Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Who needs the Event Manager!

In a recent Marketing Round Table at WE School, a noted management institute in Mumbai, this was a comment made by a panel member while discussing a student presentation. The topic of the programme was ‘Gen Nxt Markets’ which was a very interesting title to open up minds. After all, a possibility today opens up and becomes a reality for tomorrow. Needless to say, almost all concepts shared that evening inevitably had extensive use of internet and technology led applications aimed to refine life in the coming years.

One such concept actually caught my attention for a very wrong reason. It was a portal which was aimed at becoming an online market place for material meant for small parties and family events. So this will have a data base of sellers for merchandise, bakers, emcee and entertainment options etc. All a person needs to do is get in touch with these people who the website will certify for genuineness of pricing and value. All in all this looked like just another section under a Just Dial or Sulekha kind of online classifieds with practically nothing different as the monetization model .

But for necessity to be the mother of this invention; Event Managers and agencies overcharge and have their commissions as a part of the entire deal. While this argument was to support why their idea had meat, it digressed to why event managers charge as much as they do. It later precipitated towards- who even needs them? A topic which was looking like a ‘yawn’ moment suddenly turned into a direct attack towards my belly n livelihood.

But seriously; who needs the Event Manager? Weddings, birthdays, customer and dealer meets for corporates, music concerts and sporting events have all been happening for centuries with no mention of an event manager ever. So why in the last 25 odd years a new breed named event managers come up amongst us to do things we already did for such a long time?

Event managers have existed as a part of every big ‘n small event we have seen or heard of since the beginning of time. It was the minister who organized a king’s coronation or our uncles and aunts who ran pillar to post in weddings and ceremonies coordinating with the decorator and the caterer. It either came in as a part of the job or a relative who took the responsibility out of choice to ensure a smooth and seamless execution. While the subordinates usually don’t have a choice; it can be an obligation for the relative who may tend to miss out on important ceremonies while running behind responsibilities.

The main reason for the very existence of Event Managers as a professional outfit today is the fact that people do not have time and do not want obligations. Dual income parents desire a birthday party for their child with all the bells and whistles, but who has the time to plan the same. How often are they in mood to go and shop for putting together a goody bag or negotiate with an emcee or a banquet space? Besides, who wishes to take on obligations within a family structure already under strain as they going nuclear?

Event managers are designed to be specialists in planning, coordination and negotiation- in desi terms; a ‘maha-jugaadu’. They become a single point contact; much like a walking-talking classifieds, which can even deliver a journey to Mars if demanded. But apart from this, they also need to be firefighters towards handling every 11th hour emergency which might arise, with “not possible” and “can’t be done” as unacceptable answers. Customers have zero tolerance to any lapses from their end and it actually takes about 10-15 days for anyone to plan and execute a spotless event.

Take for instance an event as small as a birthday party for a 1 year old kid. Even for this seemingly petty occasion, they have to manage the venue, d├ęcor, food, cake, emcee, music, games, and prizes, return gifts etc. as the visible elements keeping in mind a wide array of people who will come for this event. The invisible part is locating a venue which is friendly for children as well as the aged, facilities for both the groups, ample parking space and even basic medical kits for eventualities. In the background, he has negotiated and sourced all the party material, planned how it all comes up as a unified flow along with the statutory permissions for playing music at a public place.

And toward all this, he might get paid at max 15% as commission by the organiser- meaning he earns 15K when a party costs 1 lac. I don’t see which professional will work at such pay scales and deliver flawless on expectations. And it is the very same reason why I don’t feel they need to be charging as per a rate card or MRP assigned by any 3rd person- the biggest reason why I took on the panel against this proposed portal.

So coming back to the main point of contention- who needs an Event Manager? Honestly, if you have the time and skill to organize and execute any event on your own, you really don’t need one. I don’t think an event agency will even try to find themselves a role if they actually are not adding value.

