps the only agency in Pakistan to have written policies and procedural guidelines for all employees. Let me assure you that it was neither simple nor adapted from any international affiliate. It was our own indigenous effort and hard work. We also encourage employees to take new initiatives thus creating opportunities for themselves. Some of the new business ventures like the Synergyzer and brandsynario have been a result of my trust and belief in the capabilities of my team.
We have also introduced some unusual but effective methods for the welfare and motivation of our employees. For instance, every week we hold a meeting titled “LEC” which is an acronym of Leadership Empowerment Committee in which everyone has an opportunity to contribute and suggest new ideas to various operational areas of the agency. For employee welfare we have offer medical insurance facility, weekly doctor visits, a full fledged gymnasium. Furthermore our employees also enjoy extra facilities such as subsidized lunch, hair dressing and grooming facility for men and manicure/pedicure services for ladies.

What is your long term vision for Synergy?
My vision is to synergize the talent of this hugely talented Pakistani human resource at our disposal. I honestly believe that we possess God gifted talent and a very high IQ but lack in direction and guidance. To add to the misery the current political turbulence has a further negative impact on how they see their future. All said and done someone has to take the initiative and give direction and hope to them. At Synergy we are trying to do whatever is possible in our circle of influence to bring about a positive change in people that we interact with. I pray to Almighty Allah to help us in our endeavours and leave behind a legacy of the most influential and rewarding agency in Pakistan. I know this cannot be done by me alone but rather through a joint effort of a like minded and professional people.

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