By Sanjida Tanny

Earlier in March, Asia Marketing Federation (AMF) awarded the first ever Asia Youth, Women, Netizen Marketing Excellence Awards 2018 to recognize the outstanding marketeers of Asia.

What makes it so special for Bangladesh? The winner of Asia’s Top Outstanding Women Marketeer of the Year.

Ms. Geeteara Safiya Choudhury, Chairman, Adcomm Limited, Bangladesh.

Born in Dhaka, Geeteara Safiya Choudhury, was brought up under strict discipline and with the constant reminder that there is no difference between her and any boy.

When approached by the team of Bangladesh Brand Forum regarding her feelings for being recognized as one of the top outstanding women marketeers of Asia, she replied this award has come with a lot of responsibilities if not anything else. She also mentioned that regardless of all the responsibilities it brings to her, it was a moment of surprise and utter joy.

Ms. Choudhury entered the world of advertising in 1972 and spent two years working in one of the leading advertising agencies of that time, Interspan, in Dhaka. In the year 1974, she took a bold step and established her own advertising agency Adcomm. Whilst her student life, she spent her time in writing for different newspapers printed from Calcutta, Karachi, and Dhaka. She spent four years working in The Pakistan Observer (now The Bangladesh Observer) and two years working in “She Magazine” in Karachi.

As one of the pioneers of Bangladeshi modern advertising revolution, we asked her how things are different now in terms of quality and effectiveness of the advertisement. To this, Ms. Choudhury’s reply was that when she started out, there was no industry. The source of income used to be from the printing and preparing marketing materials for the pharmaceuticals, such as flyers or pamphlets. And occasional ads for special days such as 21st February, 26th March, 16th December, or Eid. She mentioned,  “There weren’t product advertisements nor ads related to Brand Building. We had no access to channels either. Now, we have local channels and access to international channels, so it’s competitive. We can no longer be confined to Bangladesh. As my consumers are constantly switching channels, I must know how to grab their attention without bombarding them with ads.” She believes as the consumer is more educated and independent, getting into the personal conversation is the way to know if the advertisement is succeeding or not, which is also one of the methods she follows to learn how her brands are performing in the market.

Coming all the way to 2018, we still have doubts as to where does Bangladesh stand in the global marketing scenario. Upon coming to this part of the interview the opinion we received from her was, “We have a long way to go. But we have also come a long way.

There are spaces our brands have excelled in, and now our manufacturers must ensure that consistency too. Fortunately, a lot of our brands are good but, we are yet to convince our consumers. Our people still seek the foreign products and trust them better. Although, when I travel abroad, it surprises me when I notice people getting excited about Bangladeshi products but in our country, we don’t value it.”

Geeteara Safiya Choudhury is renowned to be a role model for women marketeers of the country. During the interview she also shared that challenges in this generation, to begin the career goes genderless; this was different and far more challenging for a woman when she began her career. However, while getting into the details of her challenges, few very thought-provoking opinions she shared included that not all men in our society, according to her experiences, are chauvinists.

“I started off working at a Press, which sometimes required me to stay late after office. The challenge was not because I was a woman but because I was a young woman with a baby. So, the people (men) around me were worried about my safety, about my baby, who will look after him, if my in-laws were okay with me working late. Not all the males around us are sexists, they are rather protective.”

The scenario today has changed for a lot of us, in many ways. It requires women to be able to multitask, be able to juggle between home and work, between family and office. The icon of women marketeers had some advice for the young women in the regard to starting with their career. “Be confident”, she said “be willing to learn, keep your eyes and ears open, read books, update yourself every day about the changing trends. Learn about your consumers. As a beginner, show and prove how serious you are. Question and challenge anyone who doubts that.” On this topic, she shared an experience when she first began working as a copywriter and took a stand to speak out her perspective. “My client was a foreigner. We were working on a content for 21st February. He did not seem to like any of the works we presented and kept insisting to change. At one point, whilst a beginner, I gathered the courage to speak up and mentioned that one would never be able to express the sentiments of 21st February in a language other than Bangla. To my surprise, my client agreed; this is how you have to stand up and stand out about your passion, be passionate and show it.”

As Ms. Choudhury mentioned over and over again, that we can no more ignore the good news that women are now educated, whether in city or villages about what is happening around them. We asked her opinion if women in Bangladesh are portrayed rightly in advertising campaigns. To this, her reply came as such, “Many years ago, I had to shoot for a brand of milk and for that my client asked me to manage a young/infant male model. What I did was, I rather went to him with an infant female model and I was refused on spot. This made me furious and I almost went for an argument when he took a research paper and showed it to me. I was shocked! The research paper claimed that 98.99% of mothers (in ads) give the first glass of milk to the sons, and hence, later, my ad had both a son and daughter where the second glass of milk was given to the daughter. Proudly, we have come a long way from that. It’s not enough, but it’s a good distance that we traveled.”

Ms. Choudhury, with her experiences, has shown the world from time to time where passion can take a person. Being a woman has never been an excuse to stay back even to accompany her team for projects away from the city, around the remote villages where she also conveyed personal surveys on how well acknowledged women are on social issues and health issues. To her surprise and excitement, even in areas as such, people were aware of issues such as the legal age of marriage, contraception, family planning, first aid necessities and many more.

Talking about the progress women have made in today’s time Ms. Choudhury mentioned the changes she noticed in the three generations of her family. While her mother belonged to days where women would not travel without their husbands, she simplified herself to be of a generation when she did not wait for husband to travel with her, but still needed a chauffeur. Comparing that, her daughter is of a time where she drives her own car.

As a marketeer, as a woman leader, Ms. Geeteara Safiya Choudhury has established herself to be the role model every Bangladeshi, regardless of gender, looks up to. She has been recognized for her professional achievements both nationally and internationally. In 1995 she got the “Anannya Award” from a leading women’s magazine in Bangladesh, in recognition of her achievements and contributions in business as a woman entrepreneur. In 1999, The Federation of Indian Women Entrepreneurs gave her the “Priyadarshini Award” and in 2000, the Fortune Magazine, IBM and Christian Dior, USA recognized her achievements and awarded her as one of “The Leading Women Entrepreneurs of the World.” The Daily Star and DHL honored her as “The Outstanding Woman in Business in the year 2002.”

For her contribution in taking the advertising profession forward, not only in Bangladesh but worldwide, she was honored as a “Leading Advertising Practitioner” by the apex body of Asian advertising the Asian Federation of Advertising Agencies Association in 2007. The Dhaka Ad Club also honored her with Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005.

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