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AN EXCLUSIVE ...

AN EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH SARMAD ALI, PRESIDENT – APNS & MD – JANG MEDIA GROUP

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BM: You are the MD of Jang Media Group, the president of APNS and IAA, further you are also acting as a member in the board of directors of various media and advertising societies. Tell us about your journey so far?

SA: I think it has been a long journey. I have been a part of the media industry for more than 25 years now. I started my career in 1982 with Prestige Communications (Pvt) Ltd. From there I moved on to IAL Saatchi & Saatchi and worked there for 7 years. Finally, I joined Jang Media Group in December 1993 and have been working here ever since then.

God has been kind and I can’t thank God enough for bestowing his blessings upon me. I have also had great mentors throughout my professional life who helped mould my career and made me the professional I am today. My father has been a great influence and inspiration. He instilled in me the values of honesty, hard work and integrity.

Apart from him, there have been a number of people who influenced my career. Some of them are Javed Jabbar, Late Iqbal Mir, with whom I had the privilege of working for over 4 years, Naseer Haider of IAL, who for the first time gave me an opportunity to work independently and make my mark in the advertising industry. I owe a lot to them. I would also like to acknowledge Late S. H. Hashmi who significantly guided me in the early years of my career with Jang.

Above all, Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman has played the most important role in shaping my professional career as well as professional values. He has taught me to stand for truth and integrity. He has guided me in all these 25 years or so of my career with Jang Media Group.

BM: How is Mr. Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman as a leader and mentor to you?

SA: Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman is a great leader and a true visionary. He empowers his people and gives authority to them, which in turn benefits the organization. He unreservedly supported me to become Secretary General and President of All Pakistan Newspaper Society (APNS). There is hardly anyone who would allow others to take their place but Mir Shakil-ur-Rehman is an exception.

When I joined Jang Media Group, I thought that I would probably work for 5-6 years but here I am today, still at Jang Group after spending 23 years. This is all because of Mir Shakil-ur- Rehman’s support, his confidence in me and his appreciation that I have been able to contribute my share in the development of media in Pakistan.

BM: Handling multiple tasks at once, how do you tackle these huge responsibilities?

SA: Over the years I have learnt the art of multi-tasking. Currently, there are two roles I have to manage. One is my full time job as the Managing Director of Jang Media Group and the other is an honourary role as the President of APNS.

At Jang Media Group, I lead the group’s revenue function and I am pleased to say that it has been very fulfilling and successful role for me. The APNS role is an industry driven responsibility where I have to work for the larger interest of the print industry.  Besides, I am also the President of the IAA Pakistan Chapter and am Treasurer of Management Association of Pakistan. I am also actively involved in pursuing my responsibilities as the Chairman of the Organizing Committee of AdAsia 2019. As you know Pakistan had won the bid last year at Taipei to host AdAsia 2019 in Lahore. We worked really hard to bring back AdAsia to Pakistan after 30 years and showcase Pakistan’s positive brand image.

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BM: You and your team are rapidly working on innovations. How do you see the era of digital revolution in Pakistan?

SA: Jang Media Group has always believed in innovation in the media industry. We believe that innovation is the key to success and only by continuous innovation we will be able to keep print alive. For those who believe print industry is dormant, we have been proving them wrong continuously by incorporating new ideas into our newspapers.

For instance, our classified business is the largest in Pakistan. However, the basic problem with Classified is that it is static, text based and there is a certain price tag that comes along with advertisements. Because of this the Classified business went through a shift to digital with the advent of classified web portals. Even though these emerging platforms have not had an impact on Jang’s Classified business, there was a likelihood that it might affect us in the future, providing the same information for free along with a visual appeal. So we have introduced QR codes in our print Classifieds. Now you can make videos of the house or car you are selling and we will convert them into QR codes for our print Classifieds. The clients scan the QR code and go to the videos. This has not only stabilized our revenue but has helped our business grow substantially.

We are proud that other newspapers are adopting the same idea now observing its success in Jang. It will thus provide a deterrent against the onslaught of classified websites. I believe that they do not have much to offer to the customers except free uploads.

