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Creativity Squared: Hira Mohibullah’s Clear Method to Madness

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VMLY&R’s newly appointed ECD in Kansas City on moving to the States from BBDO Pakistan, the joys of “checklists within checklists” and why potentially the best way to get to know her is via her phone’s Notes app

Creativity Squared: Hira Mohibullah’s Clear Method to Madness

Hira Mohibullah joined VMLY&R in Kansas City from BBDO Pakistan in May as executive creative director. Hira spent six years climbing the creative ranks at BBDO Pakistan, most recently serving as executive creative director and working on notable client accounts such as Unilever, 7UP, Frito-Lay, and UNWomen Pakistan. 

In her time at BBDO, Hira's leadership was instrumental in elevating the agency’s reputation into worldwide circles. She has won over 215 international awards, including Cannes Lions, D&AD, Clio, and more, receiving international acclaim for campaigns that have driven social progress such as changing legislation around child marriages, reducing child-burn incidents by 50% and supporting the reunion of missing children with their families. 

Now that's she's had some time to bed into life at VMLY&R, we picked her brains on all things creativity and her approach to it.


 

Person


I see myself as a left-brained creative. This means I like having a clear method to my madness. I thrive in structure and clarity of thought, so that’s the foundation I build for myself. I’m big on checklists within checklists (remind me to never show you my reminders list) and also identifying patterns of monotony and making it my life’s mission to disrupt them.



 
Having grown up as a shy child, I felt the world wasn’t patient enough for people like me. But it warms my heart to see the tides turning and the world making space for the quiet ones, where loudness isn’t a measure of success anymore and where what you’re saying matters more than how long you’re talking. (Let’s hear it for people who make sure the meeting that could’ve been an email remains an email.)
 
I think being creative is being perpetually curious. The curiosity you’re born with, but where it takes you is your creative journey. 

Social settings drain me (I’m not fond of my birthday or any kind of attention zeroed in on me), but I love one-on-one conversations. I’m curious by nature, so I love the opportunity to get to know someone and how their mind ticks. So perhaps an introvert, just almost tripping over into the ambivert zone.

I’m a Gemini, and although I don’t necessarily believe in astrology, one thing that’s true about me is that I get bored very easily. No two days in advertising are the same, and that’s what sealed the deal for me. I’m always up for a new path to go down, creatively. (Otherwise, I stick to my Google Maps, thank you.)  
 


Product


There’s this term I’ve coined — functional jealousy. When I go into that mode as a reaction to an idea — where I think, “That’s so simple, why didn’t I think of it?” — is when I know an idea is truly creative!

But if I were to break it down, a great idea lies at the exact helm of what a brand wants to say, what the consumer needs to hear and a cultural truth. The more balanced all these toggles are, the better the idea!
  
The criteria hasn’t really shifted. It’s been the same three toggles I’ve used as a gauge; however, what I used to write off as a hunch or ‘gut feel’, I can now identify as tangible units of measure for creativity!

When your work finds its way into the social fabric of your country (or the world), you know you’ve got a winner. To make a statement against child marriages in Pakistan, we put a little girl in a school uniform that was embroidered with wedding motifs on the ramp at the country’s leading bridal couture show, hijacking all the media present at the event.
 
A few years down the line, she’s become a symbol of resistance. We’ve seen her appear on placards protesting child marriages and news clippings announcing legislation changes around the same. (View the work here.






The metaverse excites me. It’s really opened up a whole new world (I’d say pun intended, but of course you got that). Everyone’s scrambling to stake a claim in the new medium, and I’m holding my breath to see some really innovative brand integrations come through!   
 
 

Process


Always start off [a project] with a solid strategic foundation, even if that means poking holes in the brief. Once we’re off with setting a solid ground there, building up the creative is just one fun brainstorm away.

Then there’s shock value. In the business of advertising, the biggest chunk of a creative’s work lies in rising above the white noise. Contrary to the age-old adage, you’re better UNSAFE than sorry. That’s always a check I like to put on my work.
 
A good old notebook and a pen — I’m never seen without them. Also, notes on my phone. (If anyone ever got into my Notes app, they’d know me without ever having to meet me.)  



 
There are so many moving parts to a brief that a preconceived idea is hardly ever a snug fit. But yes, I always keep an eye out for a good insight that I can keep in my kit.  
 
[I prefer to work] collaboratively always; there’s something palpable about the energy you feel in a room full of creatives.
 
Would you believe me if I told you all the brainstorms I’ve sat in on in the past six years haven’t stretched longer than an hour? The kind of process my team and I have had helps solve any confusion at the start, laying the rock-solid ground and clear guardrails for what we’re looking for. So the entire team is focused on the North Star. It’s a very efficient process where all the hard work is done before, rather than after.
 
I wish I could take the easy way out and call it a gut feeling, but I’ve spent years trying to decode it. You know you have something great when the idea has the perfect balance for what the brand wants to say, what the consumer wants to hear and the right flavour of the vernacular, grounded in culture. But you know you have something brilliant if that’s coupled with an intense fear of the world thinking you’re mad to even be suggesting it.
 


Press


I grew up in the Middle East, as a third-culture kid (just don’t ask me where home is). I was sitting in my first-grade class when my teacher announced we had a problem. After every period, children would start to line up at the edge of her desk to get their work checked, crowding up the space. Cut off from view, the rest of the kids would settle back into chaotic chatter. The teacher was tired of repeating that everyone needed to wait their turn.
 
She turned to us and struggled to make us understand. After a few responses, some of which I remember very clearly as, “Give them a big slap,” quickly corrected to, “Give them a light slap.” (I don’t know how any of this was OK back then, but it was the ’90s, so bear with me.) I thought, what if there were a constant visual reminder right at the edge of the desk, within plain sight?
 
“Why don’t we put up a sign that says ‘Wait for your turn’ on the desk?”

My teacher was my first ‘consumer’, and that was my first dabble into advertising.
 



The key to good advertising work is knowing your consumer. The better you know them, the better your work will be. Since I was naturally predisposed to listening, I kept at it, always striving for an authentic voice, one that echoed the opinions, fears, aspirations, and dreams of the consumer and those around them. The more I listened, the better the voice got, and the better the work spoke to the people.
 
My anxiety helps me plan, structure, execute and deliver without hiccups, but it also takes a toll on my mental health. It’s a double-edged sword that I’ve (almost) learned to balance.
 
I can’t stress this enough: hiring right [is how agencies can best facilitate creativity]. When everyone’s working with the same vision, with the same energy and toward the same goal, you maximise creative efficiency with an unmatched output!

Also, letting creativity flow bottom-up: the youngest lot are the ones closest to the pulse of the world. You may help steer them onto the right path in terms of brand vision, but soak in their energy and their ideas.


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VMLY&R North America, Fri, 01 Jul 2022 15:37:55 GMT