Cannes Lions See It Be It Pakistan 2018: Q&A with Women of Substance in Advertising & Marketing

See It Be It


by Sanna Malik

“One of our goals this year will be to creatively strategize a format for past and present See It Be It participants to become a trusted support system for creative women globally.”

Madonna Badger, See It Be It ambassador 2017

Championing creativity since 1954, the Cannes Lions – currently known as the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity – hosts the world’s biggest festival and awards program for creative and marketing communications, entertainment, design, and tech industries. The last event held in 2017 attracted over 16,000 attendees from 90+ countries.

Owing to the under-representation of women in senior creative leadership positions across the world, the advertising festival introduced the See It Be It program in 2014, with the vision that greater diversity across the industry leads to better, more representative work, which has the power to go on to create a better world. The career acceleration program works on the simple yet effective principle that when women can ‘See It’, they will be driven to ‘Be It’.

Pakistan Advertising Association – PAA, realizing the potential of Pakistani women brought the See It Be It (SIBI) program to Pakistan in alliance with Pakistan Advertisers Society – PAS and Synergy Dentsu. The essence of the event was to help build a stronger and more inclusive creative workforce for the country by providing generosity and support to women who are striving to carve a future for themselves. The program was inspired from the performance of Pakistani women who have a track record of outshining men at every level of academia, yet the dilemma remains that their progression and potential remains unrealized in the corporate arena. Hence, the program aimed at motivating women by bringing them on one platform with role models who have had the experience of living and working in USA, UK, Germany, Singapore, Australia, UAE and Pakistan and providing the opportunity of one-on-one interactions, allowing the participants to present their hurdles and gain knowledge from real-life examples of the speakers and mentors at the event.

Synergyzer took this opportunity to talk to some of the speakers and mentors present at the event, excerpts follow.


Senior Press & PR Manager
Cannes Lions, UK

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

For starters, it was Atiya. When I spoke to her last year, she told me she wanted to host a similar event in Pakistan when she had attended SIBI in 2017. She felt there was a great need for something like this in Pakistan, so here we are.

Madonna Badger, the 2017 SIBI ambassador said, “One of our goals this year will be to creatively strategize a format for past and present See It Be It participants to become a trusted support system for creative women globally.” In your experience, how has this been made effective?

What Madonna said is true in a number of ways and we are working on this to improve continuously. We have majorly worked on events like SIBI Pakistan because once the alumni come back to their region and bring back their learnings from the festival, they open up the floor to other voices and creatives in their industries, providing an opportunity to create the structure that allows us to meet senior leaders within the region. Another important aspect is that the alumni keep in touch with each other; we have a Whatsapp group that is continuously buzzing, which is itself a support group. This is a great way to connect and ensures the presence of a powerful bond. It is important to mention here that the SIBI groups have already gone through an emotional rollercoaster in Cannes so they have broken all barriers and are now on to having meaningful conversations.

By bringing both these factors together, we are hoping to open up forums for people who may not have been to the Cannes Lions Festival, but know somebody who has been there. This ensures that they can connect and pave a way to discuss their issues.

Who is the SIBI platform for?

The SIBI platform is primarily for future creative leaders. The criteria are quite extensive, and they require applicants to have spent five to ten years within the industry working within the brands and communications ecosphere amongst other things. Within that range, anyone from creative directors to art directors to copy writers can participate. You don’t necessarily have to be part of an agency; you can be from the brand side or a freelancer as well. Our focus is to look for people who are going to lead change in the industry, whether they are front runners in the creative industry or trailblazers for future female professionals.

Can the SIBI applicants be people who are not award-winning creatives in their own region?

You don’t necessarily have to have won a Lions Award to qualify for SIBI; it can be a regional or a local award also.  This ensures that the applicant is at a certain standard because of which they are being recognized for their abilities. This is what we have envisioned award-winning to be: Somebody else looks at their work and says that it is good work and has the potential to develop into something big.

What about people who have not won an award in their own region? Can they be a part of SIBI?

They can apply because applications are assessed on a case-by-case basis. This year we have 400 applications so far and we do make an exception if we feel that the person has got potential. We want people to come to SIBI, go back and then become advocates for change within their own agency, region and industry.



Festival Operations Manager
Cannes Lions, UK

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

I would say the effort that Atiya was putting into the event; she communicated to us about how the sponsors, the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) and the Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) were all on board, when it was rare for them to collaborate on a project together. Cannes Lions has never done or supported anything in the region before like this so I felt it important to be here as the supporting team. Also, I had never come to Pakistan before, but have heard good things about it so I wanted to come for myself.

