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Joji George

Chief Executive Officer | 02 Mar 2012

I’d say Percept is an integrated sport and entertainment company rather than just a sports management or an event management company. When we look into a particular business, it’s important that we take on an area that we can completely create into our brand of entertainment and sports - where we can holistically take it on, invest in it, build it, nurture it and take it to a different level altogether.

Graduated in Economics from the University of Mumbai, George has also been a fellow of the Wharton Business School, University of Pennsylvania. He comes with a diverse experience of over 17 years in the business of media and entertainment straddling strategic planning, corporate branding, organizational brand alignment, licensing and merchandising.

Joji has served in the capacity of Executive Vice President at the Global Brand Forum, Singapore, where he was responsible for strategic planning, operations, financial management, implementing the marketing and communications strategy across Asia and MENA (Middle East &North Africa) markets, establishing the sales and CRM (Customer Relationship Management) network across the region and formulating brand strategies through sustainable brand alignment.

He has also worked as Brand Director & Programme Marketing Director at Astro All Asia Networks Plc. Other prestigious portfolios in his professional career include a position at Yahoo! South East Asia, and a role as Director of Business Development - Licensing & Merchandising, MTV Asia, Singapore. He was also part of the core team that incepted Sony Music, India.

Joji joined the Percept Group in 2011 and has been responsible for providing strategic direction, mapping alliances, creating opportunities for integration, and paving the roadmap for the overall businesses of the Percept Sports & Entertainment division.

With his core expertise in areas of strategic planning, marketing, branding and organizational brand alignment, global event management, regional sponsorship, licensing and merchandising, Joji has brought in a wealth of ideas, knowledge and experience from leading brands from across the APAC (Asia Pacific) region to help lead Percept Sports & Entertainment to the next level.

Joji is passionate about theatre and art, likes jazz and is a music enthusiast. He used to be the lead vocalist of a rock band in college that also won the best band award at Mood Indigo. He loves experimenting with his culinary skills by cooking fusion cuisine and enjoys travelling to historic locations and seeing new cultures.

In an interaction with exchange4media’s Suraj Ramnath, George speaks about sports management, marketing, branding, IPL’s declining viewership and much more.

Q. How has the year of 2011 been for Percept Sports &Entertainment in terms of growth?

In terms of overall growth, we have grown in terms of scale, but what is more important in 2012 is that we’ve created new business with completely new set of clients, new offerings in the market place and that’s what we want going forward. We want to keep existing client relationship going strong and more importantly, we want to make sure that the new clients experience the power of Percept. I’d say Percept is an integrated sport and entertainment company rather than just a sports management or an event management company.

Q. With the rising number of sports management companies, how does Percept manage to keep itself ahead?

An interesting part is the fact that if you are there in the event management space, you become a commodity, if you are in the brand solution space, you become an integrated and sports management company that provides brand solutions and that’s what we are in. We are not in the commodities business, but in the brands business. We are not in the events and execution business; we are in the ideas business. That is the foundation of the Percept Sports and Entertainment for the year 2012-2013.

Q. With the rising number of sports management companies, how does Percept manage to keep itself ahead?

An interesting part is the fact that if you are there in the event management space, you become a commodity, if you are in the brand solution space, you become an integrated and sports management company that provides brand solutions and that’s what we are in. We are not in the commodities business, but in the brands business. We are not in the events and execution business; we are in the ideas business. That is the foundation of the Percept Sports and Entertainment for the year 2012-2013.