And if you wish to know why we hire event manager- it’s simply either of these reasons: lack of time, lack of organising and planning skills, don’t wish to get into unwanted hassles of coordination, don’t wanna do the thankless job or more commonly- let’s get a scrape goat to put the blame on when things go wrong.  

Monday, October 27, 2014

The rise of the ‘Me’ world

A feeling quite a few people around me shared during Diwali this time around- ‘the number of people bursting fire crackers seems to be going down in our locality’. Most of the people saw this as a welcome sign as it could be related to possible lower levels of air and sound pollution along with an opinion that it was judicious use of money by spending it in other areas. While I still await stats of how much of e-retailers and malls sold this time around, I do foresee some big numbers arising here. But while it may have been better business in retail; I can help suppress a fear creeping in my mind- has the spirit of Diwali slowly eroded?

Bursting crackers during Diwali was like a social event in my building. Children and elders came down for the occasion, pooled the crackers and sweets and spent almost an hour together chatting, sharing jokes and enjoying the fireworks in each other’s company. Lighting up of a 1000 or 5000 maala intertwined with an atom bomb or Laxmi bomb was like the highlight of Laxmi Poojan. Lighting an anar or seeing a rocket go high in the air was charming. It all seems lost today when not a single person took part bursting crackers or even meeting each other on the occasion. My genuine concern- has Diwali lost its social relevance as a festival and become just another occasion to spend time and money on our own self?

Being an 80’s kid; I can safely say that I have seen the world change in more than many ways. Concepts like one car, one TV, one phone, one computer, one house per family has vanished and today we actually take pride in the fact that every person in a family is likely to have their own phone, TV, computer and car. Weekends or time after school was the time for negotiation with parents to play cricket, football or even hide ‘n seek with the neighbour’s kids. Even a game on Sega (only the few fortunate ones who owned it) was a group activity with 4-5 kids lined up before the set. All this seems to be a thing of the past.

With the sharp rise in consumerism has come the exponential rise in personal gadgetry which in a way is threatening the need for social interactions. Almost all kids today have a Play Station console or have mastered the game apps on their parent’s tablets and cell phones. Playing outdoors is usually limited to some sport involving a professional coach who is programmed to get them into a regime designed like a rigid framework rather than a way to unwind for recreation. One bat, a contribution to buy a ball, stumps drawn on a wall decorated with ball marks have been overruled by console buttons labelled by a circle, cross, square and a triangle.

This is not something which has happened all of a sudden. We have very slowly but surely migrated into an individual driven society. For my parent’s generation; it was always a group of friends or family that listened to the same radio shows, saw movies together in a theatre and on occasions of festivals- got together to enjoy on a higher level. Shopping was also a group activity with one buyer accompanied by 3 support cast. The only forms of personal space was either a form of art or reading books. For our generation, it was handheld video games and the Walkman which first intruded the personal entertainment space. Computers came in much later and affordability kept them at bay. Options with TV channels were few and hence was replacing the radio at some level. But the rest all remained similar.

Easier and affordable access to technology combined with rapid growth in communications and connectivity has together resulted in a social breakdown of sorts. Every aspect of life can now be termed personal and thereby be personalized to taste. From being convenience; technology is now giving a reason for the young and the adults to cocoon themselves from the outside world. Why play in the sun, when you can play on the LAN? Why walk around in a mall or a bazaar when you can shop and order online? Why do you need to spend an hour bargaining with a shopkeeper for a better price when the online store offers you a steal to begin with? Why write a letter when you can email? Why call when you can send a message on Whatsapp?

Today, while talking about a ‘built to last’ HMT watch belonging to his grandfather, my friend since nursery posed a thought questioning if ‘new technologies are really an advancement’. For starters, watches have become a fashion accessory and its functional role taken over by the cell phone. If capabilities and features are to be put in perspective; may be a wearable gadget has a lot more to offer than an HMT watch. But in this ‘Me’-driven world, what an iWatch, Samsung Gear or GOQii will lack is the charm of an interpersonal conversation started off with someone walking up to you and asking. “bhai, time kya hua hai”. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

India- Where even small means BIG!!!

