“Experiences leave stretch marks on your soul”- Roshan Abbas
20 years ago, I told a school junior about Delhi University, about the thriving nightlife of the hostel, college festivals. He was sold. Once school was out, he had arrived in New Delhi and we had already dreamt up our first company Point Counterpoint. We did odd jobs for people who didn’t have the time for it. Today I see Timesaverz and Taskrabbit and smile to myself. Our idea was way ahead of its time. But our second idea was apt for the chaos that was the events scene in the 90s. It was called Encompass. And the school junior was Sukrit Singh, the driving force behind Encompass today.
Being a radio jockey and TV host in 1995 a natural extension of what I did on air was to do it live. Be a show host. And so I was in Ludhiana a Wizcraft event and a stadium with Baba Sehgal at a Magnum Nexus one, interviewing an UrmilaMatondkar for Lux at an Opus event or quizzing at a Showbiz Unilever conference. These were some of the best names in the business back then.
Delhi was largely the wild west of events. Unpaid talent and suppliers, disgruntled clients, terrible venues. Being a performing artist this bothered me to no end. I also was a regular seller for advertising agencies. And here the chaos was better managed. There seemed to be a system , clients trusted agencies with their brands but never the event manager. I shared this with Sukrit who was freelancing during his masters as an event designer. We flirted with the idea. But what sealed the deal was a monumental blow, less to our bank balances and more to our egos. Both of us were simultaneously ditched by an event manager. The idea plagiarized was mine, the execution that remained unpaid was Sukrit’s. We decided to do something about it. Create an all encompassing marketing solution. What else could we call it but ENCOMPASS.
From a room in my house to a basement in Chittaranjan Park to a first floor to many floors, we moved as we grew. We spent quality time with our landlord negotiating rents rather than contracts with clients. But our office space was big, and rooms need people to populate them and dreams need doers.
And over the next few years we built a team. Our clients pushed us. ShuchiSarkar at Motorola nudged us from the comfort of launching pagers at a hotel ballroom to selling pagers at Nehru place through a roadshow. Our first roadshow was a disaster. Nobody gathered for the event. This wasn’t a cushy invite only affair. This was attention marketing. We recovered next day with dholwalas and the promise of money falling from the skies. We had a crowd and their attention. Through many such devices of engagement we did an MBA on the job.
We never did the obvious and so the road less traveled was more like ‘roadless’ journeys into areas where we needed to make our own path. Our activation giveaway would be a set of audio tapes as the trucker community still listened to cassettes and so we were away in Mumbai negotiating deals with TIPS, the churning of the sea would launch the next big Paging revolution and Sukrit was negotiating with boisterous boatmen in Chennai for an inflatable to be launched from the water. Our ideas seemed infectious; we began to be called by many the Ogilvy of the events business.
We got on board our first CEO (Sue Fertal) who stepped over from a mainline agency to Encompass. The advertising agency from which she moved still holds a grudge I think for its a rare LakshmanRekha that is crossed. We were burnt by bad clients, scorched by performing artists on occasion (oh those unpaid F&B and phone bills), we rose like the phoenix every time someone wrote our epitaph. We were the rock of Gibraltar on rolling skates (Thank you Tom Peters).
An advertising agency head once said, he would never do events. ‘We make a print ad or TV commercial and everything’s pre approved, there are no last minute issues except maybe placement or time slot.’ I could never explain to him the rush of adrenalin we feel at a live venue.
Event people are the ones given the brief everyone else refuses to do. Why do we do it? Events make memories. Experiences that you give birth to leaves stretch marks on your soul. Where else would you get to launch KBC across 10 cities with the thrill of outdoing the TRP that a India Pakistan match gets when Sachin is about to hit a century, manage the Formula one and get two million fans for the lead sponsor Airtel and shoot a commercial with Schumacher, run the Obama visit (and get a personal thank you note), execute the mandate of the external affairs ministries for India Africa Summit or do an IPL opening.
But these aren’t the only ones. In 2007 Sukrit came to me and mentioned how he was worried for the future. We were still running quarter to quarter, still pitching endlessly, winning mostly, executing flawlessly, exhausted daily. In the final analysis we were the one night stand, left at the altar of communication by the brand manager for the boring yet faithful advertising agency. But something was changing. We knew the consumer. We had found the secret source and the secret sauce. The briefs that everyone else rejected and we took up had won us respect. And we had built an award winning reputation. We may not have had millions in the bank but had a clean balance sheet that was worth its weight in gold. We decided to look at a partnership. And advertising agencies were beating down our door as suitors. And in 2008 we sold majority stake to WPP. I am often asked the numbers, people still speculate was it a 100 crore deal or more? Sukrit and I laugh privately. We have never mistaken net worth for self worth. The WPP Encompass journey has been epic. In 2015 we are Geometry Global Encompass network, reenergized, towards bigger goals. The journey taught us to manage our moneys better and our reputation even better. Both Sukrit and I got the opportunity to serve on the Cannes Promo Jury. And the results: Encompass is the most awarded specialist network in the industry today.
A heady mix of insights enabled by passionate delivery. We handle more brands then you can believe. We’ve found people who have helped us build what in 2015 is the largest activation and event network in India. There are too many of them to thank but Sukrit has been the architect of our growth. He has been ably supported by TanuRandhawa, Chanda Singh, HemaBhagwani, Nupur Jain, NitinAgarwal, Subhash, Supriya, Reshma. There are many more stalwarts who are not a part of Encompass anymore. We have birthed many agencies through our lifetime. And when many walk back through our door after years for a visit or to join in the new vision they all say one thing: We are home!
About the Author
Roshan Abbas is a radio Jockey, theatre actor, emcee, writer, director and the founder of event management agency Encompass.
(The article first appeared in Oct-Nov '15 issue of BW APPLAUSE)
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