Interview with Sajjad Shawl, Business Asia Weekly

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A new weekly paper has hit newsstands recently. Business Asia is the brainchild of Sajjad Shawl, who has previously worked with Geo Network and ARY Digital. He talks to BizAsia.co.ukabout the tough economic climate and how Business Asia will sustain its own.

You have recently launched Business Asia, tell us a bit about your involvement in the paper?
There are dozens of newspapers and magazines catering to various Asian communities settled in the UK. But there is not a single business oriented newspaper or magazine. I felt that the UK market was waiting for someone to take the first step. That is why Business Asia is here.

I see myself as a member of the team that brings out Business Asia to you and the thousands of our readers up and down the country.

Prior to Business Asia, you have worked with Geo Network and other Pakistani media, please fill us in about this?
I have been associated with two biggest media houses of Pakistan Geo and ARY.

Geo was the largest Pakistani channel at that time in the UK and I was given responsibility for advertising sales. It was very easy to sell back then because of its popularity and good content and being free to air. During my time with Geo TV, advertiser was always interested.

I joined ARY as Vice President Sales. It was a challenging Job but I must say I had a great team working with me and we brought a handsome revenue for ARY. I learned a lot in ARY. It was a great learning experience and I made good friends.

How did the concept of Business Asia come about?
The absence of any business newspaper or magazine covering the Asian businesses in the UK made me think. I discussed the idea with guys who have been connected with the Asian publishing industry in the UK for some time now. Some feedback was positive. Other was negative. But most of them agreed that there was an overwhelming need for an Asian business newspaper. Yet intriguingly nobody wanted to be the first to launch one. Probably because it�۪s a specialised niche and would require enormous effort and resources.

I thought it would be the first of its kind and decided to go ahead with it. Luckily I gathered a good team of professionals around me. It was as much a challenge for them as it was for me. A business newspaper. The first of its kind. At least in the UK. An area that has been left unexplored. The whole team was excited and willing to give it a go. That�۪s how the idea came about. And that�۪s how it all began.

What would you say has been the biggest scoop for you to date for Business Asia?
At the Business Asia we have done some exclusive coverage of some events. We�۪ve sponsored media events as partners. We are particularly proud over our involvement in the seminar arranged by the United Kingdom Trade and Investment on business prospects in Pakistan and working closely with Asian Business Association a wing of London Chamber of Commerce.

Business Asia was also responsible for the exclusive coverage of the launch of the UK Sri Lanka Chamber of Commerce; and the launch of Sharia commodities on Nasdaq platform.

We are also media partners in The Scottish Asian Business Awards to be held in Glasgow next month.

At Business Asia our aim is to highlight issues affecting the Asian countries. We do take pride in our coverage of the recently concluded Commonwealth Games in New Delhi. And we are satisfied with the way we helped raise awareness about the effects of flood in Pakistan. Again we teamed up with notable charities and lend a hand in their campaigns to help out the millions of flood victims. We also interviewed James Caan who is running a help the flood victims campaign. We are also quite happy that we highlighted the issue of synthetic footballs booting out the handmade footballs manufactured in Pakistan.

Business Asia is also proud to bring you in-depth analysis of the growing Sharia finance. Our coverage of the achievements made by the Indian IT industry in the two decades has been another strong point. We are also the first to break several media related news. However being a weekly we focus more on highlighting issues. Having said that I can�۪t resist saying that you�۪ll soon see us carrying some very exclusive material, including news and interviews.

In the tough UK Asian media climate, how do you see Business Asia making its own niche?
As I said before that we are a specialist weekly that is solely focused on the business community. We are a first of our kind. It is true that we are facing enormous challenges in bringing out this publication. However it is also true that we are already being noticed.

We are getting great feedback from our mostly business oriented and professional readers. We are also continuing to build our team. Getting more reporters out in the field is our immediate concern so that we can cover issues affecting the business communities in the UK.

We are also looking to increase our pages. We plan to use this extra space to carry exclusive interviews of Asian businessmen and women and the issues affecting their development in the UK business environment.

You�۪re transition from television to press has been pretty smooth, how you finding the switch?
I have been in Media for the last 13 years. I started my media carrier in India with a company called Media 2 Media and we launched 3 magazines in India and worked with Vogel Publication that owned Chip, which was the largest circulated IT magazine in India. In Pakistan I have worked with two fashion magazines. I am quite familiar and experienced with the press side. Therefore I found quite at home bringing my skills to Business Asia.

What are your views on the UK Asian television and radio market, business wise?
UK Asian television market is dominated by Indian channels. It�۪s a race between Star, ZEE, NDTV Imagine and Sony. Star is now BARB rated and I can see the positive and good viewership figures. Now NDTV Imagine is planning going on BARB. The future and big time revenue is from mainstream companies which have huge budgets and I guess mainstream realises the buying power of Asian people.

Super stores have started shelving Asian products. So it�۪s all about the sales strategies of individual channels how aggressive they are to bring revenue and invest in people. We know that Litt Corporation is dominating the radio market in the UK with good number of mainstream advertisers showing interest and spending and I believe they are growing day by day.

One thing that I have noticed is that radio is more formalised and follows the strict codes of ASA.

How would you compare the Pakistani media scene compared to the UK?
Pakistani media scene is quite interesting. There are no rules of conduct. It�۪s really upsetting that the prime time of Pakistani channels is dominated by political talk shows and that has reflected in UK also. The soaps, which were the backbone of television, are fading away.

How do you plan to expand Business Asia in the coming year?
By 2011 we plan to increase our newspaper by 50 percent. This extra space will be allocated to exclusive coverage of the Asian business communities in the UK. There will be exclusive interviews, business profiling. And by summer 2011, we plan to have doubled our volume.
I believe in teamwork. At Business Asia we work like a family. And it�۪s a family that is rapidly increasing in numbers. Some mainstream writers are already writing for us. And we are in negotiations with other writers to come onboard. Gradually we are building up to a crescendo which we are timing around the summer of 2011.

We�۪ve already launched our website www.businessasiaweekly.com. By the summer we want to introduce several interactive features on our website. We are also planning to focus more on India, in particular, because of our connection with the country and also because of the economic and business activity taking place there.
Our bureau in India will soon start giving a much larger input in terms of exclusive business reports and interviews. Furthermore we have plans to establish bureaus in other Asian countries to ensure better coverage of the business activities back home.

Final words…
In the end I would like to add that the Business Asia is not only about India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. It�۪s about all the developing Asian countries that have taken up the challenge of developing. Our content reflects this. We give a fair share of coverage to news stories from China, Malaysia, Singapore, Korea, Japan and Middle East. And above all Business Asia is all about the various Asian communities that have made the UK their home. Keep reading Business Asia.

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