As the Festival Ops Manager for Cannes Lions, what is your work about and what are the highlights of your work?

My job is different every day with different kinds of challenges almost every month. The outline of my role is that along with my team I am generally involved with almost every aspect of the festival including working with the creative team about what the festival is going to look like as a whole, working with the content team and speakers as well as coordinate with production companies about expenses. My favorite part about my job is the kind of decisions that I get to make, especially when it comes to deciding for the Cannes Lions parties which are exciting events loved by all at the festival and which make my work all the more exciting.

What are the changes that have been made to the Cannes Lions Festival to make it focused and inclusive?

The Cannes Lions owner Ascential decided to simplify and modernize the festival, as well as to reduce costs for attendees. In this spirit we have reduced the number of days from eight to five, reduced the price of passes and have worked with the city of Cannes to offer savings for Cannes Lions delegates by freezing hotel prices for the duration of the 2018 festival and offering fixed-price menus at more than 50 restaurants across the city. We are also changing the structure of the awards by incorporating all the Lions under nine main disciplines of creativity, called ‘content tracks’ that will make it easier for entrants to navigate as well as provide us with structured data on customer sets, basically reflecting the way agencies and marketers approach their day-to-day work as well as reducing a large number of subcategories that we feel are out of date. Besides this we are making changes to our categories and doing away with some while merging a few, like Cyber and Integrated do not need to be separate categories any more since all good campaigns are integrated today while Promo & Activation Lions, which are important for retail campaigns will nest more inclusively under Brand Experience. Similarly, programs that address ideas which are becoming more and more mainstream like the Lions Entertainment and Lions Innovation used to be two-day mini-festivals earlier, but are now going to be a part of the main festival and will run for five days – the full length of the festival.


Synergy Dentsu

First Pakistani Cannes Lions See It Be It program alumni (2017), Film writer for “Chaley Thay Saath”

Tell us about your journey to the Cannes Lions See It Be It program.

Like many great things in life, Cannes Lions See It Be It simply happened to me. I am a big fan of what Cannes Lions does as a festival; for many years my desktop wallpaper was a Lion trophy and I followed them on all social media channels. Although I have not won one as yet, but my obsession led to going through the SIBI application and filling it. I never expected this, but a month later I got an email saying that I had made the shortlist and there will be an interview over Skype.

As the story goes, I went to Cannes and met some amazing and courageous women who had refused to be pushed to the side. Connecting with them and getting to know their stories, I felt as if I still had a long way to go before I could be a part of this amazing group of women. To my surprise I found out that I was not the only one who was thinking like this, in fact, all fifteen of us believed more in each other rather than our own selves. Hence to me, SIBI was a unique program where knowledge and wisdom is generously shared and those around you have more confidence in you than your own self.

Why did you decide to bring the program to Pakistan?

The lessons from SIBI were many; and most of the time we found ourselves thinking, “Oh my god! No one ever told me this!” The reality is that women don’t have role models to look up to; there are not many senior women one can turn to for advice and it is only when women can ‘see it’ then they can ‘be it’, as the name suggests.

How was SIBI Pakistan made possible?

It was the men in the Pakistani advertising and marketing industry, especially in Synergy Dentsu who stood behind the idea of SIBI Pakistan. Hassan Abbas, our COO, supported the idea from the beginning about doing the event in Pakistan and made the case for it with clients, sponsors, management and coworkers. Our Managing Director, Ahmed Kapadia, and Managing Partner, Ali Mandviwalla, took ownership of the idea and made it happen. From planning for venues, to uniting the Pakistan Advertising Association (PAA) and Pakistan Advertisers Society (PAS) to getting the event sponsored through PAA was their doing.

Having seen all this, I strongly feel that the saying that behind every successful man is a woman actually goes vice versa too Having seen how the program was made possible, it is definitely the men who are rooting for the success of the women of our industry.

Are you representing the SIBI program formally in any way in the region?

I had the honor of remotely introducing Nigeria to SIBI with my fantastic fellow program mate Adebola Adegbulugbe who ran a session with the Nigerian advertising community in Lagos. Then in December last year another amazingly talented SIBI fellow Maria Milusheva organized SIBI in Sofia, Bulgaria where I was a speaker. Of course we all had full support from Cannes Lions through Marian Brannelly and Yasmin Eggar who guided us along the way as well as attended all the SIBI sessions, much like they the one held in Karachi.



