Ready, Steady, Melt!

20 May,2015

 

Last year, Rajesh Kejriwal, Founder and CEO of Kyoorius, created waves with the slickly produced and D&AD-backed Kyoorius Advertising and Digital Awards. This year, he has extended the offering to a two-day festival called Melt to be held in Mumbai on May 21 and 22. Not unexpectedly, comparisons are being made with Goafest, the three-day event organised by the Advertising Agencies Association of India and the Advertising Club. In a freewheeling interview with Pradyuman Maheshwari, Kejriwal takes pains to explain that there is no rivalry between the two. In fact, as he says, he created his events out of a desire to stimulate and encourage youngsters in the profession. Read on…

 

A day to go for the inaugural Melt… your thoughts? All set?

As set as one can be a day or two before the event. There always will be challenges but there are no hurdles or any real surprises, and that is a good thing.

 

Are you satisfied with the way things are going? The speakers, the arrangements, the registrations?

Very satisfied with the speaker list and topics being covered, satisfied with the arrangements, just about satisfied with the registrations in the inaugural event.

 

You appear determined to take on the folks at the AAAI and Ad Club. Last year, you organised the Kyoorius Awards and this year, there’s Melt.

There are two ways to look at this. First, I think the media is actually pitching us as competitors much more than we ourselves are doing. I don’t think there is any direct competition between the Goafest, Abby or Kyoorius, whether it’s Melt or the awards. I don’t even think the industry says it’s either this or that, except may be to those who have a slight budget constraint.

 

Everybody has a budget constraint.

But I’m painting a larger picture here. I don’t think it should be either/or. Goafest does what it needs to do, and we’re doing what we need to do. We’re exploring gaps that exist in the industry, especially for young people.  I’m not saying an advertising award itself was a gap that we’re filling; it was simply a space that allowed us to do something to stimulate the industry, and we did it. It wasn’t to say, ‘hey Goafest is doing badly so let’s do something’. I don’t think Goafest is doing badly. They need to tweak some things and it can come back on track. Like any other country with multiple festivals and award shows, India too can have that. What clearly needs to be defined is, can we make sure that these two festivals are positioned differently? As I mentioned last year, we are more of a critics’ event, while they are more popular. They have a gold-silver-bronze structure, while we have a certain standard that we maintain, and all the best works win. So there might be nine winners in a category, or none at all; it doesn’t matter. There’s a difference in how they view things and how we do, and that difference works for the industry too.

 

Secondly, if you look at Melt, I don’t think this model exists anywhere in the world except perhaps with something similar at Cannes Lions. Cannes is obviously much bigger, more popular and with much more of everything. Melt, I would say, is a unique convergence of five segments — marketing, media, advertising, digital and emerging technologies. Other conferences have more straightforward sessions. People [in our industry] have a lot of questions but there are no ready answers. Nor are the possible answers all black-and-white, but more in shades of grey. Melt offers everybody an opportunity to look at these shades of grey critically.

 

Let’s talk about the difference in the awards. First, you mentioned that one is a Critics’ Award, while the other is a Mass Awards event. But the entrants for both these awards are almost the same – it’s the same agencies

I agree.

 

Hence the thing of competition, because you’ll are catering to the same set of entrants…

At the end of the day, I also compete with Cannes; with D&AD globally; with One Show, Clio, Adfest, all of them, because all the money an agency can provide, comes out of only one budget, right? As for Goafest and us, I agree that the universe is the same. The difference is, for instance, between having international and Indian jury members. We have an open jury system. We have an awards night which brings creativity and production qualities into the awards night itself. So there are a lot of differentiating ways in which we do things and those are what we think can stimulate the industry. There must be something beyond winning which motivates an agency.

 

But you’ve still not been able to convince Lowe to participate.

Last year was the first year. So if in our first year we’ve been able to convince and get 1,000 entries, I think that’s a great first year. Maybe Lowe will come in this year, or maybe they’ll come next year.

 

You had Arun Iyer on the jury

Yes, Arun was on the jury, but that has got nothing to do with the fact that we want him to participate.

 

Maska?

No maska.

 

Give us more on Melt? Was the idea to first organise an awards event last year, impress the world, and give people something to talk about?