Q. What would be the most valued projects that Percept has done in the year 2011?

We did some incredible work. The Hero launch was done in the United Kingdom and it was a global launch. That is probably one of the most powerful brands outside India and we were given the mandate to execute the event internationally. The other prestigious work we did was for Mercedes Benz. We worked with the stake holders of Mercedes Benz, where they were pitching to the global teams in terms of new business, new investment into India and we managed that whole process for them. Besides that, we have done other incredible work and I would be very proud to say that we created an entire new avenue in sports which was nonexistent before Boxing. Boxing was one sport which used to appear on Doordarshan during Olympics and Asian games. Nobody knew what kind of life boxers actually live. Cricket has always been a part of everyone in this country. We glamorized boxing and got the sport back. We worked really hard in associating with various stake holders, but what we got to Boxing was aggressive marketing, branding and packaging and more importantly, we built careers for the boxers. So not only are we glamorizing the sport but bringing it to the masses and managing the backhand activities like representing the boxers through our talent management business. So in that ways, we are also responsible for their careers. This year probably at the Olympics, you will see our boxers go out and win medals for our country. This one is the strongest contingence not only for Boxing, but also for some of the other areas like Wrestling. We represent ace wrestler Sushil Kumar who is also tipped to win the medal in the Olympics this year. So not only is our commitment to sport just with the event but we holistically also manage the career of the sportsmen as well. So our objective is to balance that out and maximize their appearances on what they do best and also earn a living outside the sport. We have also done great work for Deutsche Bank, Film festival in India, International Film Festival in Goa. We work very closely with the Goa government on a lot of initiatives which brings us to Goa. We hope to replicate that within some more states in India. We also have our wedding and entertainment division in our company. We handle some incredible weddings from the Reddys of Hyderabad to some of the big families in Delhi. That is again a relationship business. So you will trust somebody only if he adds value to your business. So our objective has been not about providing the lowest cost but it’s also about going there and saying that we make it different, package it different, relationship is different and we take ownership of that. That is the new perception that Percept Sports and Entertainment will take forward.

Q. To which other sports does Percept cater to?

We have been associated with the Sahara Force India group. We are going to be involved in many more sports in the new financial year. We are going to expand our sports portfolio. We are doing something as we speak for ‘Go for Goal’ which is a huge initiative we are partnering at the moment. This is to spur and encourage our Indian Olympic contention. There is also a marathon run which is going to happen from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. As the convoy passes each state, it will have a respectable sports personality joining that convoy or celebrities joining that convoy. India as a country is very subdued in encouraging our own teams, colours and whatever it is. There is a sense of pride, but it is very subdued. I think we need to shout it out as the British do when it comes to their flag, team, Baseball, Football. We tend to clap very subdued. These efforts are to take some things forward and actually bring back the spirit of India. When we look into a particular business, it’s important that we take on an area that we can completely create into our brand of entertainment and sports - where we can holistically take it on, invest in it, build it, nurture it and take it to a different level altogether. For example, if we do think about Hockey or Football, it would be how Percept takes a unique position over there or else we will completely invest in creating the next Boxing. There are many other sports which are underutilized and are underrepresented and I think the time has come for the nation to have a plethora of sports than the whole country getting behind one sport.

Q. Percept Talent is a professional celebrity and talent management company. Does this give an opportunity to budding talents from sports arena of being sponsored by the big brands?

There are two aspects to celebrity and the talent management. One is the endorsements, second is appearances. Luckily for us, we have very strong forward and backward linkages typically because we have a very strong experiential marketing arm. Most of our events need talent. So they could be singers, dancers, performers, sports personalities, so there is automatically a high utilization of such talent in events. This is our single biggest offering to the talent. There is always a need for talent. Today any event without entertainment is not an event. Even the media won’t land up. So that’s the first thing. The second thing is appearances - where talent come and performs. And the third are the endorsements. We have Vijender Singh who endorses Pepsi and Nestle Munch and similar such groups of people. We use Vijender as an appearance on Fight Nights and the client pays for it. You have Vijender as the biggest boxing sensation for our country there and he demands a fee to come there. So that makes a win-win situation for everybody. So that’s what we do. These are the two areas that we offer to our talent and we have an entire dedicated team that works along with them also to provide them with public relations to share their point of view and their accomplishments through media.

Q. Please elaborate the business strategy on P9 Integrated and the plans for the year 2012?

As far as P9 goes, what they do is film branding. In that, they use a particular film and actually ensure that a particular brand’s values match with that movie and then bring them together so that the film gets that much more amplification so that’s the role of P9. Recently every youth has been associated with ‘Ek Main, Aur Ek Tu’ and that has been done by us. We do Hindi, Bhojpuri and also associate with international films that can build that association with the brand.

Q. Which are the new brands/clients Percept is getting on board?

There are a whole bunch of new clients coming on board. We are extremely grateful for the clients that have supported us this far. I am extremely pleased that we have opened many new doors in various sectors, be it the automotive brands, luxury brands or government. We now work very close to some companies in these specific areas in order to actually expose the Percept Sports and Entertainment brand.