Regional Creative Director
Octagon, Singapore

Lizi spoke at TEDxPG as a Story Hunter, contributed a chapter on the ‘Power of Making’ in The Creative Social Book and runs SheSays Singapore, a creative group to support more women get into the industry. She is also only person to have designed a Lego Character outside of Denmark.
Lizi was recognized by Campaign Asia as the Top 20 Women to Watch in Asia-Pacific and Women Leading Change across the Creative Industry,
and is the winner of a number of awards including Gold Drum Impact Award: Marketing can change the world, Gold in Entertainment Spikes, BEfest Award for Best Branded Content.

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

I wanted to learn more about this country and its advertising industry. I’m originally English. I lived in Australia for 10 years and have worked in Greece and America. At the moment, I live in Singapore. I think living in Asia has given me a great deal of exposure to a lot of different regions and cultures. The marketing industry may be different from one region to another but I think it is amazing how much it can support the country and help communities. I want to be a part of that support network and that’s why I chose to come to Pakistan.

How did SIBI help you gain an edge that you felt may not have been there before since you are already quite accomplished?

We see a lot of women drop out of the industry and I was very close to this too. SIBI and my experience at Cannes prompted me to concentrate on myself as an individual, take a step back and take stock of who I was. It made me realize it was important to celebrate Lizi the creative and everything she brings to the table, and that it is important for me to maintain my momentum and gave me the confidence to continue with it. Hence SIBI backed me up that I’m doing the right thing and I feel thinking along these lines puts me at an advantage because it helps me think outside the box. Also, the program connected me to a group of woman who are achieving so much and who now are like peers to me which made me feel like a part of something and that I can achieve a lot more, not to mention that I have learnt a lot from these women. I strongly feel that we need more programs like SIBI.

You are the first person to design a Lego character not designed in Denmark. Tell us more about that.

I grew up with Lego and it has been one of my favorite playthings because it’s all about using your imagination. We got a project to work on while I was in Australia: To create a gift selector. The idea was to help parents look for age appropriate gifts for their kids. All of that was supposed to be online which I thought was a bit boring. So I designed an elf who was going to help parents pick the perfect gift, who was basically Santa’s Little Helper. Now Lego characters don’t have ears, but elves do. So we designed a Lego elf which then went into production. That was a big honor for us.

You are also involved in writing ‘The Power of Making’ for the Creative Social Book. What was the idea behind it?

The book comes out in June 2018 and was written in collaboration with several different makers. The part I wrote is about the continuous cycle of making. So instead of just making something, stopping and evaluating, the idea is to make different things, going through the process of fitting stuff together and working out what it can look like. In the book, I explain how ideas come from almost our subconscious and for them to come to the surface, sometimes we just need to do the things we love. The way of making can often trigger that subconscious thought and in the book I have included a few projects I created that way.

You run the ‘She Says Singapore’ project which supports women to become a part of the creative industry and stay in it. Can you tell us how it works?

I’ve been running She Says for four years now for which we hold events every month. One month we get a panel of four experts, both men and women, and have a discussion with them about different things relevant to the industry that women can learn from. The next one coming up is about mental health in the workplace so we have people on the panel who can talk about how important it is to have a work life balance. We have about 150 women attending the event each month. The other month we do a social setting to help women understand the kind of jobs available for them, how much they can earn, what sort of career they should have owing to their circumstances and we support them as mentors as well.

‘Solving business problems creatively’; how do you say you do that?

Let me give you an example. In Australia a big business problem was; why are beer sales in decline? The most obvious answer to that was because everyone drank beer in the old days so it’s not that popular anymore, and the obvious challenge was to increase sales.

When I thought about it, I realized that drinking - or not drinking – beer is more about the image it portrays. To counter this, we came up with the idea that the beer companies need to give back to the community. Now Australians love eating prawns on Christmas, so we bought a ton of prawns and drove them into a remote community that never had prawns. We filmed the whole activity and that gave Australia a Christmas story that everybody loved. For me, that was solving a business problem in a creative way.

What about creating solutions ‘on a budget of pennies’?

One of the things I love is doing projects with a purpose, either to make the world a better place or to create the kind of spaces where people can do good. How we executed such an idea on a budget of pennies? –Basically we were doing a project for the RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) and we did not have any executional budget so we created a stunt: We got an empty bin; I took speakers from my house, glued them inside the bin and made it sound like a cat was meowing inside. When people opened the bin to save the cat, there was a message inside that said, “You’ve just saved a cat, please donate to save more”. It got an emotional but good response and I had made the whole thing for only about $20!

You have also spoken at TEDxPG as a Story Hunter. What is story hunting all about?

I call myself a story hunter since I believe that humans are incredibly fascinating and the beautiful bit is that you can go and find stories amongst them. By finding the right stories and telling them in the right way, we can get people to emotionally connect to them and that’s what I love. I enjoy exploring different cultures and communities, finding out what their personal values are and connecting them to a brand that has the same values.