If the market is the prime point to start off while thinking of marketing, India is the land of opportunity. Statistical explanations are most often used by research agencies and consulting firms as a support to show how a small sample survey can be extrapolated and a maximum population under a desired market can be segment, targeted and possibly milked. One of the considerations that most agencies will offer is to concentrate under the bell and ignore the extremes at both the ends.

Somehow this isn’t always true when it comes to India. If I was to paraphrase a very senior and knowledgeable person on India, Mark Tully (BBC Bureau Chief in India for 30 years prior to 1994), with the kind of population India boasts of, even a section termed as the exception can actually number into millions. If put into marketing perspective, even a failure like the World Space Radio had 4.5 lac subscribers in India (the only country to deliver profits) and a cult bike like Royal Enfield hugely affects the stock values of Eicher Motors. It is hardly surprising then that Flipkart can make sales worth Rs. 6 Billion (USD 100Mn) through just on Big Billion Day.

While the above might suggest that there is almost a constant momentum by the side of any product or service which can fulfil the market needs in terms of the price & quality equation. There is possibly no company which enjoys the satisfaction of the ‘S curve’ and the fascination of adding more customers and greater revenue keep the journey within the ‘J’ curve for growth. It is at times that this fascination increases the areas of neglect which are most likely to hamper the desired levels of growth in the near and present future. A case in point, Enfield bikes have a waiting period of roughly 4 to 14 months depending on the model and the consumer choices.

Maybe a cult bike can afford a bit of snobbery; but can an e-retailer in a market driven by cut throat competition afford such lapses?

Flipkart’s Big Billion Day was the first of its kind initiative in India and it almost earned itself the title ‘Flopkart’ thanks to all the technical glitches. The saving grace was for the founders to express an apology to the customers it could not handle on that day. ( )

We can draw parallels to the fact that the first Republic Day Sale by Big Bazaar (another first of its kind in India) also had caused similar ciaos and almost rioting by customers outside the stores; a situation managed by riot police and a declaration of extension for the sale.

Both these are cases where consumer response to the discount sale was far exceeding expectations and the retailers were not planned for the scenarios. But the consumer today is a very different animal. They are high on options and low on patience- which practically implies that they are demanding on their terms and unforgiving towards any slip ups.

With one Big Billion Day Sale, Flipkart has 1.5 Mn orders to fulfil. This is in addition to its everyday sales where it trades its numbers with SnapDeal and Amazon for the top spot. All have been offering heavy discounts leading up to the festive season leading up to Diwali and have together contributed to a problem faced never before by the e-retail model: a breaking strain on the delivery logistics. All the giants use some or the other kind of a courier company as its last mile link and the sheer volume of orders is exposing its weakness.

For the first time, it took 5 days to get me a book I ordered from a seller in my own city of Mumbai. The next was a comparative delay on some electronics which was again 5 days from the date of ordering. The previous benchmark was 2nd day for a book and 3 days for electronics of similar kind I had ordered previously. While I kept my anxiety aside by convincing myself on how not being a loyalty club member can affect service, an article I read today actually told me that so was not the case; nor was I the only one who is having such experiences. (

These are not isolated incidents, nor is this a problem just the Flipkart’s and SnapDeals of the world facing; to me it appears as a critical area called ‘delivery’ has been outsourced and ultimately overlooked. The consequences are evident- cancelled orders, further loss of face for the brands and a bad customer experience to top it. Not to mention, large electronic brands like Sony, Canon and Dell are refusing service under warranty for products bought online as they refuse to acknowledge the genuine-ness of the products. I have already have had one such warranty refusal, but luckily the matters have not escalated beyond.

As a marketer, we are often laid a challenge to think of areas where something named ‘competitive advantage’ can be identified and used to the fullest to surge ahead. Service delivery and aftersales is one area where we often searched for such an opportunity with high impact and difficult replication. 

