Curious about Kyoorius? Meet Rajesh Kejriwal

09 Jun,2014


Alert: this is a looooong, loooooong interview. But after reading what Rajesh Kejriwal,  founder and CEO, Kyoorius says about his advertising awards show scheduled to happen on Thursday, June 12, you’ll be convinced that there is much method to his passion for communication. A disclosure: MxMIndia is a media partner of the Kyoorius Awards,but that didn’t prevent us from asking some ticklish questions 🙂


This should’ve possibly been our last question. But, tell me, if I am from the advertising business, why should I come for the Kyoorius Awards night on June 12?

We’re aiming it to be the biggest celebration of creativity in India ever. It’s an area where you’ll see a lot of interaction between industry people, meet-and-greet and with clients also. What we’re curating is a very entertaining fun-filled evening. Not entertainment, but entertaining.


I wouldn’t have asked you to compare yourself with any other award function but the fact that you said “biggest ever celebration of creativity” implies you saying that your awards night will be better than the others…

I’m not saying that I’m going to be better than the others. My aim is to make sure that I’m good. How others project themselves is a different story but you’ve to understand the difference. Kyoorius is one single awards night. The others have a much bigger conference plus multiple awards nights. There are different logistics that come into play in both. Both have their own space. For me, the focus is only the awards.


Over the last few months, there have been many comparisons between Kyoorius and the Abby. People have been talking about the judging procedure, who’s participating in Abby and at your event, etc etc. What’s your view? How would you compare the two? Since you were there at Goafest and witnessed the Abby awards and you know what you’re going be offering, tell us how Kyoorius will be different.

First, I don’t think we should compare the two. In India I think there’s ample scope for two awards to co-exist as long as they are positioned differently. And my own personal perspective is that the Abby is a popular awards show and we’re more in the mould of a critic’s awards.


The judging criteria, the trophy criteria are all very different. At Abby, there’s a Gold, Bronze, Silver. For every entry, you typically aim to get one Gold, one Silver, One Bronze. Three awards. In our case it’s different. We’re celebrating the Best of the Best work which means we give a trophy to everybody who’s done justice to a particular piece of work. This is the criteria that we’ve set at very high threshold levels. There are categories in which there are about 8 to 9 winners in our awards which you’ll see on June 12t. There are categories in which there are no winners. So there’s no demarcation that you have to award a maximum of three. And that I think is critical because at some point in time if you have 9 or 10 great pieces of work, how do you judge which one should get a gold, which one silver and which one a bronze? The jury decides. It’s an experienced jury. Every great piece of work should be rewarded, not just three great pieces of work within the list of great works.


Tell us more about your judging process. You have some people in your jury who were also there at the Abby jury. And there were international jury members who had the Indian jury helping them out with context.

Personally, having an Indian jury isn’t enough because you must celebrate work from India that is of global standards. Which is not to say that an Indian jury can’t really think of global standards, but what I mean to say it must touch a chord with international folks too.


You’re talking about creative work. If you see a work, especially in print and outdoor, there’s no cultural difference. The piece of work is either really good, it catches the attention of everybody, internationally and locally and we’d like to award those who strike a chord internationally as well. It must be for all audiences. Any piece of advertising must be made for all audiences.


I was speaking to a digital jury member and he mentioned that the focus at Kyoorius wasn’t as much on digital techniques but more on the idea behind the ad.

One of the criterion which we feel very strongly about is that it must be an original idea and that it must have relevance to context. That forms a crucial part of our criterion. And juries were asked to debate on that and then vote. This also means that we must have an Indian jury to explain the concept to an international jury.


So before the award happens in Thursday, do the jury members know who’s won?

No. Other than three people in the world, nobody knows.


And who are these 3?

Two from D&AD, one from Kyoorius. Officially. As we go along and we make the films for announcement, obviously the production house gets to know.


So leaks possible?

There are NDAs. No leaks possible.


Given the process of the judging, is there reason to be happier winning a Kyoorius award than any other?

I’m not sure whether you should feel happy about winning at Kyoorius against something else because it’s not one against the other. I think the key factor of winning at Kyoorius means our judging standards are very high…


…so how many Elephants?

I know the figure; I won’t reveal it to you (laughs). We received 988 entries, I don’t think more than 4 or 5% will turn out to be eventual winners of the Blue Elephant or the Black Elephant trophy, put together. To answer your earlier question, our standards are very high. You really must’ve done a great piece of work to won an award. That I think is rewarding enough to understand that you’re one amongst those that have done a really great piece of work.


That’s easy math. So 50-odd Elephants?



And how many Black elephants?