Senior Creative
LA RED Gmbh Germany

Hannah sat on Cannes Young Cyber Lions and Deutsche Digital Award jury panels and spoke at the Eurobest Festival of Creativity.

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

When I participated in See It Be It (SIBI) in 2017, I met women from USA, Pakistan, Australia and other countries. As a result, I go to know  their different cultures and backgrounds. When I was asked to come here, I figured it was an incredible chance to meet and learn more about female Pakistani creatives.
I really think that if we as women can connect and share our experiences, we can be stronger. If you feel you are not alone, you definitely have more strength and courage to do things. I hope we can be inspired and connect on LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter so that we can create a global collective.

How did attending SIBI back in 2017 help accelerate your career?

It has been incredible in terms of the opportunities I received as a result of it. In my local market in Hamburg, Germany people have been very interested, not just about SIBI but about what I have learned in terms of women as well. They want to know how to encourage women, how to mentor them and help them achieve their goals. I have given a lot of interviews in the local press, done a podcast and had opportunities to give talks internationally - I spoke at the EuroBest and now at SIBI Pakistan. However, the most important experience has really been about connecting with all these amazing women. There were 15 of us from different backgrounds and it turned out that we were all struggling with the same things so it’s good to know that we all have common goals we are trying to achieve.

And how do you think it has added value to you as individual?

Confidence, of course! I think before I would have said things like ‘I am not good enough to try this’ or ‘I am not sure if I could manage this’. I felt quite alone with my problems but now I have the ability to talk to women all over the world and they really motivate me. I am the same person but I just feel more confident talking about issues in my office and addressing them in the community.

While I agree with what you are saying about getting the courage to speak about issues, how does attending the program specifically help you achieve that?

During the program, we spoke about how to address some common issues and how conflict makes people uncomfortable and doesn’t always fit in with your personality. The key is finding your own way of dealing with conflict - sometimes this can mean finding an ally in someone in your workplace who can also mentor you. If you don’t feel like you are the kind of person who can come to a meeting and say, “This is not possible”, that’s okay. Find your own way of dealing with it.

You have received a number of awards for your campaigns. What has helped make them effective?

Well, in Germany it’s very difficult to get work that can be award-winning from clients. So I focused on developing proactive projects that in some way reflected my priorities and views as a human. I recently received the Annual Multimedia Awards for two projects that I did: Gold for the Facebook-live campaign against hate speech, "Say It to My Face", which I did for Tagesschau, and Silver for the campaign I did for Nummer gegen Kummer, called “Force for Good”, which was the first interactive film using force-touch technology on mobile against violence towards children.

I have always believed it’s really important to set the agenda in your work and confront socially relevant issues. By doing that, I give brands new relevance in their messages because everything is becoming increasingly competitive and cluttered. It is important to find that way of connecting with people that might not necessarily be about selling your product in the first instance.

How were you able to achieve this since you said it’s not easy to win awards in Germany?

Let’s look at the interactive film I did for Nummer gegen Kummer. I pitched the idea internally and got the feedback that the client was also looking for creative excellence projects. I found contacts on LinkedIn for the companies that had the product and I cold contacted them. Hence, I was getting in touch with different companies to see if they got back to me so I basically had a lot of conversation with these people. That process was inspiring as it felt like I was the agency and did not have to rely on the account management team or the managing director. I could just say: “Oh I have this client who is really interested in your product, what do you think?” It did involve a lot of investment from the agency’s part in terms of technology and programming but the production unit donated their time because it was for a non-profit company. All in all, it was a really great process and that was how we got recognized.

You did your Bachelors in Politics and then you went onto become one of the top 10 creatives in Germany. Can you tell us a bit about that?

I studied Politics and then somehow fell into investment banking which I felt really wasn’t for me. So I started my business, a project that I was running out of London for about three years. Then the credit crisis came in 2008 and I couldn’t continue the business anymore so I was standing at a crossroads having invested so much of my best energy into this dream - I literally didn’t know where to look. First I thought I would do something with brand building because it was similar to what my business was about. So I fell into strategic brand consulting roles at international-level agencies. With time, I realized my passion was for insight and creativity so I moved from being a strategist to becoming a creative. I started all over again as a trainee so I have had to reinvent myself several times in my career which has been amazing. I think my experience as a strategist has given me a unique perspective as a creative because I am in touch with insights. I think my ideas are different because of my diverse experience.


Senior Designer & Creative
Livity UK

Knit Aid

Shahnaz was recognized as one of the Women to Watch by Creative Equal and Campaign.

