“Brands and agencies should sit together and clean the air”: Roshan Abbass, Encompass Events
Encompass was founded in 1996, it gradually grew from a creative event agency to an experiential marketing agency and has since worked with prominent brands such as Pepsi, Nokia, Microsoft, Colgate-Palmolive and Godrej. Through its 17 years of existence and relentless efforts in the experiential domain, Founder and Managing Director of the firm, Roshan Abbas has seen the industry transition before his very own eyes. In a candid interview with EE he reveals the secrets to brand building, verifiable truths brands are simply failing to understand, the discord between brands and agencies and the compelling need to clean the air.
Round One. Fight!
EE: What is the role of experiential marketing in building brands today?
For a very long time brands existed as a perception in peoples mind as projected by the media. But today the live space, the space where human interaction happens, is also where brands reside in so many different ways and that is where experiential marketing comes in. We live in a world of experiences. A lot of us largely live virtual lives, but even in our virtual lives what are we consuming- I read this, I saw this, I shared this. These are all experiences. Brands effectively build themselves when they bring themselves alive by harnessing these experiences. Just like in the west the experiential and BTL industry is steadily becoming larger than the traditional .
EE: What are brands in India not understanding about experiential?
Brands need to commit themselves to long-term investment into properties. It is important to understand the ethos of your brand, translate that into an event property and follow it through for a couple of years. A great example is how Teachers has used the Teachers Awards. Heres a whiskey marketer, its not allowed to do on-ground promotion, so it created these awards that have now become part-television, on-ground and a great extension, but this unfolded only because the brand was committed to it for so many years. In India brands have very frivolous engagements. They flirt with too many ideas at a time .
EE: How do you correlate ROI with experiential?
The ROI debate is going to one extreme. When a brand says I love your idea now talk to my commercial department, it is invariably true that the commercial department will ultimately leave me with something that will abort the idea. Brands very quickly let go of their responsibilities and say “Okay now its up to you to deliver it”, which I feel is being very unfair. Brands need to learn to partner with event agencies for long periods of time. It is common that brands invite five agencies, they enjoy each of their personal pitch, acquire a hundred ideas and then they get the cheapest to execute them. They are comfortably positioned in this seat of power. If a brand steals my idea and gives it to someone else I have no way of proving it. Why not give a little extra for a better idea and, in the bargain, receive quality. There are several auxiliary services that agencies don’t even bill the brands for, and believe me when I say that ultimately no agency makes more than 7%-8% profit. Brands should begin valuing the service they receive.
EE: What are agencies not understanding about experiential?
Most agencies don’t understand what a brand is. When going to pitch to a brand, 80% of event agencies go in with a roster of magic potions- “I have three performers, four lasers, two caterers.” But a one size fits all approach never works. That is not a brand. The approach should be- This is your brand, this is what the people think, these are the intersections, at these intersections these are the properties in which you can invest, lets do the following. Our primary focus is to religiously try and reflect the brand’s philosophy through every service we offer. And this is exactly what we’ve earned our rewards off and we are the agency that we are today.
Both sides- brands and event agencies- have too many misconceptions about the other. I think they should just sit together and clean the air first.
EE: According to you what brands in India understand experiential best?
I think Pepsi has a great understanding of experiential. Red Bull is not a brand that we work with but have to say it does a pretty good job. Luxury automobiles like Mercedes and Audi have caught the drift. IPL as a brand understands consumer engagement. ITC with all its brand extensions- from cigarette, to notebooks, to fashion apparel, to lifestyle, to hotels- have done some very exciting things in each of these spheres. Since liquor and tobacco brands can only do events and experiences, because of the surrogate they usually think of very unique ideas. A lot of brands are far more focussed on using events and engagement as their internal communications for dealers, distributors, sales teams etc but the consumer facing brands I think are the ones who really get it because they understand their consumer life cycle well.
EE: On an average how much of their marketing budgets are brands spending on experiential?
Most large sized brands would spend 50 to 100 crores on experiential per year. I can’t think of more than 10 or 15 brands that spend this kind of money. The pity is that most of these end up becoming cross media deals with a little bit of radio, television etc. thrown in so the events bit is inevitably left with a smaller share. 20 to 30 medium sized brands that spend about 25 odd crores per year. The rest are doing it mostly because they simply do not want to fall behind. Given a choice they'd rather use that money and invest in a media property or hoarding.
EE: How do you rate experiential as opposed to traditional advertising?
Live is a medium full of anomalies. An experience is built on elements of sound, light, emotions etc. A great experience for one may not be so great for another. Most brands don’t want to take the risk of these experiments. A friend of mine once told me that advertisers are extremely lazy, they’ve ultimately got a piece of copy that the brand has approved, the brand has largely scripted, signed, selected models for, given the final approval to and made the media budget for, so that brand himself can be easily blamed for it. Whereas an event manager has to imagine a scenario and when its executed nobody can tweak it, its happening, the button has been pressed. Look at the amount of risk involved, we are the guys throwing the dice in the casino not knowing what number is going to come up. We try and find a science in telling you what the number is but if it doesn't come to that number exactly brands should give us a little more leeway.
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