“Strategy & creativity will drive experiential marketing”

George P Johnson’s VP and MD Rasheed Sait sees innovative ideas, engagement & effective execution leading growth for this industry

“Strategy & creativity will drive experiential marketing”

Experiential marketing is helpful in creating a strong brand connect when it comes to live and face-to-face customer interactions. George P Johnson Experience Marketing is an agency that stresses on the importance of strategy and creativity. The company is led by Rasheed Sait, Vice President and Managing Director, in India.

In conversation with exchange4media, Sait speaks about the growth of experiential marketing in the country, the emerging trends and why strategy is important for successful execution.
Excerpts:

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How big is the experiential marketing sector in India today?
There have been a lot of studies on the sector and I have seen reports from KPMG, PWC, Ernst & Young, which put the figure at Rs 2,800 crore. But the flaw is that only 37 agencies were interviewed, which is may be just 2 per cent of number of agencies that are there in the country. So I would say that the event marketing industry is anywhere around Rs 10,000 crore, including organised and un-organised groups.

What are the key growth drivers for this sector?
Vendors play a big role in helping agencies execute flawlessly, whether it is technical or the production elements that they provide. No matter how good your strategy is, if you don’t execute it well, then you are seen to have failed, because it is a face-to-face and live media. We have something called the ‘GPJ way to no surprise events’, which we have imported from global GPJ. Our clients don’t have to come to our events and feel worried. We have all systems and processes in place.

The second key driver is when people come together, they invest their time. But in India, time is not valued much. Therefore, the interaction between the audience and the brand should be so powerful that the consumers who have come to the event should feel really compelled to buy your product, and that is the power of experiential marketing. That’s were experience marketing comes in, with big ideas using digital and keeping people engaged at the event. Events are big investments compared to other media. To put in a nutshell, creatives, ideas, engagement and strategy are the key growth drivers.

Given the creativity and strategy required, how well trained is the GenNext to fulfil the industry’s needs?
I see a lot of potential and creativity in GenNext. Of course, we can do more for sure. People do not understand the strategic side of events in India and that is where the companies lack. I have started running a workshop on ‘Five Rights’, which is all about how to approach an event strategy. In more mature markets, agencies are expected to be strategically strong.

Given the pace at which experiential marketing has grown in the last five to 10 years, what are the emerging trends that you have seen?
The top-most trend that I am seeing is that agencies are getting more conscious about the execution side.

Measuring the effectiveness of an event is another big trend. In today’s world, the marketing departments are setting aside nearly two - three per cent of the experiential marketing budgets for measuring effectiveness of an event. As I mentioned earlier, we have the ‘Five Rights’ strategy, which every event company will require to measure a campaign’s success.

We also have an IP metric specialist, whose job is to look at the event data after the event is over and recommend what to do in the future. I find agencies, pushing harder on the creative front.

A lot of the holding companies such as WPP, Omnicom and others are getting interested in the event marketing space. But it is a specialised field and not everybody can do it effectively. Also, things are getting more organised and there is a convergence of digital and events that we are seeing. As a result, clients feel a lot more confident about working with experience marketing agencies and are ready to invest in it.

How important is digital for experiential marketing?
The pre-event marketing digitally plays a very important role. Recently, the press launch of ‘KBC’ on Sony was webcast live and it was flawless. Touch and feel is another important aspect. For example, when customers come for an event, the agenda can be put up on touch screens. Also, if someone from the audience has a question, he/ she can post it online. Digital plays an important role as it gives an event company a chance to reach out to customers who are not present at the event.

Are there any issues that are adversely impacting the growth of this sector?
The biggest problem is that clients, who sign a contract with advertising agencies for a long time, do not sign a contract with event agencies. Every project is a pitch; of course, exceptions are there like IBM. Hence, it is not a partnership model, but a vendor model. That is something very disturbing. The industry is not maturing at the same pace as the advertising industry. The relationship should be more company to company than person to person. Right now, the whole thing is very individual-led. There is a constant churn in the event agencies because of which there is emergence of a lot of small agencies. Thus, professionalism takes a hit.

How is George P Johnson helping companies create the right branded environments?
The fact that we are a global leader and Ad Age has ranked us as No. 1 proves how we work. We focus on experiential marketing using engagement and creativity as a way of creating customers. We are an ideas agency with expertise in strategy. We may be a 98-year old company, but we are one of the fastest to adopt some new things that have happened in the market place. Strategic thinking, world-class ideas and creativity are the three major key areas that GPJ always works on.

How are you maintaining your competitive advantage in this field?
The professionalism with which we operate and the systems and processes that we have in place is a breath of fresh air for clients, as our work is different from other marketing agencies in the market. We also maintain our edge through strategic thinking and creativity. That is our USP.

Which markets are contributing most to your growth?
Our biggest market is of course the US, but in terms of growth, Asia Pacific is the biggest and within Asia Pacific, India and China are the fastest growing. Last year, we grew by 89 per cent in India, which is a massive growth for us.

What is the growth percentage you are targeting for this year?
30-35 per cent growth over and above what we already have now.

Today, where is the business mainly coming from?
In India, it is mostly coming from our IT clients such as IBM, Lenovo, Cisco, Oracle and Mindtree. This is because we focus more on strategic marketing events and corporate events.
 

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