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

I came because of Atiya and all the amazing things she told me about Pakistan. Additionally, my parents are from Bangladesh and in London I hardly get the opportunity to speak to women who are from my type of background, so for me Pakistan was an easy sell.

How did attending the Cannes Lions See It Be It program help accelerate your career?

For me, it was a confidence accelerator. I had got to a stage in my career where I was enjoying what I was doing and was good at it too.

I had a baby three years ago so I took a year off and returning to work made me realize that it’s hard to see my future in an industry where there are not many female leaders like me in any way. The perception towards female leaders is women who are masculine, able to fit in with the boys club.

When I went to Cannes, I spoke to leaders who were nothing of the sort; rather they really embraced their femininity. Since I saw that for the first time, it was a game changer for me because I realized that I can be myself and have a future in the creative industry. So it was this realization and knowing what my next goals were going to be. I believe I am achieving those goals a lot quicker because of SIBI.


A few years ago when I would be asked to speak in front of a group of people, I would shy away from it. I mean I know what I am good at, but growing up in a society where confidence in women is not really championed; it takes a backseat even if you are doing great professionally. But since I attended the Cannes Lions SIBI program, I’ve been a part of numerous panels and I’m being asked to do more.

While this is boosting my confidence, it is also putting me on stage where other women can see me who realize that if I am able to do it then they can do it too, which is creating more opportunities. Also more people are approaching me for work so SIBI has helped professionally as well.

What more did you absorb from SIBI?

A woman who was a freelancer with Livity encouraged me to apply when she got to know about my work and about Knit-Aid. So it is about all of us being mentors and champions for one another, especially when we find out about something that someone can benefit from.

Statistically speaking, women do not generally put themselves forward unless they think that they are 100% right, while men opt in even if they feel that they are only 60% right. Hence, we have to work at bridging that confidence gap by pushing one another.  I’ve encouraged five women to apply for Cannes Lions this year and some of them actually went ahead and did it. It’s about constantly making the effort and extending support to other women in the field.

Tell us about Knit-Aid.

Knit-Aid is a global social movement that empowers refugees through knitting. We collect knitted donations from knitters all over the world and distribute them to refugee camps in Europe and the Middle East. We also run knitting workshops for resettled refugees. All our communication is done over social media.

I care about displaced prople because I am the daughter of immigrant parents who had the freedom to move across the world and have a better life. Yet I know that there is a crisis happening at my doorstep with the Rohingya community and there is no way I can look at those people and not see myself in them so I decided to provide a space for knitters all over the world to help people they also care about.

Is there any reason why you chose to start a cause based around knitting specifically?

Knitting is very personal to me and I love the craft. My mum taught me to knit when I was eight and her mum taught her similarly so it’s a craft that got passed down from one generation to the other. I still knit every day and was doing it a lot when my daughter was born. To me it made sense that my cause should be based around knitting.


Senior Copywriter
Saatchi & Saatchi, USA

Creator & Editor Platain Papers

What convinced you to come to Pakistan?

Last year I was part of SIBI where I met Atiya Zaidi and felt really inspired by her. It also made me realize the one thing we all had in common was trying to figure out how to play it forward. We have had our wonderful opportunity and we wanted to ensure that we could do the same for more people, especially those around us. In that spirit Atiya took charge of organizing See It Be It Pakistan and as soon as she said she was doing it, I put my hands up and said I would love to come, so here I am.

How did attending the Cannes Lions See It Be It program help accelerate your career?

It was a life-changing experience. My trip to Cannes opened my mind to a diverse range of possibilities; it made me think about my purpose in the industry, what I was doing beyond my day-to-day job as a copywriter and what I represented. It is not easy to figure out these things being a woman of color in the West in a predominantly white male industry. Once I could do that, it opened up a range of different opportunities and I moved to Los Angeles after being part of SIBI. I continue to do talking gigs to ensure that I encourage those around me.

How did attending the Cannes Lions See It Be It program help accelerate your career?

The best way for me to answer that is to recount the key experiences I have had. I have an understanding of sisterhood in a professional capacity now and I have learnt how supporting other women is going to make me stronger in the industry. I’ve seen examples of what happens when women are not supported in the work place – how it affects business and work – and I feel I’ve become more attuned to looking out for other women.

The other thing I realized was that you can be a leader at any level, whether you are a junior in the industry, middle management or on your way up. You can really own your position and having seen different people carry it out in different ways at Cannes, I was able to apply this to my work and make it better.

You say you are a storyteller. Please elaborate.