As I see, the retailers of today have possibly missed the bus and having not planned this as a place to build their brands. It might have been a small area and might be affection a small percentage of the orders. But then again- for India, the small can actually be BIG! While the high volume advertising has made 'Let's Flipkart it' as a new addition to the next edition of Slang dictionary, they seem to have failed at winning customers by building on what can actually be the big advantage. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Towards a Phony World

We all take pride in the fact that the world is shrinking; thanks to exponential improvement in technology and avenues to communicate. A 2010 movie named Udaan had a small joke about the state of telephony in India. A student being rusticated from a school has a small moment of ecstasy when the school master mentions about reporting matters to his father on phone- ‘You mean my house now has a phone line???’ I guess the joke shall fall flat today when India has more mobile phone connections than landlines.

While I have nothing against development or technology, I am coming to believe that technology is actually breaking the human bonds of the society by making us more and more impersonal. Today, almost all of us have a mobile phone, but the so called educated lot have given up calling and gone deeper into messaging. The charm of writing a hand written letter has now become something of a novelty (no wonder guys still try to impress girls by writing letters). I fail to recollect an ad I has seen some time back where there was a statement was, ‘technology today can tell you about what your distant cousin is doing in the US, but let aside mingling- we fail to even know or acknowledge our next door neighbours.’  The bottom line, Nokia may still say we connect people- but the human touch seems to be losing its grip.

Back in the days when I started working in GE Healthcare, the mobile phone became a need to connect with people towards getting solutions to field problems. In those day, my job role demanded me to be reachable round the clock for any emergency as a machine could go down at 7 in the morning or even 11 at night. With every breakdown having a rider attached of ‘human life at stake’, I was paranoid to a level where my phone had to be in the same room and as close to me each time I laid my head down. When I entered media, I got to learn that I was under a behavioural illness termed as Nomophobia.

Coined in 2010 in UK, Nomophobia (No-Mobile-Phobia) was a condition where a subject was living under a fear of losing mobile connectivity either by loss of the instrument, no network coverage, no credits or even the battery losing all juice. At that point, I remember there were stats like more than 70% people sleep with a phone at an arm’s length, 30% indulge in messaging during meetings, loss of a phone book record is more disturbing than losing a book etc. I cannot agree more that all this is happening. In fact, I had to take some forceful steps for myself like no phones during lunch/dinner, no phones when out with friends, phones on silent at night etc. to get me off this.

The next term that joined this list of new age phobias has been propelled by the increasing use of social media in recent times- FOMA (Fear Of Missing Out). It is not a stand-up joke anymore for people to visit Facebook or WhatsApp before the washroom after we getting up from bed or the finishing statement switching off the lights is hitting like on the last comment.  (

Let me just shoot you some numbers from this survey by Tata Communications undertaken in India, Singapore, UK, US and Germany. (China would have been interesting as well). With the 9417 respondents across these countries, 29% of the total spent more than six hours daily on the internet; the number for India being the highest at 46%. Of the total respondents, 56% could not survive for more than 5 hours without internet. For 12 hours without the internet, the Asians collapsed while the rest has over 70% survival. 82% Indians showed signs of FOMA and the gender ratio for anxiety was skewed towards women. What’s more, 43% Indians were prepared to give up on TV for more time on their tablets and smart phones.

It is evidently clear- technology is taking over our world too rapidly and eroding all other forms of media and inter-personal communication. In an interaction with students in their late teens, newspapers had made way for news apps on phones. It was not uncommon to spot a few smiling as they looked down to their groin. I threw a fit when recently on a vacation to Goa, my friend spent more time looking into his phone while sitting on a beach. The habit is so common amongst people that beach side shacks advertise being WiFi enabled. It was there by a refreshing sight when one shack declared it was a place with no frills but perfect for family time and live 90’s style.

I fail to understand how people can participate in twitter battles while watching a Federer- Nadal match or contribute to an absurd poll about Dhoni’s haircut while watching IPL. It actually beats the human nature of reward oriented actions as at end of the day, your tweet was one of a million that day. What an amazing date it is when the girl and the guy are both more interested in clicking a selfie with each other and tagging where they went and missing out on enjoying each other’s company.  