Ah! Not answering that. I’ve personally signed an NDA with D&AD so I’m not allowed to do that.


One of the jury members said that approximately 20% of the entries of the winners here could be winners at international forums..

We actually spoke to the international jury members on this fact and some of them have been at juries at D&AD, Cannes, One Show etc and most of them said that it’s sad India doesn’t put in so many entries at D&AD. There were a lot of entries here which could’ve won a D&AD award.


A thousand-odd entries were sent for the Cannes Lions. Do you think you should’ve got more entries?

I think so too but then you’ve got to realize that Cannes has been there for such a long time and this is the first year for us. A thousand-odd entries is a very respectable figure we’ve got and a very encouraging figure. That means the industry did believe in us. Now the second and more important part is to justify that belief to make it bigger next year.


I don’t won’t try to draw you into a controversy on this, but did you ever feel that there were agencies divided between you and Abby? Especially since Abby was less than a month before yours?

I do know some agencies which were not divided with us, they were with us. A lot of the other agencies were divided because of the budget constraints. I don’t think it was whether we should go here or there. It was primarily because of the budget. The timing was bad because both ended up happening at the same time and even Cannes is at the same time. So there was this two-week period when the agencies had to plan for all three awards. That became a little bit of a constraint for Goafest and for us too.


Do you think next year you’ll sit across the table with the Goafest committee and possibly decide when each one will be?

Well, we factored in the Goafest schedule this year too. I purposely kept my awards two months after Goafest. I planned our Call for Entry on the day the Abby judging starts usually. But were delayed and everything went haywire. Clearly, it makes no sense for two national award shows to be happening at the same time. We’re not in competition with each other. Both of us should aim for the betterment of the industry.


Assuming Goafest happens next year in March-end or early April, when will you schedule the Kyoorius Ad Awards?

I’m not sure but we’ll have a gap of at least a month between the two. I definitely don’t want to clash our Call for Entries or our jury sessions or our awards night. All of them should happen at least with a minimum one-month gap.


Do you feel you were at a disadvantage given that the Abby is organized by the industry and there are many heads at work as against yours which you’re doing individually?

I think the fact that many heads has both advantages and disadvantages. Sometimes being the sole deciding person is much more helpful. As an organization, they can’t have one person deciding everything. It’s a committee that decides. But having a lot of people who’re busy in their own businesses also has constraints. They are busy people. They have their own businesses to run, they’re doing honorary jobs. While it’s great that they take out time, there’s also a constraint. I think what works best for us is that while I could call on you for advice, I could call on somebody else to say hey, what do you think about this? I have a similar number of people as advisors but I’m the only decision-maker. So I can move more quickly, I can execute more quickly. They may have 10 people. All 10 of them must agree on something. Otherwise it’s a battle internally. I also may have 10 people. But I don’t have to battle against anyone. I just casually ask people, get their opinion, formulate a plan and execute it.


I was speaking to a senior industryperson at Goafest who had a comment on the D&AD process. He wondered 6 or 8 jury members can do justice to 600 or 700 entries? In terms of time spent, will they be able to do justice to all entries and categories?

It depends on the time. They were there for 3 full days and we were working from 8 in the morning to almost 8 in the evening. So when you look at that, there was plenty of time for them to do justice to all of them. I don’t think it makes sense to have 70 or 80 jury members for 1000 entries. There are 7 jury members, 9 different categories. When you cut across all of them, each jury member is judging 70 to 80 members in each category. That’s not relatively a large number. You’re not talking about 1000 films which could be very tiring to watch 1000 films and judge  for 7 people. We’re talking about 7 different categories and 34 sub-categories. If you divide the total number of categories, you have 30 or 40 or maximum 50 per category. So every jury member is just concentrating at one time on anywhere between 20 to 50 entries. That’s not difficult. The point here is if you curate it properly, you never have a problem.


Are you happy with the way your relationship with D&AD has moved?

Very happy. They’ve been great partners. They’ve supported us totally. Both of us are non-profit so we have no ulterior or commercial motive to do things differently or be non-credible. Whether we get 1000 or 5000 entries it doesn’t matter. The revenue matters because the surplus goes back into the industry. We’ll never lower our standards. We’re not commercial. We have no political or commercial agenda.


Then why are you doing it? You aren’t an industry body. You’re not any advertising or creative association…

Neither is D&AD.


So why is Kyoorious doing the awards? If you’re not for profit, why do it?

We’re not doing awards for the sake of awards itself. We’re doing it because we think there’s a genuine need to have a different, very credible, transparent show of very high standards. I don’t think there’s any association or any body or any individual company doing anything to stimulate the young people in the Indian industry. And that’s our goal: stimulating the entire creative industry? How can we get youngsters to be more inspired, more innovative, think differently? To do that we’ll be doing a lot of master classes, workshops etcetera..


