The accidental event manager whom destiny guided to his vocation
When Aamir Mazhar graduated with a Master’s degree in banking, finance and marketing, he had no idea about what to do with his life. His first job at Bank Alfalah as lockers’ in-charge, and then as consumer banker, gave him financial strength but at the cost of hypertension and depression. To have a change of landscape, he went over to Dubai as a contracting finance person in Mashriq Bank – where his boss told him he would be better off outside the world of finance.
Returning back home in 2007, he launched his own event management company – Savvy PR & Events and launched his friend Mehrbano Sethi’s Luscious Cosmetics – with a deadline of six months to make it work or revert back to entering the job market and surrendering to life as it was.
A decade down the line, operating in a high-stress field, his hypertension is under control and he sleeps in peace. With a workforce of five people in Pakistan and four in Dubai, among others, he runs events – signature weddings, brand launches and fashion shows – in highbrow international locations as the various US cities, London, Beirut, Bahrain and Singapore. Having arranged events with Abu Dhabi’s royal family in audience, and turned down government projects because he didn’t want to do them, everyday he wakes up happy with life.
Over a cup of coffee, Aamir shared his story, full of anecdotes, with Profit. Here are the excerpts:
“I never looked forward to my job at Bank Alfalah. I started gaining weight and then I was diagnosed with hypertension. In the mornings, I used to curse myself. For a while I thought this was how my life was going to be. But then I thought there has to be something more to it.”
When he was still studying he was offered a job at Evernew Concepts – an advertising agency, in 2000 for a ‘pretty-decent sum then’ of Rs15,000. But his DIG father advised against it. “Shareef bachay advertising mein kaam nahi kartay. Now I am glad, because it closed down a few years down the road. Life had other plans.”
Quite supportive when he decided to move to Dubai, his family was ‘unpleasantly surprised’ when he launched his agency. Well versed in abiding by the rules while finding a way to do what he wanted, for Aamir though, event management was not something new. “With a decent social circle, I used to arrange club nights with friends who used to get together, throw a themed party and sell tickets to people we knew. And that I did despite strict family restrictions: no nights out, actually back home by nine at night.”
Aamir frequented to London in summer holidays with his maternal uncle, where he went to clubs and parties. Bringing the experience back home, he made dough in the process. The experience came handy when he embarked on his business, despite no family support. “When I started Savvy, my total paid up capital was Rs6,000.”
In 2007, the concept was new but the market was opening up. Having launched Lotus, QYT was perhaps the only one by way of competition. First few clients were friends and acquaintances, and following the launch of Luscious Cosmetics, Aamir arranged a big-do wedding. “Saleena Warda was a famous brand in the early 2000s, and it was Warda’s wedding. Different colored themes, chocolates flown in from Dubai, exotic food chiffon curtains – it had it all.”
Changed market dynamic
Though market dynamics have changed over the last few years, with quite a few PR and event management companies around, Aamir’s marketing still relies on word of mouth – by satisfied clients. Never pitching himself to a potential client, Aamir also does not follow anyone who takes a quotation. Believing that clients choose event managers after looking at a number of options, he says: “I am secure enough to know that I am going to get what I am going to get. Some clients are very loyal, they wait for your dates, and they only work with you. Recently one client client called, asking me to keep Oct. 5 blocked. No discussion, no details – they know it and I know it too, they will only work with me.”
Working with close friends as clients on regular basis is something Aamir advises against. “Having worked for my friends here and there, when friends become like family, it is always advisable not to work with them. It messes up the relationship, as money matters and high expectations are involved. One has good and bad days. If it is a bad day, it hurts and spoils relationships.”
Despite their revenue potential, he is not enamoured with weddings. “You have to deal with 20 people – the parents, the bride, the friends, uncles, aunts. You can’t make them happy at the same time. A lot of effort goes into decorating a marquee and not much of it is visible to the eye. Weddings pay a lot but that also means 10 sleepless nights. Launches are a lot easier – a normal one, a week’s work, visit site, arrange flowers, petitions approved and you’re free soon and go home on time. There is no burden of looking into security details either.”
In Aamir’s opinion, in weddings, Zareen Khalid is on top of the totem pole while J&S (Jalal Salahuddin and Omar Satti) breathing down her neck.
Aamir’s work is not without its ups and downs, financially and in terms of his relations with the industry. He had a famous row with QYT in 2011, though now he brushes it off as a misunderstanding. “In Dubai I applied for my license and had to stay there for a while. One national television it was spread that I had fled to Dubai owing to pending cases. Having wizened up by a friend, she and I laughed it off. Then I thought that for people and clients who don’t know me, it was serious. So I asked the TV channel for an apology which wasn’t forthcoming. I went the press club to put point of view across.” Now QYT and host of that show are among Aamir’s friends.