Another innovation that we have introduced in print is our augmented reality app – Jang Real. With Jang Real, Jang newspaper demonstrates its willingness to not only keep up with the times, but also pave the way for future growth. It is available on both the App Store and Google Play Store that allow readers to scan headlines on the newspaper with their smartphones and instantly be taken to the Geo News’ bulletin of the same news story. Furthermore, it includes picture gallery, latest columns and updated information about the same news. It essentially brings the newspaper ‘to life’, thereby creating a revolutionary and seamless amalgamation of print and broadcast journalism.

On the digital front, we have reached a DFP premium partnership agreement with Google Inc. and an exclusive partnership with Twitter to work on opportunities to deliver the best content to local and global Pakistani audiences. We have also become the first media organization in Pakistan to initiate “Facebook at work”. FAW is a special program by Facebook that is designed for workplaces as it keeps all the employees of an organization looped in a Facebook page and people can have discussions, delegate tasks, share execution statuses and celebrate results with teams no matter how far they are.

Furthermore, we have taken print beyond newspapers by extending the brand to exhibitions, conferences and events. In a year, we have six education expos in different cities of Pakistan, from Karachi to Peshawar. Along with this, we also have home expos on a national level at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to international level in UAE and London. To further extend the brand, we have started a series of conferences under the banner of Jang Conferences and a series of informal discussions titled, Breakfast with Jang. Both events address the socio-economic issues of the country and provide viable solutions to these issues.

These are small initiatives that we have taken but we have embarked on a journey of reinvention and would constantly work on cross-media platforms.

BM: Jang Media Group has been criticized from a fraction of society. What do you have to say about such criticism?

SA: Whenever someone starts working for the betterment of Pakistan and its people, he is always criticized. It is easier for people to blame and create obstacles rather than appreciate efforts for the development and progress of the society. But our vision is strong. No matter how much people target us, we will always stand firm in our efforts to make Pakistan a better and more positive society.

BM: What major differences have you noticed since you first stepped into the industry and now?

SA: First of all, more educated people are entering into the industry now. They have a better understanding of the media as they are trained in the field. When I joined the industry, it was not a career of first choice but now more people are pursuing it as their first choice.

Secondly, more youngsters are attracted towards the profession understanding how much hard work and dedication it requires. With fresh blood coming in the industry now, it will only prosper and get better with time.

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BM: Don’t you think that APNS should have a separate place for magazines?

SA: Different people have different opinions about this. When APNS started its operations, it was a joint electorate for both newspapers and magazines. With time, the magazine owners thought they wanted separate seats for themselves. However, the debate is still going on as to make these two separate or not.

Similarly, there are people who argue that the regional and national newspapers should have their own separate system of elections and votes. Hence, there will always be different arguments on these topics. But if we look at the bigger picture, everyone should work in cohesion focusing on the progress of the print industry as a whole.

“NO MATTER HOW MUCH PEOPLE CRITICIZE US, WE WILL ALWAYS STAND FIRM IN OUR COMMITMENT TO MAKE PAKISTAN A BETTER AND MORE POSITIVE COUNTRY.”

 

BM: When you became the president of APNS, you must have some targets you wanted to achieve. Do you think that there is anything left that needs to be done?

SA: APNS has gone through a lot of positive changes but there is always need for improvement. Besides, we face a lot of problems. The most pressing is the nonpayment of dues mostly by the government and it’s agencies. We constantly have to be on our feet to keep the industry running without any hitches.

The other aspect I am enthusiastically working on is the growth and penetration of regional and smaller newspapers. In order to stay alive, most of the newspapers have solely become dependent on government advertisements. I therefore advise these publications to move out of their comfort zones and work with the private sector as well. You can’t progress and move forward by just focusing on one sector and neglecting the rest.  My focus is to do something for these regional and smaller newspapers to keep them alive and running, because if they will not survive then how can we?

“PRINT MEDIA WILL NEVER LOSE ITS DOMINATION WITH THE POWER OF REINVENTION AND ITS QUALITY CONTENT”

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