I am certain the scenario has risen out of two key components- easy access to mobile internet and social media applications for phones which are actually destroying the physical and inter personal relations in the real human society. It is thereby not uncommon to see some people taking a sabbatical from social media networks from time to time; it is a kind of a self-imposed restrain (or detox) to avoid the complete annihilation of their physical social structure. I just hope this doesn’t mushroom into a clinical mode of treatment- the indicators do suggest: we are after all moving very close to a phony world. 

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Trial by Social Media

We often have regarded the Jessica Lal murder case as one of the first instances of trail by media in India. If you have seen the movie, ‘No one killed Jessica’, the makers of the film have been completely unapologetic in showing that the murder case had lost its place in the news to larger events happening across. It wasn’t until a channel took it serious and took up the story in a manner exposing the ones involved that justice finally came through.

The pivot point here; a news channel- a part of the organised media had to be involved to take notice and act as a conduit to escalate matters and get people on to the streets to fight for justice. This process of waiting for a news channel or organised media to intervene has actually got bypassed to a fair extent today by the hyper-drive status of social media. Commoners use Facebook and WhatsApp and the popular ones have Twitter following to be applied to leverage social media to a very high extent.

TV channels like Bindaas, Channel V and MTV all today have at least one show where there have been some episodes on how people have used social media to speak out against powerful and influential people around them, report workplace abuse etc. Much like any tool, they also show cases where social media has also been abused to malign people or their reputation as an act of vengeance or to inflict social embarrassment.

If this is the case with individuals, how can corporate houses be left far behind.
Vishal Gondal is a name that found fame as the ‘King of Indian gaming’, thanks to the success of his venture, Indiagames in the late 2000’s. But this gaming wiz also has to his credit to be the man taking on Audi India in a case known to the auto world as the ‘Sleep-walking Audi Q7’. (

Gondal had given his prized 65 lac worth luxury car for servicing and as typical of a gizmo freak, had the facility to track the same over GPS. The night before the delivery, he got a speeding alert from the GPS. The next few hours gave him the horror of seeing the car rally across the cities arterial roads and even land up in suspicious scrap yards of Kurla before getting back to the service centre. Gondal’s reflex action, the GPS track went onto Facebook and Twitter where he was blessed with loyal followers who were up in arms with what had happened. Every person who had service issues with any car manufacturer joined hands and the entire fraternity had to take notice. 

But Audi claimed the car never left the workshop and have termed the GPS tracker as defective. In the online war that followed, Audi tried to delete all hate posts on their page; but it simply added to public ire as the smart ones took screen grabs before being deleted. Even though the head of Audi in India spoke of taking action, nothing happened. To this day, Audi has not apologized for any wrong doings on part of their staff even at a cost where it has dented its reputation. A case where an apology and some make good could have cleared the air, still remains unsolved. The insult to injury, Gondal posted pics posing next to a Mini Cooper and handing over the advantage to Audi’s rivals, BMW.

Apart from denial of the truth, Audi faced a lot of flak on social media and also resulted in a loss of face and customers in the coming months. Lessons to be taken: if an apology works- just do it. And more importantly, never delete posts: people are most upset when this happens; especially with woes.
Today I have come across another brewing case: Neha Tomar (apparently a Gurgaon based lawyer) taking on Amul Milk. When a bag of Amul Gold milk went bad (sour) in the Tomar household, they tried to return it back to the vendor. The vendor refused and an attempt to make cheese from the sour milk took things from bad to worse- the curds turned into an elastic emulsion similar to melted mozzarella cheese.  Pictures of this were posted on Facebook on 10th October with an appeal for caution and action against Amul. Sympathy vote: it has got over 77,000 shares. (

Between 10th to 14th October, the Facebook page of Amul has been plastered with this post by various people who saw the Ms. Tomar’s post. Things reached a level that Ms. Tomar has even taken a petition to the Health Minister of India with a call for support for 500 names to pass the legal action. Amul in the meantime had been more of organising its stand but with no ill language or posts towards all this on Facebook.

