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15 Changes That Moulded India’s Event & Experiential Industry: Rasheed Sait — MD, GPJ India

George P Johnson has moved into the 15th year of operations in India. In these times of short-lived warranties, 15 years does feel like a long-term relationship with the experiential industry. I can’t help but look back and reflect on all the incredible changes that the event space has witnessed. While some trends were sustained, some were overruled, but I take pride to observe that, what has stood the test of time are virtues of hard work, innovation & creativity. These have been our constant companions, which helped us keep this industry abuzz with innovation and vibrancy.

When you have lived and breathed events for past 15 years, you inadvertently become an expert. So, while I may still struggle to answer my wife’s ‘do I look different today?’ questions, I can with ease identify the myriad of changes the event industry has undergone over the years. Hence this seemed like the perfect opportunity to take you through an interesting time lapse read of changes that took place in the event space in the last 15 years.

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1 Idea trumps execution. And has been voted as the President Once upon a time, clients selected event agencies based on their ability to execute and their experience in operations and management. The decisions were made based on how much manpower you had and whether your vendor base was strong. This has changed drastically in the last 15 years. Today, clients pick agencies based on the power of their ideas. If the idea is right, the mandate is yours. At GPJ India we have seen this change closely and have always promoted innovation and out-of-the-box creative experiences which have given us the privilege to sustain the last 15 years in India.

2 When digital takes over. And you know you can’t deny Many of us fondly remember the days of the direct mailer. Everything depended on post, couriers and phone calls. Wanted to create pre-event buzz? Design a unique direct mailer or pick up the phone and call the invitee. Then came the digital revolution and transformed communication as we knew it. Today, invitations are video messages and every event must have a Facebook page and social presence. The possibilities and opportunities are endless and exciting! At GPJ we are glad we could see both sides of the coin and not just be a part of this transformation, but lead the change in brand communication.

3 Everyone is a photographer. They will find you & they will click you. Remember the time when that non-discreet, almost brazen photographer kept coming in your face and taking pictures and videos at events? He captured on-stage moments, but also didn’t miss those awkward moments of people eating. What he saw through his lens was the way the world would see the event. And then, just like that, one day everything changed. The mobile phone front camera was launched. With this, the power shifted from the photographer to the audience. You don’t have that one photographer roaming around, you have a hall full of photographers – making everything at the event vulnerable to judgement. The mobile phone camera is transforming the quality and the experiences at events today and we couldn’t be happier!

4 When photo met booth & gave us a star With the launch of mobile phone cameras coupled with social media, came a need to have share-able photographs. 15 years ago, a photo booth was probably a novelty – today, the event is incomplete without it. And how this humble photo booth has become critical to every event – from flat 2D backdrops & props, to immersive 3D art, anti-gravity photo booths, 360-degree GIF photo booths– the photo booth has risen like a star on the event circuit. Now the challenge is to make photos more exciting, unique and shareable.

5 Women rocked our lives, just like always In the early day, events were not perceived as a serious career choice. Events meant late nights, it meant being out of the house for long hours and interacting with a lot of male vendors. This deterred parents from allowing their daughters to work in this male-dominated industry. But there were some women who stepped out of their boundaries to make a name for themselves in the domain of event management. They changed the general perception of the industry. It was no longer a taboo to be out late at night for work. 15 years ago, you barely saw a woman on setups. Today, agencies are filled with talented women managers in all departments. This is one of the things we pride at GPJ – our women colleagues are unstoppable and for once, we are happy to take a step back to give women more opportunities for growth in the industry.

6 Clients got a makeover & it’s a more aware & informed look There was a time when the brand manager knew what he/she wanted for the brand, but they lacked event management expertise. The rise of events as a critical part of brand marketing has led to the rise of experienced event professionals being hired by organizations. Most brands have specialized in-house event teams. Today, the client has cost at the tip of his tongue and vendors are a phone call away. The clients are now more informed, involved and evolved. This is a boon because evolved clients understand the nuances of event management and work with agencies as partners to achieve success. At GPJ we are proud that our clients trust us to give them the best ideas & execution, but we are even more proud that sometimes our clients teach us new things to make events better.

7 Experiential is the new black & it’s a must have. This is one area that has drastically changed over the last 15 years. Earlier, an audience could be wowed with a fantastic looking stage & decor. But the exposure to events has led to a more demanding & evolved audience. Today, the audience wants an experience at events – from the activities to the stage content. Brand activations have changed from static kiosks to immersive, experiential stories and conversations. Just engagement and irrelevant activities are not enough. As agencies, we must constantly raise the bar, bring more experiences into our ideas and evolve with the changing dynamics of brand conversations.