You’re absolutely right. I call myself a story teller and more than that, I am drawn to stories and to figuring out how I can draw out those stories. To achieve this, I recently launched a magazine called Plantain Papers with two friends. We wanted to have full creative autonomy and create something that we felt represented us and allowed us to tell stories which we would not be able to tell otherwise.

I am always interested in finding out how we can connect with people and Plantain Papers allowed me to do that. I love doing side projects and doing stuff that still allows me to be creative so it motivates me to produce better work.

Tell us more about Plantain Papers.

It’s a magazine essentially for people of color. Plantain fruit is often consumed in West Africa and we are using the fruit as a device to talk about culture. We also talk about issues like body positivity, what it means to be a second-generation person of color in the West as well as include recipes.


Bond Advertising & Bond PR

Seema produced the first advertising show in Pakistan “The Big Idea” on PTV, and won the Exceptional Contribution Award for it from PAA. She is a member of the organizing committee for Adasia 2019, Executive Council Member PAA and former Council Member of MAP and Special Olympics Pakistan.

What are your thoughts on the Cannes Lions See It Be It Conference?

I think it is fantastic. There has never been an event in our industry for women based around the challenges we face. As part of this industry, we need to identify where the road blocks lie and what the issues are. There were many insights at SIBI on how women are dealing with these issues; we need to start learning and sharing our experiences as women and network more, and I think this event has given us a great platform to do just that.

Do you think such a platform will create opportunities for women in their own time and space to network and engage like our male counterparts do?

I met many wonderful women at SIBI and I don’t want this to be a one-off. I think we can have small get-togethers for professional women, the way women who are not working have. Maybe this way we can meet other female professionals from the industry over an extended lunch once a month or even on Saturdays. However, I think we need to go beyond networking with just women – we should get the men engaged as well. First, we should build and strengthen our own platform and then reach out.

Mentoring is also an area which is more than important to address. We need to keep reaching out and have people open for it, especially those in senior and middle management positions. For instance, I really feel I can guide young women based on my experiences since young women need guidance in various areas like how to prepare for a meeting, hot to get their voice heard etc. I really want to tell them, “Don’t give up! Just hang in and things will get better.” Also, we can learn from one another on how to get more business because we are not part of the ‘boys club’ and we often miss the boat on pitches and potential clients.

How did majoring in Developmental Economics and working for socioeconomic development help you in your work as a marketing & PR professional?

My degree was in Liberal Arts but my focus was Political Science, Economic Development and Communication. The agency is my family business so I grew up in that environment and the agency culture is a part of my blood. So even when I majored in Developmental Economics, I still came back full circle to this path and due to my earlier work, we do a lot of communications work for the development sector because I’m passionate about this.

What was The Big Idea all about?

The Big Idea came when nothing was there on the advertising industry on TV so I decided to create a magazine style program on advertising in Urdu. The show was broadcast from PTV, I was the producer and I got Asim Raza on board as the director. It used to be aired on the Sunday evening, 7:30pm slot and the program was focused around the creative industry and the creative process to give people a better understanding of what goes in the advertising world. It had segments where people from the profession would be talking about different things and the kind of effort that writers, directors, production crews as well as models put into it. For instance, one of the segments titled “Tumhein yaad ho kay na yaad ho”, used to be about old advertisements and how they were created and the people behind them.

Back then, it was the era of PO Box, and we used to get tons of letters from Koth Lakhpat Jail to Azad Kashmir to Lahore. It was amazing to see so many people reaching out to us, wanting to learn.


GM Marketing

Farahnaz is consultant to the WPP Group, former ECD – JWT and published short story writer of “Seekers”, an OUP publication.

What are your thoughts on the Cannes Lions See It Be It Conference?

First of all, the fact that Cannes Lions has come to Pakistan is the first time we have had such a prestigious global entity putting Pakistan on the map and that is a huge achievement. See It Be It in particular is an important platform because across the globe, a culture of inclusion and diversity is emerging. Take the #MeToo Campaign, for instance, that has given women the courage to talk about sexual misconduct at the workplace. So it’s essential that women are given a chance to speak what is on their minds, especially in a country like Pakistan.

While there are a sizeable number of women working in the advertising industry, they still need to be encouraged to take on leadership roles. Such forums help women see other women who are in positions of power and it inspires them to do the same. I hope such conversation starts as a result of SIBI. Most importantly, such events must take place on a regular basis.

In your keynote, you mentioned that the pitch or tone that women should adopt in the work environment should be a certain way, while in our society confidence for women is not always championed. Don’t you think such expectations create an acceptance gap?

See it’s not about adopting an authoritative style; it is about identifying and using words that ensure you remain polite but firm while communicating at the workplace. Your choice of words can make all the difference and the impact it has on those around you.

