Advertising Highs: Lessons From Jaipur

Updated: Nov 15 2003, 05:30am hrs
If there is one overriding message from the just concluded Ad Asia 2003 in Jaipur, it is that the advertising industry and the Indian and Asian economies which had gone through some rough times in the past few years, are now well on their way back. One indication: a large part of the huge cost needs of the entire show was contributed from a host of sponsors including Indian business groups, multinationals operating in India and media groups. The regional media was also quite active in chipping into the needs.

At another level, with nearly 1500 delegates, contributing their delegates fees, that was another source of income. More importantly, was the investment in time that was given by the CEOs and top management of the advertising agencies and media groups.

Even as this was an occasion to network like the typical dos of these kinds, this stood out in one respect-- that almost all of them have spent the entire five days in Jaipur, leaving work and office to be there at this biennial event.

Part of the reason for this highly involved participation from the advertising industry both in India and abroad was because of the high quality of speakers from India and abroad. The ideas that some of them have been able to generate and the debates that they have thrown up will be food for the advertising and marketing world for sometime.

Another reason is the way in which the sessions had been structured. On almost every day, there were many sessions of equally high order. It also included a wide variety of themes ranging from direct marketing to corporate strategy, globalisation, future of work, media planning and brand management.

Further, the post-session evenings on almost every day had entertainment events that were different from some of traditional fare that corporate India has been used to. If it was Ila Arun one day, it was polo and tent pegging the other and Ritu Kumar, Shiamak Davar and Euphoria on other days. The presence of film stars to added glitter to the do.

There were about 32 speakers who made their presentations during the Summit that spanned five days. Based on some of the audience feedback and FEs own analysis, here is a listing of the most popular sessions, but not necessarily in an order of ranking: Ricardo Semler, president, Semco S/A of Brazil was a real crowd puller.

Globally, he is one of the most respected champions of global change and some of his ideas, managers felt helped in rethinking some of their traditional concepts. Even though Amitabh Bachchan was not one of the speakers, but more in the mould of a guest speaker who inaugurated the Summit, his thoughts on what managers can learn from cinema and his own life drew wild applause.

Hindustan Lever chairman Manvinder Singh Vindi Banga drew sharp reactions for his ideas on managing power brands and the role of advertising industry. Another speaker who took the war to the turf of the ad industry was Lester Wunderman, the father of direct marketing who challenged those who spoke about the declining relevance of direct marketing. Scott Bedbury, global brand strategist and the person who has widely been credited with the success of Nike and Starbucks worldwide drew wide applause not for his success stories but for those of the unpublicised failures, which then spurred him on to push to stretch the targets and not make those mistakes again.

Of course, the big event between Reliance chairman, Mukesh Ambani and AV Birla group chairman, KM Birla on Building Brand India threw up a wave of national pride, much evident in the post-session conversations. Rajat Guptas data backed presentation on building global champions left many to do a reality check on building global Indian corporations. Finally of course, social philosopher and rare speaker in India, Charles Handys presentation on the future shape of work was really a time for introspection.

If all of this showed the sunny side up in Jaipur, what were the flip side Mainly, that even as it is an event of the advertising industry, there were very few CEOs and top managers from the rest of Indian industry and other parts of Asia. Rich lessons on strategy, marketing and globalisation could have been the take-aways for those who missed it.

If events organised by the mainline industry associations see top managers flock to it for networking and visibility, this lacked the hype in the external world. Something that many of them could have made use of. One clear exception to this was Shekhar Bajaj, chairman and managing director of Bajaj Electricals, who spent all his time listening and learning. His company is going through a turnaround and he wanted to use this forum to generate ideas on how he can sustain the momentum in his company.

Many other companies are doing well. But CEOs of these companies should realise that unless they constantly reinvent and innovate, they could be corporate relics tomorrow.