I don’t think Kyoorius, at any point in time, does anything to impress the world. I think the larger goal is to impress the people from a content curation perspective, not grandeur perspective. I think what really kicked off this whole aspect of Melt was an internal discussion. We were talking to a few people, and a few of them said, ‘Next time make it bigger and better’. So my first question to them was, if you’re asking us to make it better, can you please tell me what was wrong with last year? Better usually means there was something wrong, otherwise why make it better? And when people say make it bigger, does that mean I look for an 80,000 square-foot space instead of 60,000, or do I use a larger LED screen? I think for me the more meaningful words were, can we make it more relevant to the industry?  Can we help fill a gap, especially for youngsters in the industry that can help them in their professional life? And can we bring the industry together in some way that celebrates creativity? So Melt, for us, is a festival of creativity.

 

Are you saying that all this doesn’t exist in Goafest, hence, the gap?

I’m not saying there’s a gap. I don’t think it exists in Goafest to the extent that we are doing it. Also Goafest happens in Goa, this is in Mumbai, and so more inclusive. I think Goafest also does not have the unique convergence of the five segments that I’m talking about, with something happening for all of these five people at the same time in parallel sessions. So we have workshops, debate sessions, discussions, conferences, installations, interactive Q&A sessions and such. We probably will have a showcase area and are looking at having what we call on-the-flow. People in the audience could think of a subject, go to a room and inform that they’re going to have this discussion in the hall, and invite anyone interested, to join them.

 

What I’m trying to say is this unique convergence of marketing, media, advertising, digital and emerging technologies — nothing like this is happening in India.

 

Do you think somewhere associating yourself with media houses could mean that other media companies may not embrace your event. Because once you are associated with a big player, the others just ignore you. For instance, when a Filmfare Awards happens, a Screen does not report about it, and vice versa.

Which is sad.

 

Which is sad, but don’t you think that will alienate the others from Melt?

If you’re looking at it from a sponsor’s perspective, may be yes. But as a rule, Kyoorius does not take on sponsors from the same industry any way. We are very clear that if we take a sponsor from one industry, we normally and we’ve been able to maintain that so far, we do not take on another sponsor from the same industry. It makes no sense.

 

So you’re not worried about The Times of India group not doing anything about Kyoorius?

Editorially, the event is open to everyone. It’s not restricted to anybody. So if HT is my partner, editorially they have no exclusivity. None of them have exclusivity, editorially, nor do any of them have any preference, editorially.

 

But since Zee is the principal partner and it has its name prefixed to Melt, do you think you’ll have a situation where Star will not participate as wholeheartedly, may not send a busload of people for it as it would have otherwise done, if it was neutral.

I don’t think Star is narrow-minded. Zee also sponsors our Designyatra, Zee is our principal sponsor and we get our largest delegation from Star.

 

Yeah, but Designyatra is different. Melt concerns the advertising agencies which is the big bad world, which is where all the negatives exist.

So Melt is not specific to advertising. Melt is at the intersection of marketing, advertising, media, digital…

 

Changing tracks, how do things work. For instance, is Zee Mindspace being organised by Zee or are you doing it for them?

We, together with the Zee team, are helping in curation of what Zee is doing, which is the Mindspace conference. So Mindspace is happening at Melt, but it is Zee’s property. We are helping in the curation of speakers.

 

In case of a dispute, who takes the final call?

We argue it out  and a decision is taken. But we are very clear that Melt cannot be a platform where the content is not right for the audience. In terms of content for that audience, we take the final call.

 

So, what if a partner decides to get a certain speaker or a certain panel and you say sorry, that doesn’t work…

No, it doesn’t work that way. We’ve had one partner who said no, I’m willing to come on board and I want this hall blocked for half a day to conduct a session. We didn’t feel it was right for the audience since it was more of a sales speech for their own business. So we didn’t accept it.

 

Was this partner paying you?

Yes.

 

And you didn’t take it?

We didn’t take it.

 

I thought you were a smart Marwari businessman?

I am, but I have to look at it long-term, because if people are not happy about something, I will have a problem next year. I’d rather have a problem this year than have one next year.