Today afternoon, after four days of the first post and pictures appeared, Amul has come out with an official stand on Facebook which is both solid and scientific in its defence and openly exposing the flaws in Ms. Tomar’s claims. The milk was expired, some irregularities in the dates mentioned by Ms. Tomar in her post, a video to replicate how and why any kind of milk can turn into this lumpy elastic mass and finally; the behind the scene action taken by Amul officials to actively engage with the customer complaint. The most crucial part, disapproving of malicious intention and trying to reinstall the faith in the brand and its legacy of being built by farmers themselves. (

This is what separates Amul as a brand from the rest of the millions in India. A complaint was taken seriously, investigated and the reply was made in a solid and well researched. Sure the shares at present are slow (only 1500 odd so far), but the message is loud and clear: no attacks on the brand are taken lightly or left unattended. If the medium of the offensive was social media, it is the same medium employed to manage the damage and answer to the world.

In my opinion, this is amongst the best of the reputation management action on social media I have seen so far and unless there is any drastic change on stands soon- it will be etched as a live example for me to share for at least some time now.

Monday, October 6, 2014

The ‘Maha’ polls saga

Come October 15th, my home state of Maharashtra is slated for electing the state legislature. An exercise which happens every 5 years and has ended electing the same coalition for the last 15 years; Congress and Nationalist Congress Party. Considered to be alliance aimed to be the messiah against non-secular forces of the 25 year old BJP-Shiv Sena mega alliance and MNS, the recent governments have been marred by incidents of super corruption, lawless-ness and bad governance. But still it has managed majority for the last 15 years.

But things are looking massively different this time around. The first and the most significant difference is there is just one coalition: BJP and two small parties. The rest all are going independent and contesting the 288 on their own. Biggest problem is no one has done it for 15 or 25 years and all of a sudden, it has become a task to even identify candidates. Consequently there is also heavy rebel activity for anyone who has any kind of displeasure from their existing party. No ticket, No party support- No Problem; just switch loyalties.

Now for election agenda- both Congress and NCP are trying to hog the limelight for the achievements and push the negatives on the other partner. The similarity is so much so that even the election campaign ads are having almost the same treatment and storylines. Congress has Prithviraj Chavan talking development walking in a park and NCP has Ajit Pawar sitting on a chain in a garden and talking development. Bottom line- they seem to have almost nothing to offer this time.

In contrast, the BJP and Shiv Sena are both harping on all the negatives and scams that have come up over the last 15 years. The difference, BJP is trying to ride on the ripples of the Modi wave and the Sena is trying to pose its leader Uddhav Thakre and Aditya Thakre as a mood of youth and fresh air. The MNS is also talking the same language.

As a voter, even after all my education and interests in politics, I am actually confused as all ads and campaigning is sounding the same. All everyone has on the platter is tall claims.

Just yesterday, I was hit by a new campaign by Shiv Sena, which in business terms we define as a game changer by virtue of its competitive advantage. A majority of the Sena cadre is youth from middle and lower middle class families that is seeking redemption from social stress. In many ways, the Sena has wielded its power towards a cause aimed at better life for them. Say for their flagship Zunka-Bhakar scheme or the Shiv wada-pav which offered both a place in the society as well as livelihood for their workers.

But that apart, Sena has also championed social causes through its ground force by means of blood donation drives and job fairs from time to time. This has been used to its advantage in its election communication. A realistic scenario: a bomb blast in a city with hospitals flooding with the injured. A set of volunteers bring in the people and the doctor asks the support staff for blood. The volunteer steps in, “Look after the injured, we’ll get u the blood…” When asked who they are, the volunteers in unanimity answer, “We are Shiv Sena”. Another ad is having the volunteer guide an old lady through a crowded signal by holding the traffic as a respect to the elders- the message is still the same.

It may be small, but the message is different and is impactful. Can it translate into a maha- vote for the Sena is something still to be seen in the next two weeks.