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Jaipur Literature Festival: How This Iconic Brand Is Redefining Innovation

Preeta Singh, President, Teamwork Arts, spoke to EE about the return of JLF 2022 and how this festival is subverting and innovating its existing models in this dynamic time.

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After the covid induced break, the iconic Jaipur Literature Festival will return to its home city, Jaipur, for its 15th edition. This year the festival will be held between 5-14 March 2022.

While the festival is set to return on-ground, we spoke to Preeta Singh, President, Teamwork Arts who is responsible for leading marketing, alliances and sponsorship for the Jaipur Literature Festival about pivoting and innovating their existing models in these dynamic times and more.

Here are some excerpts from this exclusive interview:

How are festivals such as JLF subverting and innovating their existing models in this dynamic time?

This is quite a complex question. If you look at what happened to us as consumers, as a world of people, way back in 2020, sounds like another era, but no, it was just two years ago. We, at the Jaipur Literature Festival, were growing steadily year after year. Footfall was growing on-ground, not only in India but also in 9 cities across the world, everything was hunky-dory. And suddenly, Covid hits us. 

At the end of the day, Jaipur Literature Festival or any festival, or any offer for the consumer, has to adapt to what the consumer wants, their behaviour, their attitude, what they really want. We had to change tracks very quickly, and we had to come up with a new strategy. And, frankly, nobody knew this. We experimented, and by god’s grace, we landed with both our feet firmly on the ground and the festival has only grown. 

However, there are two fundamental things. One is we first store from the consumer’s point of view: what is it that they want. They are going to be locked down in their homes and would love to come out. The fact is that the screen time was going up. More people were working from home, shopping from home, reading from home. 

Second is to experiment. We experimented with something way before the Jaipur Literature Festival, the main mother festival in January. We did “Brave New World”, which was an absolute winner because of two things: one, we understood what consumer behaviour and expectation was, and the other, we took a very important subject i.e., Covid, the pandemic and de-mystified it. We got experts who had written about it, we got experts from across India and the world. We had experts like Dr. Mukherjee to come in. 

So, we shut down and we thought this through, with the festival directors, with the producers, with everybody. And in hindsight, that is what changed the destiny and the course of the Jaipur Literature Festival. We quickly got a large digital footprint; we had audiences who had never come to the festival, from far-off, from across the country and overseas. We managed to capture the mind and the heart of the consumer when they were most concerned, most confused, and the Jaipur Literature Festival, as a leading brand, did what it should have. 

It took a leadership stance, it came up with something brand new and we engaged with our audiences, both existing and new ones. And that, I think, is the turning point. We accepted that the learning curve was sharp, thereafter, things were clear. There is one important thing, which I must share, at the end of the day, our core business is festivals. 

TWA creates content, we create entertaining platforms for consumers, and for us the revenue comes from there. We don't charge fat tickets like others, and in many cases, the Jaipur Literature Festival has been largely a free-to-access festival over the years. Even though we charge a small, which is a handling fee, it is more because of logistics, or because we want a safe environment and so on. But, by large, majority of the revenue comes from three sources, one is sponsorship and partnership, the other is our sales, from books and other literature related material and merchandise, and last but not the least: F&B. 

A live festival is an experience. You come there, and you’ve heard Margaret Atwood, you’ve heard Chetan Bhagat but when you come to the festival, the Jaipur Literature Festival, you breathe the same air, there is excitement. There you meet like-minded people, you have a lot of fun, it is an experience. That experience, in total, is what the Jaipur Literature Festival is. And the core, of course, is great content, curated by Namita and William and its world-class Indian stuff and global stuff. But the money comes from these sources, from this whole experience, when you drop a couple thousands per person without a thought. 

Now all that had dried up, in a virtual format, and it’s important to note that at that time, in 2020 in the first quarter, brands were also confused, businesses were not clear on how long this was going to last. They were still, while digital was growing as a media, the growth, the absolute, quantal spend on television and traditional media was much, much high. All that had to be re-allocated, and it took some time. So, it wasn’t easy to raise the money plus, we had no numbers to offer. But with clever strategy and marketing, and both our earned media, & social media, our paid media, we did very good barter deals, and were able to put out good content. And finally, I must thank the brands from the bottom of my heart, all our foundation brands, all our ambassadors and excellencies in the country who view literature’s cultural diplomacy, everybody stood by us.

You’ve mentioned sponsorship and revenue-generating tools. JLF is now not on-ground anymore only, it is in hybrid format. How are sponsorships looking like for hybrid models?
 
We are living in two worlds: the real world and the virtual world.

The revenue for the festival, especially for the hybrid model, has witnessed an interesting change for two simple reasons: the number of people on-ground, by definition, will come down because of safety protocols and other protocols that you will follow, and the number of people online will go up because you are reaching more people through the digital and virtual version.

