Guest Column: Goafest - the journey from Mumbai to Goa: Arvind Sharma

On the eve of Goafest 2014, Arvind Sharma traces the journey of Goa and shares the story of how India's biggest advertising festival has achieved the stature that it does today

e4m by Arvind Sharma
Published: May 28, 2014 8:01 AM  | 7 min read
Guest Column: Goafest - the journey from Mumbai to Goa: Arvind Sharma

Goafest, India’s biggest advertising festival, is a year short of completing a decade. The journey from the boardroom of AAAI to the beaches of Goa has been a fascinating one and has seen the cooperation of the entire advertising fraternity in making it a success.

The recent times have seen the festival mired in some controversies, especially regarding scam ads and some agencies deciding not to participate, yet the three days of Goafest continues to attract agencies and advertisers alike.

On the eve of Goafest 2014 Arvind Sharma, Goafest’s first Chairman and who held the post for two consecutive years in 2006 and 2007, shares the story of how Goafest came into being and how it has achieved the stature that it does today....

December 2005. Venue: AAAI office, Cuffe Parade.
Advertising Agencies Association of India’s (AAAI) Executive Committee meeting was in progress. AAAI Awards was the agenda item under discussion. Unexpectedly, a set of fingers rose to point at me, ‘This year you will look after the AAAI Awards’. AAAI Awards in those days used to compete with two other national advertising awards – Abbys, with their fabulous award ceremonies at Mumbai, and CAG, a smaller affair. In a moment of lapsed judgment I said, ‘I will if the committee endorses the idea of doing something new that creates discontinuous value for the industry’. Srinivasan Swamy was the President of the Association then. These were the words he was waiting to hear. He jumped at the thought. He and I became partners in a new ambition.

We began by calling a meeting of about 40 CDs. A few suggested the idea of creating a festival of advertising in India. Other CDs unanimously backed the idea. Some CDs suggested Goa as the venue. Others thought that it would be impossible to get many people to come to Goa for three days. We left the meeting without a conclusion on the venue. In our hearts, though, we knew that somehow we had to make the festival happen at Goa.

Jagdip Bakshi and V Shantakumar volunteered to help and also became our partners. Together, we created the festival format of two and a half days spanning a Conclave on day zero, Seminars on day 1 & 2, followed by Awards each night. The idea of a special village for the world’s first advertising festival on a beach was conceived. For the next four months, four of us committed more than 50 per cent of our time to making the advertising festival in Goa happen. Star TV came on board as our main Festival sponsor. Many other media houses also agreed to support as key sponsors. We had just enough money to pull off the festival - hopefully. But how would we attract people for three days to Goa? I argued that we had to come up with a marketing idea to pull young people to the festival. The ‘Under 30’s’ scheme was born as a result: Pay Rs 3,500 (if I remember correctly) as delegate fee, get there and after that everything else is on us.

Debates were continuing about the venue. The dominant view at that time was that the festival should move around from city to city. And this was worrying me. Based on years of going to the Cannes Advertising Festival, I knew that a festival is a brand. Every year it needs to offer something fresh, but consistency is even more important. So I pushed for naming the festival Goafest. That nailed the possibility of the festival venue being moved around every year!

Local awards face a unique challenge. There is a constant underlying emotional tug of war – between jury members’ honest desire to acknowledge great work from their peers and their personal and commercial compulsions of seeing their own work win at the expense of their competitors’. As a result, not many local award shows survive beyond a few years. Goafest has not been totally immune from these tugs, resulting in some agencies choosing not participate in any given year. However, one of the reasons Goafest is in its ninth year today is because Goafest has had strict rule-based judging processes in place from year one. These rules were framed with the experience that Prasoon Joshi, Ravi Deshpande, Pops and Alok Nanda had acquired judging at Festivals across the world.

On the opening day of the festival, we had put up the festival village at Arossim and were expecting about 200 people to turn up. More than 800 people from all over the country turned up. We were short of space, food and water, but admen of all shades and descriptions, young and not so young, had given the new brand – Goafest - an enthusiastic thumbs up.

Goafest has come a long way from its first year. A succession of Presidents of AAAI and particularly, Goafest Committee Chairmen has willingly given a good three to four months of their calendar in a year to make Goafest happen. Their pro-bono work needs to be acknowledged.

Goafest Chairmen
2006 Arvind Sharma
2007 Arvind Sharma
2008 Jagdip Bakshi
2009 Colvyn Harris
2010 Colvyn Harris
2011 Colvyn Harris
2012 Lynn Desouza
2013 Nakul Chopra
2014 Srinivasan Swamy

As a result Goafest has kept on evolving. In 2008, AAAI and The Advertising Club of Mumbai joined hands to make the festival stronger. And to make the Abbys at Goafest the most coveted award in advertising in India. Awards categories have evolved. From five verticals in 2006 (Print, Outdoor, Radio, TV, Media) to about 15 verticals this year. These verticals reflect the evolving importance of ‘new media’ in brand communications. Over a dozen NCDs have willingly shared their time and expertise as jury chairmen and scores of ECDs have done the same as jury members. Award judging rules have been refined over the years. Auditors were added around 2007. In 2010, the Awards Governing Council was created. The time Shashi Sinha has devoted as Chairman of this Council for three years to keep the award processes on track is worthy of special acknowledgement.

Scores of creative gods from around the world have shared their vision of where advertising is going. So have media gods. And gods in evolving specialties – from digital to sports marketing to analytics. Leaders of Global Communication Groups have shared their perspectives. Advertisers and media house owners and CEOs have shared their visions as well as challenges.

Beach fun has been an element of Goafest and an intrinsic part of its charm. And sometimes a source of criticism. But it is everything put together that makes Goafest a Goafest.

Goafest venues
2006 Arossim Beach
2007 Cavelossim Beach
2008 Cavelossim Beach
2009 Cavelossim Beach
2010 Cavelossim Beach
2011 Cavelossim Beach
2012 Zuri White Sands
2013 Zuri White Sands
2014 Grand Yatt

Goafest 2014 is a much bigger event than ever before. It is a full three-day festival with three awards nights. New categories have been added. Last year, we took a decision to refocus the Conclave as a forum for listening to clients’ frustrations and expectations. This resulted in an immensely popular event. This year, in the expanded three-day festival, the Conclave has been moved to day two so that all delegates can listen directly to clients. In terms of speakers, based on feedback from delegates, we have planned a mix of international speakers and inspiring Indian successes. A new event, called Leadership Summit, has been added on Saturday. And as always, there is much fun planned. I hope that every delegate who attends Goafest 2014 will have an awesome time.

Arvind Sharma had stepped down as Chairman & CEO, India Subcontinent at Leo Burnett in October 2013. He will continue as a strategic advisor till July 2014. He is also the President of the Advertising Agencies Association of India, with his tenure ending in July 2014.

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