The fun in the sun and sand on the Cavelossim Beach in Goa is over. One could not miss the tinge of emotion among the 3,300 delegates to GoaFest this year as they danced away well past midnight on Saturday like there was no tomorrow. For three days, the 900-odd under-30 young professionals of Indian advertising infected the industry’s largest festival with their pulsating energy, while their seniors, bosses and icons took the cue and decided to throw away their pin-stripe suits and get into beach shirts and Bermudas.
The AAAI deserves full credit for staging an impressive show on such a huge scale. The industry must give a special round of applause to Madhukar Kamath and Jagdeep Bakshi and their backroom team for pulling this off with such great success and finesse. As a media person, I have attended a few such events abroad. I wouldn’t hesitate to say that GoaFest was more meaningful, more fun, and had the right dose of intellectual content by way of some fantastic presentations. I found it more enjoyable than even Cannes.
Significantly, following two years of backstage effort, the Ad Club decided to join hands with the GoaFest and make it a joint initiative for the first time, which meant that the Abbys were part of GoaFest this year. Unfortunately, even as the fun and games took off on the beaches, the show was almost rocked on the very first morning of the festival with The Economic Times doing a front-page report on some of the key Abby winners! For the first time in 41 years of the Abby Awards, some parts of the list of award winners had been leaked to the media. AAAI honchos quickly went into damage control mode and issued a release calling the report “factually incorrect” and “a result of unconnected bits and pieces of information that have been irresponsibly and regrettably leaked”.
The ‘Great Abby Leak’ naturally left quite a few red faces and any number of angry voices at the very top of the industry. Were some agencies in an unholy hurry to win brownie points? Was it right on the part of the concerned media to have ‘scooped’ this story? Was there a Judas in the pack? Till now nobody knows, and one is not sure if the real truth will ever come out.
One of the strongest comments came from an otherwise soft-spoken man. Shashi Sinha, CEO, Lodestar Universal, who was also the in-charge of Media Awards 2008, did not mince words when he said: “I don’t know if the winners mentioned are correct at all. However, more than the Festival or the Awards, this is a shame on the individuals who have leaked out this information – those are the ones you should curse. In my personal opinion, they should be thrown out of the Festival, and their entries should be blocked. In my mind, the details are wrong, but whoever has done it, rightly or wrongly, should be boycotted at the Festival.”
Shashi was bang on: it is about the sanctity of the Abbys. Some 3,300 industry professionals, young and not-so-young, came from all over to know about the winners on the last evening and cheer them. At the end of it, a leak is a leak – and a leak, by nature, is never expected to be 100 per cent accurate. Even if 50 per cent proves to be correct information, it questions the very essence and credibility of the entire process and system. As it turned out, the information in the report was fairly accurate.
The stance in the leaked report also opens up critical questions. It is a different matter that the stance may not have been quite accurate, leading to more questions than answers. As things turned out, O&M was not really dethroned – the agency bagged the highest number of metals with a tally of 58! In comparison, Leo Burnett bagged 37 metals, and JWT tallied 30. If one were to throw in the two Grand Prix that Leo Burnett and JWT each won, it was really even Stevens at this year’s Abbys. As is known, the Abby Awards did away with the ranking system this year. So was there a motive behind the leak?
It is unfortunate that this unwarranted episode happened in the very first year when the Ad Club decided to join hands with the AAAI. There is a lot of behind-the-scenes fire-fighting that will now be necessary to ensure old differences and wounds do not open up. The entire advertising fraternity ought to keep in mind the sound advice of the NASSCOM bosses at the Ad Conclave: you have to be able to speak in one voice as an industry even as you compete individually on the business front.
Today’s industry leaders owe it to the under-30 professionals who came to Goa. They will lead their agencies and the industry 15 years from now. Hand over a unified industry to them that speaks in one voice.