I appreciate your commitment to the quality and standards. Am just trying to figure what’s motivating you to be involved in a not-for-profit venture?

All of Kyoorius is born out of a passion of a not-for-profit venture for the industry. We did design because design had nothing going for them and it just branched out into advertising because there’s a gap there that can also help us help the advertising professionals.


That’s one helluva effort for passion!

All the hair on my head is lost because of the passion. Not because of that business (laughs).


But if you’d spent the same amount of passion on your business, you’ve possibly made a lot more money.

If my brother was present here, he’d tell me, this is what I keep telling you. It’s a constant struggle. When we started off Kyoorious as a not-for-profit division, the whole idea was we’ll do a few meaningful initiatives to fuel a design movement in India, to fuel a creative movement in India to stimulate the industry. I didn’t anticipate this will become so big. But you could see the hunger in the audience for such type of content. And then it would’ve been very mean not to make it bigger for the people who are benefitting from it.


But beyond a point, an award show like this is not really fuelling your bread-and-butter business of paper, right?

Beyond a point, no.


Is there a positive rub-off?

There’s a positive rub-off because you’ve changed your impression from being a paper vendor to being a friend of the industry. You know people more intimately. There’s a certain amount of loyalty that comes across. But at the end of the day, it’s still a commercial business. So beyond a point as you said, it doesn’t make sense. But we’ve crossed that point now and there’s no looking back.


I’d asked you this question last year around the time of the design awards and I want to ask it again. Why is it called Kyoorious Awards and why not the D&AD awards?

One reason is that it’s an Indian initiative. It can’t be called D&AD awards. D&AD already has global awards. D&AD is now looking at partnerships like the one with  Kyoorious in Brazil and a few other countries. You can’t really have five D&AD awards happening everywhere. So, obviously the local name must be attached to it. The second point you could make is why isn’t it called Kyoorious D&AD awards? The reason is that there is a memorandum, an articles of association at D&AD which was formed a long time back. This didn’t allow D&AD to do certain things. They may change in future..


We do have an EFFIE-India as well.

All of those are American organizations which are more commercially-led. So they don’t mind. D&AD is actually an educational charity formed for the betterment of the UK creative industry. While they became global awards but it was meant for the betterment of the UK. Now they’re branching out to be a global institution. Ours is the first partnership they’ve had in 50 years. They do say it’s very difficult to find a partner like Kyoorious. They may not have similar partners everywhere.


You mentioned earlier that it will be an entertaining evening but not an entertainment evening. Tell us more about the event. Will you have a stand-up comedian?!

Well, everything that you do in life as an awards company or as a conference company has to be curated keeping in mind as to what serves the best interests of the audience there. Now there are different reasons why people come here. One of the most important reasons why people should come to such awards or conferences is networking. You meet industry people, you talk to them, you enjoy, you feel proud that you’re part of this industry. That’s necessary. You have to leave time for that. If I have to watch a singer or if I watch a stand-up act, I can go and watch that separately. That’s not the reason I’m there. I’m there to meet my people, to be a part of the industry. I need to know who’s winning or what I’m winning, cheer and celebrate the winners and have a good time and leave.


I thought people in advertising want a good drink. That was the essential part.

That’s essential but that’s part of the curation of the whole thing. It’s attention to detail. What kind of food they like? Do they like drinks through the evening or do you stop the drinks when the show starts? It’s paying attention to these small details.


The all-important question:  Are drinks going to be served when the awards are on?

Yes, in a very unique way. Different from the other award shows.


Tell us more… who’s performing? Who’s the Chief Guest? Emcee?

Well, we researched a fair bit on what people like and don’t like in award shows. I think one of the key factors is that once you start the awards, you need to just start and finish asap. People are anxious to know who’s won. There’s the anticipation. You shouldn’t break it by having anything in the middle. So we don’t have any break. We start and finish the award show in one go. The second is the small things I spoke about. You can’t stop the drinks and expect the people to be locked up in a room cheering for three hours.


One last question: Now that the Kyoorious Awards are set to happen on on Thursday, do you have more enemies than friends in the advertising industry?

I don’t I have made enemies. I’m very grateful and happy that the industry has embraced the fact that there’s space for two awards and there’s no reason one should exist and another shouldn’t. Budgetary constraints may mean both of us won’t get as many entries as we’d wished for. Goafest might still get more because it’s an industry body and it’s a body that the industry should support. But I think there’s ample scope for both and we haven’t had made any enemies so far. I haven’t made any enemies. We’re all all great friends…


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