“Experiential mktg will join mainstream mktg”

Shobiz’s Sameer Tobaccowala feels proactive policy formation & a climate conducive to growth will give a big boost to experiential marketing sector

by Deepa Balasubramanian
Published - Jan 12, 2013 10:09 PM Updated: Jan 12, 2013 10:09 PM
“Experiential mktg will join mainstream mktg”

Sameer Tobaccowala started out as Director, Shobiz Experiential Communications, and later became its CEO in 1996.

In conversation with exchange4media’s Deepa Balasubramanian, Tobaccowala speaks at length about Shobiz completing 30 years in the business, the importance of the experiential marketing sector, and more...

Tell us about Shobiz’s journey from 1982 to 2012 with emphasis on some of the key landmarks.
The journey from an owner-driven company, which had its beginnings in weddings and theatre, to the region’s foremost experiential communications company has been a rollercoaster ride filled with innovation and excitement. A few passionate individuals grew to a 300+ strong family, but most importantly, clients have become friends and Shobiz has become for them a trusted partner. I took over as CEO in the mid ‘90s. Since then, the journey has been littered with milestones – India’s first ever foreign rock band in concert (Europe), high profile events like the Femina Miss India, Screen Awards and the FilmFare Awards were executed by us.

Today, as the region’s foremost experiential communications company, Shobiz deploys initiatives in markets as diverse as Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi, Cairo and Chiang Mai, Singapore and Seoul. We are trusted by an array of brands pre-eminent as Fortune 500 companies or as local jewels in their own right. This journey from one man’s dream to a global agency with offices across the region and campaigns that stretch across the world has been made possible because of just one ingredient: Passion. Our founder was passionate about this business; his passion enthused our workforce and in return for the passion which we brought to their brands, clients rewarded us with their loyalty. Looking forward, I’d say that in the next 30 years I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You have maintained that innovation is the lifeline of your business. Could you share instances of some innovations that you have executed in events?
At Shobiz, innovation is not a task on a checklist; it is a way of existence. Innovation is encouraged across the organisation, in whatever department or function or format. Innovation started with Rehmatali (Tobaccowala) collaborating with Alyque Padamsee to create the country’s first ever product launch – with a Kodak carousel projector and a piece of fabric as the screen. Since then, there has never been any looking back. Our involvement with theatre fostered and nourished this spirit of innovation. Today, our innovation canvas is much larger. We innovate on content, processes, and delivery models to ensure the most effective solution is delivered to the client. Innovation for us is not confined to the creative space but it is a starting point for every function of the company from finance to operations and beyond.

Some of our more notable recent innovations have been in the automotive space with India’s first iPad application available on the iStore for Tata Manza. We have also innovated with RFID to enhance audience experience and make feedback collection simpler and more detailed. We recently innovated with a vendor portal for one of our clients which ensured that all resellers were instantly updated with the same marketing collateral, thereby ensuring that the campaign rollout was achieved, quite literally, with a single click.

What prompted the decision to turn a corporate event production company into a full-fledged experiential marketing company?
Shobiz has been delivering experiential communications way before the term came into vogue. In the recent context, we were one of the first Indian companies to actively engage with our client partners to convince them of the need to move away from the conventional modes of marketing and consider a more active involvement with experiential toolsets. So, in the 1990s, you saw Shobiz partnering Ford with a multi-city test drive programme which broke new ground by taking test drives out of the rarefied atmosphere and offering them to the consumer at large.

Today, the same model has increased in complexity. Customers are segmented, the media bouquet is more complex and marketing is virtually inescapable. While this provides more opportunities to establish contact with the audience of interest, it also raises the stakes in a manner where a brand can alienate itself forever with a particular audience simply by bad marketing. In this context, experiential communication plays an even more important role – the ability to invite an audience to a brand experience is an opportunity every marketer wants to capitalise on and ergo, Shobiz.

What is your growth target for the coming year? What was the growth rate from the last fiscal?
Shobiz grew at 25 per cent last fiscal and aims to grow 20 per cent in the coming year.

How many new clients have you brought on board this year? Could you mention some of them?
Shobiz consistently delivers well over 1,000 experiences every year for a client base which spans the spectrum of IT and ITES, Auto, Pharma, FMCG, BFSI, and Defence, and involves markets across the Middle East and South East Asia. Some of our better known initiatives are the Tata Crucible, SAP TechED, SAP Forum, which was executed at three locations in the Middle East, two locations in India and two locations in South East Asia.

What are the challenges and key growth drivers for the events and experiential marketing sector?
The external economic climate is always a big catalyst and there is no denying the role it plays. However, notwithstanding, I do believe that policy formation can be undertaken in a proactive manner, where it is more conducive to growth in this sector. In a country as sizeable and developed as India, you still don’t have a dedicated convention centre, let alone one of adequate capacity. But in the final reckoning, the blame has to be laid at our own doorstep and rightly enough, we are seeing an increasing level of awareness that we must engage with industry and with government as a collective.

I am optimistic that the coming years will see enlightened policy, coupled with a climate conducive to the development of great infrastructure, all of which will mean that experiential marketing in India will join mainstream marketing in being recognised as a global force to be reckoned with.

Are there any issues that are adversely impacting the growth of this sector? If so, do elaborate.
It is difficult to single out any specific issue that adversely affects growth in this sector. As I said, the industry has only itself to blame if it does not actively engage with government to suggest means and measures which could fully catalyse its latent potential. My opinion is that things are good, but with a little more thinking, awareness, exposure, and effort, they could be great.

Apart from being one of the oldest organisations in the sector, what do you see as the key differentiator that sets you apart from other event companies?
Shobiz is a unique blend of youth and experience. Our track record of over three decades gives us the stature and confidence of having been there and done that. Over 300-strong workforce, a large contingent of which is under 30 years, gives us the youth, dynamism, and impetus to continuously crave for challenges, approach them head-on, and give that extra 200 per cent to make it all happen for the client.

In addition, Shobiz continually strives to ensure it is very brand driven. The client’s brand, its DNA, and its tone of voice are all fundamental elements at Shobiz. So it’s not really a lift-and-shift from an idea bank of existing templates. Each initiative is a true expression of a client’s identity and communication agenda, custom-created from a blank canvas. This, I believe, is what clients across the board have come to recognise and respect Shobiz for and it’s our promise to them to continually raise the bar in terms of the quality of brand experience that we deliver for them.

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