Pakistan Media’s Change Maker – Fareshteh Aslam

Author: Fatma Khalil - Chief Editor

Scrupulous Sports Journo in the 90s. Diligent Brands Anchor by 2k. Radical PR Empire today.

Whitepaper zoomed in to her fascinating journey lately and learnt a great deal about what prominent change makers are made of:

How it all began…

I started with Dawn in the late 80s as a journalist.  Then when The News started in 1991, I took to that. First I was on the Sports Desk for the longest of time then when InStep started in 1993, I became the editor and was managing both Sports and InStep for 10 years or so. Then I left the Sports Desk due to match-fixing as I couldn’t stay on in it; was totally disenchanted, I exposed them, wrote a story on the topic. I then joined Unilever and worked there in parallel to Lux Style Awards where I was at the Awards office and managed it independent of Lux. When I started working with other Unilever brands, they expected similar amount of exposure for those too but it never happened because Lux is unique in that respect.

Becoming the brands story teller…

There came a point when I got bored of being on the brand side and I thought it is about time I apply my MBA degree to practice. Even my bosses at Unilever thought I’d be better off on the agency side, for Unilever brands, so I went ahead and joined Gollin Pakistan for two years and realized it would be even better doing things on my own. My team was with me so that’s how we started Talking Point.

The moment I started working at Unilever I fell in love with the brands so whatever brand I’ve worked on I started loving it even if it’s a dishwasher brand or a hand wash, because every brand has a story and I’m itching to tell that story. Given that story has to interest me. Often I start by thinking ‘iss mein kya hai, ye toh khaasa boring hai’ but then you start your research and slowly but surely that spark comes and its ignited so I gradually tend to develop a love affair with the brands I have worked with.

You see ‘structure’ is an interesting word. I think when a brand is structured, they know exactly where to take the brand. They see through it and don’t leave things half way, and I like working with those people. Continuity is key to success – the secret is to endure For instance, the Lux Style Awards will be celebrating its’ 18th year and I can’t see any other such example. Even PTV awards couldn’t go on for that long. So I’d say while starting something is fairly easier, to keep-going is much tougher. Every stakeholder wants to have their own say, put their own imprint but campaigns don’t survive that mayhem. Lux has been lucky to have had consistency throughout.

Creative agencies have really evolved in these many years because at one time creative agencies’ job was to do strategies and make ads and the world has changed ever since due to globalization. Back then an ad used to be made in any one country. Today its made in the region for many countries. So the local ad agencies have of course suffered a lot in this process. Its not about upping their game, its the dynamics of the global markets and they just have to follow suit because the big companies in their head offices in London or New York have decided that they are not going to make 100 odd ads; they’re going to make maybe 40 effective ads and save money and make people share it online and that makes perfect sense. Now this is applicable for international brands. Local brands hence have become the  biggest clients for local ad agencies ever since.

The first event I did with Gollin was Pond’s Miracle Journey. It used to take place at Mohatta Palace and has gone bigger and better by the year. It has now transformed into a mentorship program as we celebrate its’ 8th year.  Pond’s Miracle Journey is one of the favorite brand stories that I’ve told to date as it is about women supporting women and even before they offer that support, they recognize each other as the unsung heroes.

Women world over have it tough, but women of the subcontinent have it tougher because not only do we work and look after our parents and children and in-laws, but we have a lot more of social obligations. We have the religious gatherings to attend; we have the hospitals to go to.  From a dars to a baby shower to funerals, endless shaadis – have got to everywhere! And yet she is the unsung hero. She is a miracle! So our job was to make our women the hero and Pond’s celebrated this journey and now these heroes have become mentors for younger women who are now stepping into the workplace – giving her the knowledge to start out in a more prepared manner. We have over 400 women across Pakistan helping other women to be enterprising.

How PR industry flourished in Pakistan…

I think it was a very young industry and hats off to Salina at Lotus PR who actually started it. She had a little bit of PR experience from London and she came down to Pakistan and applied the same things here and I know when I was in Unilever, she was that one person we wanted to work with all the time. She was head and shoulders above all at that time as there was nothing like that happening over here. This is 2013. Lotus was set up in 2009.

I was already an insider in the sphere of brands so now I wanted to know what its like working from outside. The only reason why I can do what I am doing and enjoying it thoroughly is because I have 15 years of journalism behind me – I know what media is, I have lived here, worked in it and shaped a lot of it and then 10 years of corporate background. So those two aspects put together, I know I can run an agency. Everybody cannot do that. Everybody thinks PR is so easy, it’s getting free media – no it isn’t. There’s a lot of thought process and connections linked to it and unless you have that kind of experience you can’t do it and if you try to do it you end making so many mistakes that it doesn’t work. Of course ethics is also at the heart of it. In a nutshell, Talking Point is a digital PR agency. It started in 2016.

What keeps an agency going?

The big ideas is what keeps an agency going. Big ideas that you are able to execute. The magic is finding the sweet spot between budget constraints and deliverable creativity.

Your pet peeves?

People not doing their own job, blaming others, not delivering what they promise, because when they say they’ll do something that’s what we base all our work on and that gets affected if they falter.

Your best campaign?

Lux Style Awards.

Worst campaign?

No, I don’t want to name brands. However the worst thing is is when brands come to an agency expecting sale to go up. Its for your brand equity that you do PR, not sales per say.

Your fave ad of the 90s?

90s is a blur for at this moment. But there was one in the 80s I so liked. Wills with all local players, shot internationally though; beautifully done. I recall ads more from the 80s so there was a Phillips ad when I was very little; it said: won’t you come to my house tonight? Used to be aired on PTV, was iconic! Then the Jet Washing Powder and Lipton’s ‘Chai Chaahiye’ – a classic!

One campaign that you could have done better…

I think the Magnum Chocolate Party. We did it in the beginning and then the others couldn’t do it very well.

So do you think brands are now into DVCs as opposed to TVCs?

There’s no generalization here. A DVC is an addition to the armory that the brand has.

An advice you’d give to aspiring journalists?

You have to be a reader, love your subject, read more and more on that as that gives you an in-depth knowledge. Be as honest as you can.

Is it an agency’s place to worry about what a brand’s audience wants?

Of course. It’s the agency’s job to let the brand know what the audience thinks very early on. If things go well then follow that, if things go wrong then fix it. It’s primarily on the brand though.

Fareshteh outside work?

I love reading.

Last book you read?

I am reading a book called ‘Partition’ right now.

How can we help others discover their own passion?

I think to each is their own. Every individual has to find their own cause. Be brace, be bold, be courageous and the world’s yours.

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