 

I’ve also heard stories where you’ve had partners or sponsors wanting a speaker slot and you said no. You told another partner that its logo wasn’t creative enough and such. How do you manage to get away with all of this?

I don’t think it’s a matter of getting away with it. It’s a matter of convincing the other person that what we’re trying to tell you, is good for you. Designyatra is a design conference, Melt is a creative conference. You cannot tamper with the overall look-and-feel visually. It’s a creative conference and if you mess up your own creative output, you’ll become a big joke.

 

But creativity is subjective right? What seems creative to you could appear tacky to somebody else. How do you manage to convince others about that?

The convincing point has to do with how I can make sure you get the value that you want to out of this event. Am I making sure you’re seen at all the right places? I can make your logo smaller or bigger and make sure that people engage with your brand in different ways.

 

Sirji, last year at the Kyoorius Awards, even though Colors was the sponsor, it did not even get any standees…

Oh, come on! There were standees outside.

 

Shouldn’t they have been inside the hall?

There were screens inside with the branding. The standees mess up the décor.

 

But aren’t all these things a given in sponsorship deals?

And how much does this spoil the décor of the place? You go to an event, you’ll see some 10 standees on one side in small hall and 10 standees on another side. These are creative awards and you can’t not be creative about your own place. You mess it up because you have 10 sponsors, five from the same industry, all wanting their standees.

 

And we don’t allow them to bring their own standees, we ask them to send the art work, we print the standees. We make sure that all standees are of uniform size and placed in a way that catches the eyes of everybody who walks in, but not by making it like 40 standees. Even four standees can do the same job, you just have to be creative about it.

 

It appears you’ve managed to convince people about it.

Yeah.

 

By the end of the day, repeat sponsors is an indicator of the fact that they are getting their RoI.

We’ve always had repeat sponsors. I haven’t seen any time any of my sponsors walk away with a minimum of two years, but mostly all have been there for three years.

 

Back to Melt, if I were to attend it on May 21 and 22, what would be my takeaways?

First, irrespective of whether you’re from a creative or planning background, there is something or the other happening that you can attend. At Melt, we have four pillars — learning, showcase, celebration and networking. We are curating things around these four pillars so that you are able to have exposure to all of these four pillars during your time at Melt. You should feel, at the end of either the first or the second day that the event was worth your while.

 

Will Melt move to other cities or will it stay in Mumbai?

One of the reasons we didn’t call it Mumbai Fest or something is that we don’t want to tie it down to any one city. For instance, it could go to Delhi next year,. I think for us, the two good locations are Mumbai and Delhi. There’s a huge gap in the way events happen in Delhi. There’s nothing happening in Delhi largely, so we are looking at either taking Melt to Delhi next year, or alternatively, doing another version of Melt in Delhi after six months. It may not be as large as what we are doing here, but will be similar.

 

There is much anticipation and expectations from Melt. Is that a good position to be in or are you worried about meeting all the expectations?

I think it’s a position that one always should be in and that becomes the driver to ensure that you meet as much as possible the expectations of the audience. One cannot satisfy 100% of the people 100% of the time but if the majority of the audience come back saying that they benefitted from being at Melt, we would have achieved our expectations. And for the reminder – thats feedback and we learn more from this and be better the next time around.

 

Does the absence of some key agencies or decision of some adpersons to stay away upset you?

In the larger scheme of things: not really. The industry is not defined by agencies – rather by the talent. This is our focus. However looking at how the future globally is going to be built on co-creation, co-existence, collaboration, etc – then yes to certain extent – our objective is to be inclusive and we’re sure to work with them and have them with us in the near future. The fundamental question one should ask always with programmes and initiatives like this is: Is it Good for the Industry? And I’m sure the answer is a resounding yes.

 

A word to those who are undecided and can still register on what they can expect?

There is a fear in the minds of the people in the marketing communication industry today – am I still relevant? The marketing communication industry is changing furiously and those who do not keep in touch with the changing landscape will face issues where the application of their particular skills can become redundant. Melt helps answers the big question to all stakeholders. Given this, I would say that it’s essential to be in touch with what is relevant today and that means – Be At Melt!

 

A much shorter version of this appeared in dna of brands on April 27. This interview has been updated with a fresh set of questions asked yesterday (May 19)

 

 

 

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