"Clients are beginning to recognize the value of a partnership model"

George P. Johnson (GPJ) India, is the Indian subsidiary of GPJ WW, the worlds largest and Ad Age's No. 1 ranked event marketing agency. This year, GPJ is celebrating 10 years of its presence in India. During this time, GPJ has built a strong reputation for its world class execution, and award winning creative and sound strategic thinking. GPJ India has worked with over 50 global and local clients and successfully delivered over 4,000 events, exhibits and experience marketing solutions in the last 10 years.

In a conversation with EVENTFAQS, Rasheed Sait, Vice President and Managing Director, George P. Johnson Experience Marketing, India discusses the decade gone by, the learning over the years, and the future of India's experiential marketing industry.

Looking at the last ten years, what would you say have been the trends in the experiential marketing industry?

Marketing complexity has increased dramatically over the last decade. The job of marketing managers has become more difficult as they grapple with a highly fragmented audience and media choices. In their quest to get brand visibility and audience attention in a highly cluttered environment, the marketing manager is looking to innovate more than ever before. Hence, the pressure on experience marketing agencies to deliver clutter breaking event formats and creative concepts has increased.

Another major trend I have noticed is the pressure on agencies to measure the results of experience marketing campaigns. Marketing departments are now setting aside anywhere between 2-3 per cent of experience marketing budgets to measure effectiveness. At GPJ, we sensed this trend a few years ago and put in place a "5 Rights" strategy and measurement tool. The thinking here is that for any experience marketing campaign to be successful, it is imperative to have the right intelligence, right portfolio, right experience, right actions and right measurement.

Quality of execution has been the bane of our industry for many years. However, that is changing very quickly. Clients, agencies and vendors have realised this is serious business and that each party has to play a role if our execution quality is to reach global standards. Agencies are a lot more professional now, with better systems / processes and attention to detail.

Yet another positive development in our industry is the responsibility and ownership by experience marketing agencies in ensuring that the "right audience" attends events. Consequently, most top agencies now have an analytics, database and audience marketing division as part of the overall service offering.

Interestingly, these changes are aiding our industry growth. Clients feel a lot more confident about working with experience marketing agencies and hence, shifting significant marketing budgets to experience marketing.

How do these trends compare with the rest of the world?

I see many similarities in how things are evolving in more mature markets and our country. The need to innovate and measure effectiveness continues to be a key priority for agencies globally. However, unlike India, execution quality has never been a huge issue in mature markets.

The use of digital to enhance event experience is a major trend globally. Digital has played a big role in creating more engaging experiences during the pre-event, onsite and post-event stage. A couple of agencies in India have been experimenting with digital in recent times and the results are quite good. GPJ recently released a whitepaper, "Blurring the Line", that talks about the growing influence of digital and the convergence of the two mediums - experience marketing and digital.

Hybrid and virtual events are now an integral part of the event portfolio in the US, Europe and some Asian markets. The award winning Cisco Global Sales Conference (GSX), conceptualised by GPJ, is a really good example of a highly successful virtual event. Cisco GSX provided more than 19,000 participants from all over the world the opportunity to "meet" and "collaborate".

Most of GPJ's 30 offices, including India, now employ digital experts and offer digital as an additional service.

Name some of your most unique and interesting experiences created for your clients

The three that come to mind immediately are an exhibit we created for Infosys which was "closed from all sides", Software Universe Technology Conference for IBM with Gary Kasparov at the centre of the idea, and Lenovo's "fun labs" press conference - we made the press dance to our tunes at this launch. A 2,000 sqm. exhibit for General Motors that we designed and executed at the 2008 Auto Expo is another great example of a very successful and innovative experience marketing solution.

What would you say are GPJ India's key highlights in the last decade?

We went from a single client, single city, and single service agency to a multiple client, multiple cities, multiple service agency within the first two years of starting operations in India. Every year, we set ourselves growth targets and I am proud to say that we have exceeded our targets year-on-year. I am really proud of the very talented and high performance team that we have built in Bangalore, Mumbai and Delhi - many of whom have been with GPJ India for more than 6-7 years. We are probably the only experience marketing agency in the country that offers Strategy + Planning as a specialised service. Last but not the least, we are really proud of the award winning ideas and customers we have created for 50 odd clients over the last 10 years.

What do you think are the biggest challenges the experiential marketing industry is going to face in the near future?

I don't think the experience marketing business has received the recognition and respect it deserves. Clients are comfortable signing up digital, PR and ad agencies on a long term retainer contracts. However, when it comes to experience marketing agencies, clients seem reluctant to sign up long term contracts. This breeds a lot of insecurity, talent drain and short term thinking within the agencies. According to me, this is the biggest challenge and hurdle our industry must overcome in the coming years. Thankfully, there are exceptions like IBM who have signed up GPJ more than 12 years back as its global agency of record and reaped the benefits of this model. More clients are beginning to recognize the value of a partnership model versus a vendor model.

The lack of qualified and skilled talent is likely to be a challenge. However, education institutions like EMDI and Indira School of Event Management are doing a great job in training and providing the industry with a steady supply of qualified and ‘job ready' pool of talent. Many MBA and BBM courses are now offering experience marketing as a specialisation. This is a true testimony to an industry whose time has come.

by EVENTFAQS Bureau | Corporate/Brand Marketing | September 5, 2012

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