Working with leading media communication organizations like Mindshare, MediaCom and McCann Erickson, Amna Khatib is now leading the entire digital department as the Head of Digital at GroupM Pakistan. She has been a part of the media industry since the beginning of her professional career, which has tenured for over ten years; acquiring rich media communications experience while working with a wide array of international and local clients.Recently, after winning “Pakistan Digital Agency of the Year 2016″for the first time, there is no doubt left that nothing can stop digital from growing, especially at GroupM Pakistan.
An expert in Strategic Communication Planning &Buying, a Digital Mind, Optimist, Elegant, Career-oriented and True to her word – Amna Khatib Paracha, Head of Digital – GroupM Connect.
BM: From an Account Executive to the Head of Digital, GroupM Pakistan. Share your professional journey.
AK: While doing my Masters from CBM, I was appointed at Interflow Communications as an intern after which I was offered a job there; since then I have been working and my journey has been really exciting so far. I have got the opportunity to work at the best places with the best clients and teams, so the exposure I’ve got alongside the places and people I have worked with has helped me grow in a very positive and distinctive manner. This entire journey has given me great knowledge and confidence which is why I have enjoyed my professional career till now.
BM: How do you feel working at a reputable agency like GroupM?
AK:This is my second tenure with GroupM Pakistan, I was previously working in Mindshare and my journey there was as great as I feel today. Media has always fascinated me; how it works, how you decide which channel to work with, where to place your ads and so on, hence it is a whole other science. Being affiliated with GroupM since then, this place has now become a second home to me. In fact, when I returned back, GroupM had become even bigger and better with reference to what we were then and what we are doing now. The exposure and benefit of working at GroupM and our association with the region regarding trainings and knowledge related to market and advertising, that’s something other agencies might not have. So, working with a local agency, you don’t get the exposure of working with the region; you don’t know how other countries are working or how other people are dealing the same clients as you are but in a more proper and professional manner. This is what pulled me back to GroupM for the second time, having vast opportunities along with huge responsibilities.
Working at a reputable agency, you have to be very careful with every product and output with regards to its name and reputation in the market. This, for us, is one of the biggest challenges to upkeep the name of GroupM.
BM: How do you findMr. Fouad Husain as a leader and mentor? Tell us about your delegated digital team in GroupM Connect?
AK: When we introduced digital media amongst our clients in 2014, it was an absolute challenge as digital was a complete diverse forum; compared to what we were doing initially. GroupM and Mindshare were known to be the media leaders, whereas digital was not a part of that medium. So, keeping in mind that GroupM is the state’s leading advertising agency, we introduced a completely new mindset of digital media which was undoubtedly a great challenge.The reason behind attaining digital success is the leadership of Mr.Fouad Husain, who empowered and supported us to turn this dream into a reality. He lets us explore new opportunities along with the freedom to work the way we want. Nevertheless, the best thing about Fouad is that he lets you choose your pace allowing you to generate the best of results.
My team is my power! Whatever I am today and the apex that GroupM Connect is reaching is because of my team of professionals and their endless motivation; this is the reason I believe in the power of WE. We work in a very friendly environment but never fall short of achieving our targets.
Steadfast leadership and untiring team work lead us to become “Pakistan Digital Agency of the Year 2016”
BM: How has GroupM Pakistan revolutionized the digital world in Pakistan?
AK: When we initiated digital, our clients were not aware of the medium and digital was only limited to Facebook. Initially Facebook would be sporadic, it was not a really planned campaign or medium; but we brought about a change amongst the clients that we were working with. Digital is one of the mediums that is planned in the beginning of the year with budget allocations, decisions of campaigns, and development of creative; hence not being an afterthought but instead a planned medium. So, this was in itself a big step towards a change that people started to take digital not as the last medium, but as one of the most important mediums for advertisements.
We then hired specialists as we did not have a digital team; after growing my team with the planners who were already dealing with company clients I started digital training sessions as a part of my KPI. This way, clients don’t take us as a leftover but an important medium and a very integral part of the communication.
We expect 2017 to be the biggest year for GroupM Connect & digital revolution in Pakistan.
BM: What were the criteria behind the digital trainings and was it a preplanned decision?
AK: When we started digital, we knew we were going to face many challenges; so it wasn’t just about training our hired and delegated teams but we also had to make a lot of effort in convincing clients who were resistant in accepting the digital penetration and medium of advertising. Therefore, our trainings were not only for the team but for the clients as well with agency and specialist trainings for our digital teams. By doing so, we conducted numerous sessions including that with Google and Facebook where our clients were trained into knowing the possibilities that one could gather from the digital world. Apart from that, our planning teams were also trained so that they would know and understand the digital language when talking to any advertiser or buyer.
Working at GroupM, our specialists have to meet the regional level for which they had been sent abroad for special training sessions to meet the international standards of digital marketing. So, until and unless everyone is on board with the concept, change can’t come. Therefore, it was important for me to train not only my team, but every concerned person for an appropriate understanding and acceptance of the new platform and changing market.
BM: Do you think that your past experience in digital market was the reason you were chosen to lead this medium?
AK: I hope I was selected as being the right person for this position (she remarked laughingly). I believe that the benefit I had on attaining this position was because of my past experience in traditional media.When we started digital, we explained our plans in the traditional language; the traditional lingo, as that is what the clients understood initially. Handling the same clients I had at the time I was in traditional marketing, I explained them the digital medium in a traditional manner after which they gradually understood and followed digital as of the main advertising mediums. Secondly,as I was also working on digital clients, this could primarily sum up the reason I was chosen to head the digital department at GroupM.
BM: What new ventures are there to be seen from GroupM Connect?
AK: We, most definitely, have much exciting plans for next year. I believe this year was mostly set upon getting alignments, annual plans and working with all the national and international publishers. So, next year we are moving to the next phase. For each client we are planning of where and how they need to be with special regards to digital. Generally, we are bringing new platforms and international partners who may have never set foot in Pakistan with respect to digital advertising. For some clients we are focusing thoroughly on content, which is made especially for digital while understanding the clients’ budget, objective and target audience. Some clients focus on data rather than content, so getting them on board for programmatic buying is something we have initiated as well, thus conclusively operating in a multidimensional prospect depending on the need of the client.
BM: How does GroupM Connect standout among other digital agencies?
AK:When talking about other digital agencies that were here since day one, there is no doubt that they had set the market and did a great job by doing so. I would claim that the edge we have of being communication partners with clients is not only in regards with electronic, radio or print mediums but also digital. So, our integrated planning has really helped us, along with the benefits that we have availed while working with all the publishers either on national and international scales.Further, our approach has highlighted the way we work, as we tend to extend deals on a long term basis. Apart from these; the regional support, learning and trainings have really helped us in making a mark in the digital world of Pakistan, not having to start from scratch but develop the necessary understanding and jump start with the right decisions and mindset.
BM: Being a woman with such a vast and strong career growth, what were the challenges that you faced; keeping in mind the increasing trend of women empowerment in Pakistan?
AK: You have to be very intelligent on the decision on where to work; a reputable company will have reputable people either as your colleagues or clients. Secondly, it matters how you carry yourself alongside maintaining a certain distance and attaining an appropriate manner of speech while talking to people. So, when you have a certain boundary and understanding then people around you respect that, but the most important decision is to decide where to work at. Hence, I have been very lucky that I was appointed at GroupM and fortunately have never been in any major problem, while defining the term Women Empowerment.
P.S The print version of the interview will be soon available in the market.