By Sonya Rehman
Having been in the business for a decade with roughly 800 events to their name, Jalal Salahuddin and Omar Satti are recognized as experts in the field of event management in Pakistan.
Under the banner of their company – J&S – the event management doyens are well-known for their plethora of glamorous parties, events, launches and high profile fundraisers within the country.
With a vast client base – both corporate and private – J&S has brought international stars (such as Elizabeth Hurley and Bryan Adams) and Bollywood celebrities (such as Aamir Khan, Shilpa Shetty, Akshay Kumar, Mahesh Butt, etc) to the country for a multitude of events.
Starting out by “default,” Salahuddin stated that years ago some of his friends wanted to throw a New Year’s Eve party in Lahore since nothing was happening in the city at the time. “So Satti and I told our friends to make a guest list and divide the cost between everyone. That way everyone would be able to chip in.”
From a guest list of about 100 people, the list soon climbed to over 300. The party was a hit and the very next day, the pair received phone calls from people asking them to host certain events. “And then we decided why don’t we just start this as work?”
Interestingly, at the time, Salahuddin was working in a bank while Satti was employed at a local publication’s marketing department. Back then, event management in Lahore was an unusual profession.
However, straight after the media boom in the country, there was a dire need for event managers and event management companies to carry out successful corporate and private events. Fashion, music, parties, and red carpet events began flourishing – and still do, even in the midst of Pakistan’s political and economic turmoil.
Initially, it was choppy; events would be slapped together in a haphazard fashion, with less precision and organization and more let’s-play-it-by-ear-and-see-how-it-pans-out. But soon enough, companies knew they couldn’t fool their consumers. Tastes were being developed – the local consumer was fast becoming aware of what a tasteful event should and shouldn’t entail.
“People have become very aware about quality and standards,” Satti states.
Speaking about one of their most “memorable” events, Satti says that the Bryan Adams charity concert (‘Rock for a Cause’) for local pop sensation, Shezad Roy’s Zindagi Trust, “was a very big learning experience.”
Held in Karachi in 2006 and with an audience of roughly 8,000 – 10,000 people, the concert was an immense success.
Given that event management is a high pressure job, with its fair share of unpredictability, how does the duo keep cool in light of their high-profile events? “I think it’s just years of experience which helps. Also Satti’s calmer than I am,” Salahuddin states with a smile.
“The biggest problem is human resources,” Salahuddin says regarding the issues that event management companies face in Pakistan, “Suppliers can be a problem too, at times. Everyone has to get trained because when we started out there wasn’t anyone doing event management. So we found our own way. But skilled labour is always a problem.”
One main solution, Salahuddin stresses, is to “become more efficient yourself – by double-checking and monitoring everything. Also over the years our suppliers and vendors have become reasonably more professional.”
The duo works well as a team. Remarkably so. Functioning as a cohesive unit; the flamboyant, creative, Salahuddin and the soft-spoken, conscientious, Satti, complement each other.
As with business across the board J&S, too, suffered as a result of Benazir Bhutto’s assassination in 2007. “It was really bad,” Salahuddin states, “But I think people in Pakistan have become more resilient. There’s a good, parallel economy in Pakistan so I think business will grow. I’m quite positive about that.”
“It wasn’t just Benazir’s assassination,” Satti explains, “It was the overall situation in the country. Events are held in public places like hotels for instance; take the Marriott bombing [in 2008] for example. For a while, Islamabad was a no-go area for companies. But over the past few months, things have really improved.”
Staying clear of large-scale, public events, Satti states that J&S’ events remain exclusive – “focused for about 600-700 people.” “We have extremely strict security and checks and balances at our events,” he says, “Also when we do events at hotels or the Royal Palm, in Lahore, for instance, there’s automatically extra security.”
Given the company’s exclusive events, perhaps one criticism that J&S faces is the fact that their events are restricted, serving only ‘elite’ clientele. “That’s not true,” Satti states, “See what happens is that these elite events get more publicity in terms of market value, etc. They also receive a lot of media attention. But we’ve done events for all kinds of people. Recently we launched ‘Jashan Weddings’ which does budget weddings for people who don’t want to pay for our signature J&S weddings.”
“I think the future really lies in our brand, Jashan,” states Salahuddin, “Because it’s the middle class that keeps the economy going. We launched it a few months ago and it’s growing slowly.”
“I hope people become more contemporary regarding weddings,” Salahuddin says. While the wedding ‘business’ in Lahore remains unflinchingly lucrative, J&S has made a smart move by launching Jashan.
This is because amidst the pomp and opulence that comprises of upper class, elite weddings – budgeted weddings catered solely for the middle class has been overlooked in Pakistan over the years.
“I’m dieing to do black-tie dinners,” Salahuddin states enthusiastically, “We’ve re-invented the way a mehndis are done – we don’t just do it in the traditional way. It’s always nice to evolve and do new things. That way people will become more outward-looking and events within the country will change too.”
Having gone international late last year, J&S is currently aiming at becoming a regional company by the end of 2012. Even though the company opened up an office in Dubai a few years ago, Salahuddin states that it was “very premature.” Now, however, they’re ready.
With 10-12 events lined up for March within Pakistan, J&S is also due to organize a lifestyle exhibition in Delhi, India, called ‘Lifestyle Pakistan.’
The exhibition is to showcase everything from Pakistani furniture, to fashion and to music in a bid to promote Pakistani culture across the border and to foster trade between the two countries.
“There’s such a craze for our artists in India (primarily our Sufi artists),” Satti states, “Look at how Rahat Fateh Ali Khan has made a name for himself there. You know, since I frequent India so much, I’ve realized there’s an emotional bond that we share with India that we can’t share with any other country.”
As mentioned earlier, due to the constant need for event managers – as a result of the media boom in the country – event management is fast proving to be a lucrative profession in Pakistan. To survive, however, Satti states that two vital ingredients determine the profession’s durability – “contacts and trust.”
Agreeing that event management is infact lucrative business, Salahuddin thinks that event management is a sound career choice for those not looking for a “run-of-the-mill career.”
Regarding the future of the profession? “Fingers crossed if things stay stable,” says Satti, “I think there’s a lot of scope for diversification.”
“The younger generation is more prone to interacting with one another, they go out, do things, plus it’s also become more significant in Pakistan because we don’t have clubs here,” Salahuddin explains, “So events take on a specific meaning which is why people are so interested in going to them. Event management really has a very bright future in Pakistan.”