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Fatima Ansari: Counting the Years vs. Making the Years Count?

15 December 2020



Fatima is a Sr. Creative/Copywriter at BBDO Pakistan working on an expansive portfolio of brands including PepsiCo Snacks. Her campaigns with UN Women and Babar Ali Foundation have won over 60 international advertising awards! Also ranked as one of the 100 Superwomen by the Pitch Fanzine, featured as One Under 30 young creatives in Branding in Asia, and nominated as the Badass Gal by the Young Creative Council, she has served on the jury panel of PHNX by AD Forum, Muse Creative Awards, Mobius Awards, and AD STARS for YoungStars competition.
Named D&AD Next Creative and 1 of 10 Next Creative Leaders by The One Club of Creativity and 3% Conference, Fatima Ansari is a rising superstar working towards reshaping the creative world for the better and is also the youngest, most awarded creative in Pakistan.

This is coming from an exhausted yet hopeful lens of a 26-year-old creative from the ad world of Pakistan –who's trying to climb the staircase and finds herself against a new kind of ceiling.
Against the popular notion of ageism in the ad industry of the West, Pakistan’s adland suffers from what is known as reverse ageism: a sidelined form of discrimination that often happens very casually based on how young a person is. The question then arises why is it important to talk about it? And what can a person with only four years of advertising experience bring to the table? (If this is the question that popped up in your head, you should definitely keep reading and if this is the question you hear too often, then I am talking for you.)
To put things in perspective, as per a Human Development Study undertaken by UNDP, 64% of Pakistanis are under 30 and 29% are between the age group of 15-29. By 2050, this ratio is expected to increase which means a more youth-oriented population for Pakistan. All of this boils down to highlighting one very important thing for our creative industry that is currently top-heavy and that is to show acceptance towards the young talent before it’s the only option left to consider.
Building a newer staircase from scratch has been a tiring process but it doesn’t have to be for everyone, and it definitely shouldn’t be singular. There is space and room for many staircases and here’s how we need to change the approach, practices and stances for it to be easier and common.
Let the work speak
This is one of the most eye-opening advice that I have gotten so far in my career. I have been in boardroom meetings and presentations where I have presented my work/perspective and also where my work was presented by someone higher in hierarchy (and by that extension, age) – the former has gotten me more feedback rounds and even instructions to speak less to avoid offending anyone and the latter has gotten me well – less work because more often than not, it has gotten quicker approvals. This is not to discount the fact that they may be better presenters but to highlight the bias against a young person presenting to a room full of people from the older generation. So, when I say let the work speak, it is to equip you with a simple confidence hack: when someone else is presenting your work gives you the opportunity to observe how well-received your work is, irrespective of your age which may be a deterrent for some people, take it as a confidence boost. Once you have that with you, you’ll have more trust in your work and speaking louder and unapologetically against any age-bias, conscious or unconscious would become easier – carving out a fairer path even if it’s at a very slow pace.
Measure the work
It’s often the case that I am asked about the number of years I have worked in this industry to get a picture of what kind of work I am capable of producing. Having gone through multiple hiring sessions and discussions, I have realized that this stands true for the overall industry’s mindset where the yardstick to measure capability is clearly labeled based on years. This conveniently shifts the aim of the coming generation of creatives from producing work worthy of recognition to working until you’re old enough to get recognition. Your lack of seniority is not an indication of lack of capability and what has helped me bypass this obvious hurdle is how I normally pitch myself – to people thinking ‘not old enough’, I change their lens to ‘wow, so young’ because if age has to do anything with my capability, it is that I am agile, informed and ready to learn which makes my work rooted in and created for today’s time.
Build a two-way street
Conventionally speaking, if an industry is top heavy, its learning process is bound to be top-down as well which might work for some but when it comes to creative fields, it’s a blockade. Simply put, if the learning stream is flowing downwards only, you’ll experience a flood of tried and tested ideas for a restricted period of time until it’s the season of drought till eternity. The veterans of the Ad land are definitely more experienced, have a better grip on how things are run and can provide more solutions than a relatively newer candidate, but will they be able to provide relevant ones if newer questions are not being raised? When you are talking to a population who are the guru of everything new, hip and tech, you cannot keep them engaged for long with the safe old and same old. In my experience, we have been able to produce groundbreaking and effective work that did well on several mediums because there was contribution from both ends – braver and newer ideas that were trained under experience and skill. When it’s a two-way street, there’ll always be more traffic (check the digital reports) and effective work.
Let exposure be experience
Normally when someone questions me about my experience, my immediate reply is in number of years and that isn’t the concerning part – the assumptions that flow out of it is where most younger creatives struggle. A common vicious cycle of ‘not old enough’ feeding into ‘can’t give this responsibility’ to ‘don’t have enough exposure’ and ending at ‘not experienced enough’ is in place for the Pakistan’s creative industry that has created a huge gap between the too experienced and the inexperienced. A year filled with numerous projects and achievements is far more valuable than ten years filled with limited projects and hardly any achievements to show for it. If you fill your years with exposure to things that benefit and add to your creative powers, it’ll help you narrow the gap between the experience spectrum of the industry and perceptions both.
For a mindset to be questioned, there needs to be conversation around it and discrimination on the basis of age in Pakistani adland has far too many times been sidelined. It puts unfair pressure on the future torchbearers to extract enough knowledge and learning out of the current setup for them to be able to lead others in the future. So, while it may take a decade for everyone to stop counting the years, gears need to be shifted and efforts need to be in place to replace experience in age with exposure, talent and capability. As Vladimir Lenin puts it aptly: “There are decades when nothing happens and there are weeks where decades happen.” – Here’s to replacing decades with weeks full of worth.