Brands have no choice but to slash experiential spends due to this pandemic: Sameer Tobaccowala

Event managers who constantly pride themselves on their ability to handle crisis suddenly find themselves dumbstruck and floundering, says Tobaccowala.


Experiential agencies have been badly hit by the ongoing crisis. With on-ground activations on hold, most agencies are now looking at creating innovative digital experiences for brands.

To understand how experiential players are battling the ongoing crisis and the way forward, we spoke to Sameer Tobaccowala, Chief Executive Officer, Shobiz Experiential Communications. Here are some excerpts from the interview:

What has been the impact of Covid on experiential marketing business?

The impact has been nothing short of catastrophic. Overnight events and other experiential activities came to a grinding halt. The glimmer of light on the horizon kept receding and we are now in the 5th month of lockdown. 

Event managers who constantly pride themselves on their ability to handle crisis suddenly find themselves dumbstruck and floundering. However there is a flip side to it all. And that teaches us valuable business lessons. Keep your organisation lean and agile, ready to pivot. And align yourself strongly with your client’s core business.

Do you think brands will cut down on experiential spends in a big way till Covid crisis persists?

I don’t think brands are cutting experiential spends consciously. But every marketer needs to show return on investment. And if experiential is a medium and a channel that has limited return in the context of the current pandemic, other media avenues become more attractive.

What will be your suggestions to smaller agencies? How can they deal with this situation?

Hold on to your core. Whether it is clients, specialisations or talent. Keep that close and you have the possibility to regerminate and grow again into a mighty oak. Lose that and you’ll be firewood.

What are brands expecting from experiential agencies in these times?

Clients would still like all the richness that experiential promises however, to deliver on this in the current context is a huge challenge. We are innovating a unique experiential language where brands can reach consumers even in the current context. 

This language may require to tone down the general hyperbole of marketing speak, but it has the potential to meet consumers at their point of need. Expect more from us in this space in the coming weeks.

We are also looking to see how we can deliver the omnichannel brand experience despite the current context.

What is your biggest learning from the current situation?

Hope for the best, plan for the worst. 

How will the road to recovery pan out for experiential agencies?

The road ahead is rocky and tough. Some will make it. Many will not. But for those who survive, the gains will be huge. Both in terms of life lessons and business lessons. In the final reckoning it's actually the client who will be the eventual winner.

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