8 When a ticket is booked & that’s it. This is one aspect in live events, especially that has seen a huge boom. From waiting in queues at event venues, theatres, or having to hunt down a ticket for a concert, the audience can now get their chosen seats in just a few clicks. While online ticket bookings were not new abroad, in India, the online banking scenario was in a very nascent stage. People were apprehensive about using online banking for ticket transactions. As time passed, ticket booking portals have become a win-win situation for both – the audience & the promoter. We look forward to more such platforms that will propel the growth of the industry.

9 Eventland has a new king. And it's interactive. 15 years ago, when someone said that holographic objects could move in the air & that we will be able to interact with them, it seemed like a miracle. Today, it’s passé. Today, video mapping, virtual reality, augmented reality & other technologies rule the way we experience events & brand content. The world of events not just moved into the future, but actually left it behind in 15 years. Events today are way ahead of their time. And there are new technologies being launched every day. We are proud that GPJ, with our global network is ahead of the times in use of technology, with the benefit of being the ones who get to know about global technologies before they come into India, giving us an invisible upper hand.

10 Move over the jack of all trades. Masters are here. There were those golden days when every event manager was a one-man army. That single person was creative, was execution, was production, was client servicing. He/ She managed complete events almost single-handedly. No one knew any better and single person agencies were plenty. As time passed, more people joined resources and event management schools were born. Now as an agency, we have the privilege of recruiting specialists for drastically better results in all verticals of event management. As an industry, we need to recognize the importance of specialized talent and do everything in our power to further hone their skills.

11 Cause it’s all about the cause. 15 years ago, there was a lack of knowledge about CSR. With rising awareness and the inherent ‘will to do good’, many events are designed to benefit the lesser privileged. GPJ as an agency has always believed in social welfare causes. Globally we support innumerable social causes. In India, in the past, we have partnered with CRY and helped create awareness of ‘Every Child's Right to Education' by participating in a unique cycle rally organized in Bangalore. The next year, we sponsored ‘Ramp for Champs' organized by Smile foundation and funded the education of 25 underprivileged girls for a year. As the future unravels, we look forward to many more social welfare causes.

12 Don’t be mean. Just go green. As the world faces a very real danger of global warming which has only been increasing in the last 15 years, there is a strong need to work towards making events more sustainable. Something as small as a paperless office, or campaigns about the need to save water and electricity can go a long way toward building a green world for the future. Globally, GPJ has a serious culture of being environment friendly by making simple choices that help the environment and save our client’s money; using bubblers instead of bottled water for example. With dedicated teams, we’ve developed for Dreamforce, where for the past two years we’ve realized massive reductions in waste and energy consumption, by design and with specific goals. In India as well, in the coming years we hope to make a bigger impact towards the environment.

13 The future India lives in rural India. Do say hello to them. 15 years ago, the rural meant the poor – nobody would cater to their needs. Today, the rural audience is king – this market has witnessed a huge revolution in the last decade. Brands have realised that the potential and buying power as well as rising aspirations of the rural audience. In a country where 70% of its citizens live in villages, it’s not surprising that brands have shifted focus to rural events.

14 Keep calm and make a bang! 15 years ago, an event meant putting up a stage, technical and entertainment – the job was done. But not anymore. Now, every corporate client is expecting more in the same amount of money – not necessarily more in terms of production, but more in terms of take away from the event. The focus has shifted from having just a good-looking event to a more meaningful event – thus directing the way budgets are spent. ROI is evaluated by what the audience felt. Emotions are now a real currency. The challenge is to design events that cost less but impact more.

15 Measure. Learn. Update. Repeat. 15 years ago, the only thing that mattered was ‘how many people attended’. Today, event measurement has evolved to ‘how many people were engaged, what do they take away, will they come back?’ The measurement of success has changed drastically and will continue to do so even more in the future. For example, a global brand once actually placed hidden cameras in a store window – so they could measure every consumer’s reaction when they looked at the window. We now need to get more creative with event measurement & this will be a focus area for GPJ India in the coming years. In conclusion, I’d like to take this opportunity to thank everyone GPJ has been associated with since our inception in India. You have given us the encouragement to withstand the ups and downs of the ever-changing dynamics of the industry. We have grown tremendously in the last 15 years & we look forward to another fantastic 15 ahead.

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