No forgiveness for errant clients
Similar forgiveness he doesn’t have in his heart for the clients who wrong him. “Friendships entail emotional context while business needs logic and there is no room for putting behind a bad experience.” His way to deal with conflict is simple: ignore it. Refusing to acknowledge the presence of anyone with whom he has had a bad brush, Aamir makes resolves not to walk the same road again. To Aamir, this approach has helped in dealing with bad clients, there being no dearth of them.“Since nothing is in black and white, nothing written in proper contractual form, so non- or delayed payment is frequent. Some pay up but hold back Rs10,000 just for the heck of it, on silly excuses like two snap chats promised for the event, only one was posted.”
Though refusing to share earning details, despite such setbacks, Aamir still makes a nifty sum. “Average revenues are comfortable. Some months are good, while in some you make do.” The Muharram and the summer are the low points. No events, launches or fashion shows take place in the first ten days of Muharram or from June until August due to heat and humidity.
The unpredictable expenditures coming from nowhere are his biggest bugbear. “When you have paid the vendors, if something cancels or delays the event, like a terror attack, you suffer. Since we spend before we receive, it is not at the client’s expense. We don’t ask for the money back because it’s in bad taste.”
Most vendors are not educated enough to understand that and also for them, such as the flower or tentman, it is not a contract but daily wages. So we don’t ask them to pay back Rs500. So, either we make a new date or we let them have it.”
“Not keeping a watch has its costs too. Once I paid for six dozen fresh flowers and later found out that only one dozen real one’s were supplied while the rest were artificial.” Then there are also people asking for kharcha paani (illegal gratification) when he arranges events near a government site. At one event for Fashion Pakistan Lounge near LDA Plaza, the road was under construction. Though the part used by people was already constructed but when they saw that people are coming, they blocked it, asking for money to clear it.”
Sometimes his clients can also cause extra expenses. “PRA has put 16% tax on our revenues but sometimes clients refuse to pay that additional amount. Then there is a monthly return for that. So we pay the money and then suffer the hassle as well.”
“People are standing on your head to ask for their payment. Money comes into your hand and before it can go into your pocket it’s gone. But I actually enjoy doing this. There is always the excitement. If I get my share of good clients, there has to be some not-so-good clients as well.”
Outsourcing the key
Savvy PR outsources its décor completely. “When I started this, we did everything on our own but the storage costs were too much. A lot of it used to get spoiled or lost during monsoon and transit, so now we outsource everything. We have permanent vendors. Not just suppliers, I have everything permanent. I would even take the same road to work every day and if it is blocked, I feel uncomfortable taking a different route. I have the same hair-cutter, the same masseur, the same photographer, and if something changes, then it bothers me.”
Despite being prepared to work without proper paperwork, Savvy PR is not open to a short notice booking. “Anyone who comes to us is for the end-product – the general hype, media coverage or guest list. This cannot happen overnight. So you need to come to us with at least a fortnight’s notice.”
Aamir personally prefers working with corporates than governments. “It is a personal choice. It is very difficult to keep everyone happy with government jobs. I have had opportunities to work with the government but I stayed away. Corporates can also be sometimes tricky with payments but for me that experience has been better.”
One of his favorite clients is the Nishat group, and one of his fondest memories is the launch of MCB in Dubai. “Mrs Mansha is one of the most professional people. She is loving and caring. I would rather work for someone who respects you and make you feel empowered. So I like people like that. The launch of MCB that we did at Burj Khalifa is also one of my favorite projects. That was the first time I was meeting Mr Mansha. The royal family was also in attendance, and so were the dignitaries, ministers from Pakistan. So managing such an event in the ballroom of Burj Khalifa is something that still raises the goosebumps.”
On Savvy’s competitors
With regards to competition in the market, Aamir believes that Bilal Mukhtar and QYT are his closest competitors, along with Imtisal Zafar and Lotus at times. But he has cordial relations with all his competitors and doesn’t mind asking them for help or extending some himself when asked. “I meet with them every fortnight or so, share trade secrets, and ask each other to do something here and there.”
Regarding his market positioning, Aamir doesn’t have any particular category of customers. “I have done events for as few as 25 people. There is no minimum for me, but there has to be some scope for creativity, free hand to operate and mutual respect from the client.”
Aamir frequently comes into contact with celebrities from Pakistan and from across borders. But by now the famous who’s who are just like any other friend to him. Sharing one instance of a celebrity moment he said, “Dostana had just come out. I had seen it twice and was totally under the Desi Girl spell when I met Priyanka Chopra. I went up to her, wanted to talk to her but nothing came out.” Eventually he was able to overcome that and had a conversation with the Desi Girl.
At another time, after making a potential client wait for 30 minutes for a meeting about his mehndi and walima functions, Aamir asked him if anyone has ever told him that he looked a lot like Atif Aslam, to which he replied, “I am Atif Aslam.”
Aamir said that after many such silly mistakes now he has become more confident and more experienced. “I am 37-year old. I still make mistakes, but now I am confident enough to face the consequences.”