Your move to ZIL Ltd (formerly Zulfeqar Industries) has been about creating a differentiating brand value for Capri in a category that is extremely cluttered. How successful have you been in doing that?

I moved to the brand side because of my experience with Lux and this is why I was approached to begin with – because I have extensive experience with the Personal Care category. Capri is a heritage brand and making it more modern is a work in progress for the last five years because the competition is tough and the category a challenging one. If you compare Capri today with what it was five to eight years ago, you will notice a big difference in terms of the product mix and its interaction on social media. My point is, these things take time given that brands have their distinct personality so it’s unreasonable to expect change overnight. The change is happening though and whatever has happened so far has been successful. It is interesting to note that a brand with such a strong, loyal following is slowly becoming more and more contemporary. So if you look at the packaging and shape now, you will see a difference and these are all things that are geared towards adding to our customer base.

Industry experts often say that one of the reasons for the decline of creativity in Pakistan is the rapid rise of young people to positions of authority, people who have not witnessed actual rigor in their careers. Do you think that’s true?

If I look at ad agencies and people in senior/important positions there, they are all people with considerable experience and I don’t think they have made any sudden jumps in their careers. In fact, I’ve hired and nurtured some of these people at my previous places of work, so none of them have become who they are overnight. They carry with them a lot of experience and expertise.

Yet, one thing I have noticed, however, is that people now start working at a young age and they want immediate rewards. Given that there is such a dearth of talent in Pakistan, employees get poached all the time by other agencies so when they change jobs, they often get hired on a senior position. The impact of this shift will most likely be felt in the next five or so years but at the moment I feel that those who are up there are pretty competent people with experience under their belt.

perween rahman


Film Director & CEO
DreamTeam Films

Amena is an Actor, Director, Filmmaker, Narrator, Theatre Director, Voice Actor and Voice Artist.

What are your thoughts on the Cannes Lions See It Be It Conference?

I think it’s a fantastic opportunity for working women to connect on one platform and discuss what really matters to female professionals. I also find this great because it allows women to be candid and talk about things not just with peers but with those in senior management positions as well.

During your panel session, you mentioned that SIBI has provided professional women an opportunity to talk about things which otherwise remain unsaid. Can you elaborate further?

No one usually talks openly because people are generally afraid of not getting work if they say too much. The perception is that if we say what we really feel then we will be sidelined by major players in the industry. It’s refreshing to note that the people chosen for the SIBI have an open mind about things. I think it’s important for us to discuss our issues so that we can come up with practical solutions.

As someone rightly pointed out during the conference that if you as a woman are facing a problem at your place of work, talk to other women around you. But don’t just talk about the problem, find a solution too. You become stronger when you find solutions together.

You are a Tier I commercial film director in our industry. How have you ensured quality as a prerogative?

For me, quality is always a top priority. I don’t believe in compromising when it comes to my work even if the budget is tight. People who are stepping into this field just for the money and not because they love the work are not always able to deliver the quality with which people can connect with. If I feel like I will have to compromise on my work during a project, I always opt out of it. Your work matures with time so the next project you do is better than the one you did before but you have to put in your very best each time so that you don’t look back with regret.

perween rahman
Ansar Burney


Regional Creative Director for Middle East & Pakistan
Impact BBDO Dubai

Ali ranked amongst the Top 15 Creative Directors and the Top 10 Art Directors in the world by The Big Won Report, is the winner of more than 150 major international advertising awards including Gold Cannes Lions, D&AD Pencils, Gold Clios, Gold Effie, UN Award for Peace and Spikes Asia and sat on esteemed jury panels, spoken at Tedx, exhibited in museums, and lectured at Oxford University.

From being a physics undergrad to becoming one of the Top 15 Creative Directors in the world, what has been your transition like?

I keep telling people you have to be brave enough to follow what you want to do. I was doing something that I really was not into and I opted for something completely different but something that interested me and thankfully it worked out. 

When you are given a budget for your work, it’s usually a few hundred thousand rupees with which you are required to do a lot, for instance coming up with an idea that delivers. How do you overcome such budgetary challenges?

I think it’s a case-by-case process – sometimes the budget is substantial and sometimes you get peanuts. I’ll give you an example: We did the bridal uniform campaign with the UN Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) in collaboration with designer Ali Xeeshan. A girl child dressed in a school uniform adorned with traditional bridal jewelry walked down the ramp as the show stopper for Xeeshan at the finale of the Bridal Couture Week 2017, to create awareness about the issue of child marriages in Pakistan, their life-long implications and how to take preventive action in order to address it and help the potential and present victims. The campaign cost us about a $100, which was basically the cost of the uniform. However, the impressions we got were close to one billion which amounts to around $240 million in earned media.