Q. A niche channel for a game of Golf is coming to India. Does Percept see a chance to be associated with the game? Do you think there would be a good viewership?

ESPN Star Sports always had Golf and the game is always positioned as the premium type of sport because we need a Golf course for it. We need to buy Golf equipment which doesn’t come cheap. We need to get a Golf trainer and spend time in driving the ball. So it is a premium and expensive sport and it’s a bit like Polo. In a country of billion people, where you have 0.1 per cent in this sport, I am not sure a television channel should come up for a game of Golf. As the revenue numbers for a channel, I am not too sure. But the person doing that would have done the math and I hope he is right with that math. As far as we are concerned, we are open to any sport with high engagement levels. We just feel that the engagement of the sport is important and that is the criteria because unless there is high engagement, you can’t get the viewership. If you don’t get viewership, you won’t get sponsors and if there are no sponsors, the sport is dead.

Q. Is Percept a part of IPL Season 5 and what are your expectations from this season?

We have been a part of IPL from its starting stages. We did the launch with Sahara Pune Warriors and evolved along with them. From the time IPL started off until now – it has been extremely fragmented. There are many independent agents, there are many people representing everybody. In a market like that, it is difficult because it is never about value, it is about trust.

We did a huge campaign with Idea during the last IPL. Idea is one of our esteemed clients and in some or other way, we will still represent and work with them again. Besides that, we always look at other opportunities. It is not only about sponsoring a team, but it is about how you activate a fan base and how do you keep the excitement going for a longer period of time otherwise it is like a fireworks - goes up, bursts and then it is over. We are closely looking at how we can be working with IPL and there are brands and teams who have come to us for working with them and we have been evaluating them since.

Q. How well is the sports management business doing in India right now?

There are many independent sports marketing companies. In many cases, these companies are like a media buying agency. They will bring a sponsor in to a particular sports event. They are not managing the sport. For us, as an integrated sports management and entertainment company, we manage the sport. Not only are we marketers but we are also executors and also managers, so that makes us unique from any other sports management company. The size of the market is growing. The entertainment business is above Rs 3000 crores and the sport business itself is easily above Rs 1000 crores or more. Boxing was nascent but now it is in limelight and slowly other sports are too getting importance and I hope that people accept the newer sports. I also see people are cycling on the streets. These are the cycling enthusiasts so there lays an opportunity. There are groups in Mumbai who go on a cycling trip every Saturday. There are a lot of opportunities. Look what Marathon has now become. Our ability to take up newer sports or follow a new sport is slowly changing even though we are a Cricket fan nation, but that is slowly changing. People are now switching to other sports. IPL viewership has declined year by year and until something drastically happens, I don’t see that changing. It is expected to drop even further.

Q. What percentage of growth are you looking for in sports management?

I am hoping that our company will beat every estimate we had in the last five years. I am hoping that we better our numbers in the coming year because unless there is a severe shakeup in the global market or something that affects the Indian market, I see brands spending more simply because our consumption is that high and at the end of the day India has to cater to a younger demographic. We have a young country and unless we don’t excite that young country, provide them with opportunities; they are going to be very bored. So I see that the market will only grow. From the industry perspective, I’d say the industry should get together in order to create that kind of an infrastructure for all of us. What we really lack is proper infrastructure. There has to be an industry focus.

Q. Do you expect 2012 to be a year of slowdown and what is the challenge of running a sports management business during times of economic slowdown?

I’d say 2012 will be better than 2011 and 2013 will be better than 2012. See hope is always the best remedy to look for. I am a firm believer of the more you say that this year would be bad and the next year would be bad you will find a reason for it to be bad and many things in financial market is based on market sentiment. What is market sentiment? It is people like you and me saying that the market is going to be worse, so it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy. I am saying it is going to be fantastic and we are going to see many opportunities, a lot more inflow of capital and the companies in UK & USA will look at India more positively. They will want to do joint ventures, they would want to come and work alongside the Indian companies and the Indian companies are going to benefit from that in terms of the capital or the expertise. They don’t understand this market, we do. We will have to look forward and chug along and hope for the best.

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