However, in both cases, the expense to reach these audiences is grand, and therefore brands were waiting and watching. The second challenge is that brands have very clear corporate guidelines. Some brands are allowed to invest and be seen in the live event, and some are not. So, we have got to manage that carefully to be able to deliver to the demands and needs of specific brands. Then comes the last challenge: how to price it. I'm not a social media or a Facebook club or a community that is giving you access to get rich, I am not an Insta reel that is talking about the lives or the inspiration behind a great seminal book, I am all that and much more. So, how do I price? How do you value me as a brand, as a marketeer?

These are evolving issues for which there is no black-and-white answer, this is something I'm working through with my team and my clients to come up with now, because everybody accepts/understands that the Jaipur Literature Festival is a leadership brand, that brings a lot of value to them when they associate with us. The question is how much I am going to price this as. How much I’m willing to put? And I think that is going to be, as far as I’m concerned, the big challenge going forward.

The second thing is that if you look at what has happened to digital content, slowly all of us, as consumers, are paying for it. Whether I’m paying for an OTT subscription for a month or paying for any authority platform, any of the news platforms, there is a subscription. However small, whatever format, monthly, weekly, pay-per-view etc., it is going to change, and so do we. We’re experimenting with a lot of stuff, and I think we’ll be in a better position to share some new ideas and strategies next year. Again, all these are sharp learnings, we have to think of the environment and the festival in the digital/virtual, and we have to adapt.

You have already mentioned the various challenges when you were answering the first question. Any specific trend which you have figured out or you’re looking at in a post-pandemic world?
 
 I believe the biggest trend that we will witness in the post-pandemic world is going to be the need to create ‘Value’. People are not looking to waste their time. If you want to catch someone’s attention, create something that has value or that is close to their heart.
 You can see signs of fatigue of screen time in people. With the first two lockdowns, people were highly engaging on social media and utilizing the opportunity whenever presented to get out. I, for example, am a social animal, I want interaction and I am going to look for it. And this behaviour has been a realization that hybrid living is here to stay. 

You have to adapt, there needs to be innovation of new content. One can’t simply take one type of content and serve it across platforms. It doesn’t work that way. People consume content differently; they also process content digitally and live differently. And that is something that basic truism and we have to work around it. 

The other trend I believe is here to stay is that people will pay. People will be willing to pay, not truckloads, but small portions for relevant content, for what they want.

Finally, the trend I wholeheartedly believe will stick is the credibility and wholesomeness of the content. People are sick and tired of digital content being either fake or manipulated. They want transparency, clean content. Anybody who can crack that is a winner.

We as a festival, because of how we are credited, because of how our value system is, I think, we are very well placed to capture that. And finally, what is going to happen you are going to be able to create, you must create publicity events for them. It cannot be one-size-fits-all. We must create communities that consume or want a particular way of being and be able to address that.

One trend that will have to change is the way branded content is approached. As will continue to run, but the digital media allows one to skip a 30 second Ad. Brands will have to integrate their messaging as a part of a larger campaign and communicate it subtly and through multiple mediums. 

We as festival owners, we as people who make a living out of creating engaging content must be very mindful that we are honest and therefore brands must come in and work with us, to create newer offerings for their consumers, who are also our consumers.

I’d like to ask more about the marketing strategies. We’ve been talking about marketing strategies- what kind of strategies the festival is taking to produce the hybrid version. So, in a post pandemic world, how is it evolving?

Over the years, two things have happened. One, as you have rightly said, the learning curve in the last 24 months has been so steep, and the change has been so dramatic in all our lives: the world has been impacted in such a major way.

In my view, this relates to Darwin’s theory of survival. We have to adapt and evolve. 

When we talk about the Jaipur Literature Festival, we approached it from a larger lens. Our strategies were made keeping in mind the bigger picture: understanding and analyzing even the portion of the population that has access to the digital medium. The strategic change we have brought about is through very targeted partnerships. 

This year, we have extensively partnered with digital media and have allocated a chunk of our budget to social media promotion. 

On the 5th of March, we go digital and on the 10th we’re live on-ground in Jaipur.

What do you think about the future of marketing in India as far as cultural festivals and events are concerned?

I think the future of marketing in India in terms of events is to be a 100% hybrid. Now whether it’s the Olympics, or the Kumbh Mela,every event, regardless of its nature, will go hybrid. 

The hybrid version allows people to experience events from afar. While some might wish to turn up for events on the ground, some may wish to experience it from the comfort of their homes. One could be in New York and wish to attend a virtual event happening all the way in India. 

Organizations will have to go Hybrid to make sure that the festival reaches the maximum number of people.

Another trend that will come up is custom-made events. There will be a surge in this segment of custom, exclusive events. I foresee a growing market in India for custom made experiences. People will be willing to pay for high-end exclusive experiences that are tailor-made. The differentiator will be exclusive.

Technology has also been a game changer in this field. India is a multi-cultural, multi-lingual country, our virtual events have the power to gain more and more reach. No longer will we be limited by locality or language.





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