So every time we get a smaller budget, it just means we need to make our idea all the more powerful and impactful in order to get the return on earned media. I think it inspires you to present a far stronger idea than you usually would. 

You have received awards continuously for a number of years. What kind of goals do you set for yourself?

To always do better than the previous year, while doing work that builds good business, since commerce is just as important. In the end, it’s about achieving more and more each year.

We continuously debate the lack of creativity in Pakistani concepts. What is your opinion on this?

I believe creativity in Pakistan is going to take a sharp turn towards a much more experimental arena. There has already been a shift driven by younger production units as well as digital media where the consumer has more control over what they watch. This is going to push more and more people to produce entertaining content, which is how it should be because when we are trying to get a message across it is important to make sure it is worth somebody’s time.

Ansar Burney
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Independent Brand Consultant and VP, North America
SemutApi Colony, LLC

So how does a Philosophy and Economics major become a brand consultant?

Any Philosophy major will tell you that two skills you learn as a student are analysis and critical thinking. Both these things are really important in marketing because you have to assess creative ideas, devise strategies and make plans. I think as a discipline, philosophy translates beautifully into advertising. So, when I graduated from college, I came back to Karachi and I was told that I should start working in a bank immediately. That’s what everybody was doing so I joined a foreign bank and started working as a treasurer, which I found extremely boring. There was a sales desk that had a newsletter and I asked if I could create content for it. That’s how I got into the marketing side of things.

Then while working at the bank, I got married and moved to Chicago. That’s when I decided I didn’t want to be a banker and got into marketing. I went to one of the dot-com companies because it was 1999 and the internet boom had just begun. I worked there for six months after which I partnered with two other guys and we started our brand consultancy. That’s when I really got into e-commerce. I do like to think that I am a digital expert because I’ve been doing this since 1999, and while a lot has changed since then; I have also been a witness to that change. I would call myself a hybrid marketer because I have done traditional, print, TV, and internet/digital, which has been an interesting journey since I have been on both sides of the fence. I do feel that my perspective is unique because I ran a brand consultancy abroad and then moved back to Pakistan.

What are your thoughts on the Cannes Lions See It Be It Conference?

Hands down the fact that women came together on one platform and connected with one another. We have few opportunities like this here in Pakistan so it was incredible to see so many strong, powerful women gather to support one another.

Do you think such a platform will create opportunities for women in their own time and space much like the ones their male counterparts have?

As you already said, these spaces exist for men because traditionally, the work for men ends when they leave the office. They don’t have to go home to responsibilities – for instance, taking care of the kids and doing chores around the house. Since this model (networking and engaging after hours) doesn’t work for women, we can capitalize on lunch breaks at work, breakfast meetings or even Saturday mornings for that matter where we can carve out a few hours to engage and meet with people.

We need to come up with solutions that work for us since what works for men does not necessarily work for women, so we need to be innovative and think out of the box. The major challenge here is the absence of a structured environment, hence we must create it. SIBI can be instrumental in providing that kind of structured environment for women to meet and network and get a chance to tell our stories like we were doing today. Also, we need consistency; such events should happen on a regular basis rather than once a year otherwise one may not be able to develop relations that go forward.

Besides this, we don’t have proper career guidance here – there are a lot of working women in their mid to late 20’s who are under constant pressure to get married or to have kids and if they get a job offer, they aren’t really sure whether or not they should take it. These women have no one to ask for advice. We need to have a support system to give them relevant advice so that they can make informed decisions. Such forums can also fill in that gap and provide women with a sense of direction when they are feeling a little lost.

How does one create a culture where research, digging for information and vying for knowledge are the order of the day? Basically, an agency that has its strength in strategic thinking and planning?

It’s a difficult question to answer. I mean take the Americans, for example. They have built a culture of innovation in their education system which we unfortunately don’t have. So when freshly graduated kids start working, they don’t know where to begin because they don’t have that knowledge and skill set. I do something really basic in situations like these – a situational analysis where I tell my team that until you know the brand’s past and what it has achieved, you can never predict what it is going to do in the future. Also, I think the lack of Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) causes these things to be overlooked which can be prevented if the right people are there to do the job. Most agencies have an ad hoc, knee-jerk reaction to situations. This is not how brands are made. Google, Nike Apple etc.; all these brands are what they are today because they have really thought about what they want to be. They believe in innovation and implementing strategies. These are some solutions that must be incorporated in universities and management trainee programs right from the beginning. If you don’t think about structures then you are not thinking creatively.

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