It is heartening to witness that Malaysia is finally shaking off the shackles of a “nanny state” mentality and moving towards a more competitive and robust economy.
This should augur well for the future of the creative industry too. Hopefully, no advertising agency can continue to enjoy a prolonged monopoly over big budget government advertising campaigns under political patronage.
An excellent example of this is the recent announcement by the Transport Minister, Anthony Loke, that PUSPAKOM will no longer hold a monopoly over the periodic vehicle inspection services provided on behalf of the Road Transport Department (RTD), starting from September 1, 2024.
In 1993, I was summoned by my client, the late Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad of DRB HICOM Group in helping prepare a video pitch to the then Prime Minister, Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, for the privatisation of RTD’s commercial vehicle inspection service.
In those days, the majority of clients roped in their advertising agencies to take on additional tasks as they did not have full-fledged in-house communication departments.
As the incumbent advertising agency for the DRB-HICOM Group, Bloomingdale, was tasked with summarising the voluminous proposal documents into a compelling video production of 20 minutes on why it would benefit the Government in the privatisation of its vehicle inspection services.
A night before the presentation to the PM, I got a call from Tan Sri Yahaya Ahmad that the tone of the video the agency had completed was a harsh no-go. The voice-over was overly hard selling. Instead of an one-to-one engagement with the PM, it was an overwhelming hard talk to a committee.
That was at 11.00pm and our meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) the next day was at 2.30pm. It was incumbent on advertising agencies to perform miracles and meet crazy deadlines on the dot. No mercy and no questions.
Those were pre-digital days. It was an era of analog technology making the production process painstakingly time-consuming.
I frantically called the production house and pleaded with them to organise a fresh round of voice-over recording and editing as early as 6.00 am in the hope of meeting the 2.30pm deadline and saving my job.
To make matters worse it was a Public Holiday in Selangor and as expected there were massive traffic jams. The production house was situated in Petaling Jaya.
My impatient client kept badgering me every hour for updates. My answers were that editing was in progress. I had no intention of letting my client interfere this time as we were working against an extremely tight deadline that only a miracle could deliver. The traffic congestion and rain worked in my favour as it prevented my client from forcibly coming over to the production house. He was an Elon Musk of that time.
The revised video presentation was finally completed at 1.45pm. I had to reach the PMO which was then situated behind the Bank Negara Complex in Kuala Lumpur at the very latest by 2.15 pm and ensure that the video cassette was safely inserted into the VHS player and ready to roll at the click of a button after a short verbal preamble to the Prime Minister at 2.30pm.
Thanks to my turban, I was spared the agony of hurriedly looking for a helmet and managed to hitch a super-fast pillion ride on a motor cycle beating the traffic congestion and reaching in the nick of time at 2.10pm.
The presentation was well received by the Prime Minister and DRB-HICOM was invited for several rounds of follow-up discussions with the Economic Planning Unit (EPU) and the Ministry of Finance, before being awarded the privatisation of vehicle inspection project in 1994.
As an agency personnel, I learnt several valuable marketing lessons from this experience.
Never accept a no and at all times to be prepared to take on the role of a multi-tasker. It comes in very handy when least expected and can provide an agency a lifeline during unprecedented times.
It is imperative to stay focused and remain undistracted by taking calculated risks and thirdly, I learnt never to move into a panic-stricken mode no matter what the odds. The human spirit has an uncanny ability to thrive and deliver under immense pressure.
Meeting unrealistic deadlines is never easy, but it is an inherent skill for any advertising agency professional to succeed.
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