Back in 2015, our friend Saurabh Garg wrote about 7 things he thought were awful about the events business in India. What do you think of these today? Have they changed? Improved? Or are they, still the same?
Background: At a point in life, I’ve worked with a medium-sized event and BTL activation agency for close to 4 years. While with them, I did everything from scrubbing the floor (despite my aversion to dust) to lifting heavy boxes (despite my hernia) to pitching for new work (despite my low self-esteem) to managing clients (despite my non-political demeanor) to writing AV scripts (despite English not being my mother tongue) to even seeing the world (I would’ve done that anyhow-travel is big on my to-do lists) to a lot of other things that I can’t talk about on a public forum. And to be honest, I loved all of it. I loved the good bits and I loved the bad bits. The parcel. The woods and the trees. And I loved the variety of work I did. And I loved the variety of people I had to work with. And I loved how I got mentored by, motivated by, uplifted by, berated by, mocked by, pitied at by all sort of people. And I loved all the travel I got to indulge in. Of course, all was not hunky-dory. I hated petty politics, lazy attitude, the randomness of clients and chindigiri (aka penny-pinching) of the business and general suspicion that the world looks at events business with. But all said and done, I loved the time I spent working as an event manager. I cribbed my heart out while I was there but it was one hell of a ride. The kinds that I would love to get on every day. For the rest of my life. To be honest, given a choice, if things were done in the way I want them to be done, I would love to go back. And eventually, retire from… if only it worked the way I want things to work. And if only they paid me enough money and gave me little more autonomy and I had a better team. And a few other things.
Damn, I am back to cribbing again.
Let me come back. So, I left them to work on #tnks. And once I was done with #tnks, for a variety of reasons I couldn’t go back to work for them. Now, I try to make ends meet by doing odd-jobs. One of those odd-jobs that I landed with was to plan an event for another event agency. And while I was working on that brief, I realized how much I loved the events business. This post is the result of the epiphany that happened while I was working on that freelance project.
Yeah! All this while, this was the background. The real post starts now.
I remember that there was a time when I was embarrassed to tell people that I worked with an events agency. The biggest reason for the “social stigma” was that that people around me, the ones I trusted the most, the ones I loved more than anyone else, told me that I was capable of doing much more than “just” events and they couldn’t imagine me running “petty things like events.”
Come to think of it, they’re probably right. They wanted the best for me. But now as I think about it, I realize that when they took my ass for being an events guy, they ignored the fact that I loved working in the events industry. They probably did not realize that I reveled at the ambiguity that is the epitome of the events business. And no. No complaints to those guys per se — they wanted good things for me. I think they suffer from that elitist notion about things. You know, the kinds those Page 3 people have? And on top of it, they suffer from the myopia that event management is a simple business. That anyone can execute events. That there is nothing remarkable about it. So on and so forth.
Of course they were (they are) not wrong. Events business in India is so dirty and so full of jugaad that it is looked down upon. By everyone. Within the system and out of it. To be honest, even I looked down on it before I got in. But once I was in, I realized that there’s so much more to the business. I can write an entire book about it!
So while working at Gravity, I learned a lot and as I write this (and like I said earlier as well) I am sitting on a mountainous epiphany. That I love this business! I just need to somehow find a way to make a living with it. And do good work. And inspire others. And make my audience happy. And help them communicate better. And work with them to use live entertainment to communicate things in a way that typically is not possible. And so on and so forth.
But the thing is, the industry suffers from multiple problems. Let me make a list of 7 things (problems) that plague the events business in India. These are (in some vague order)…
Events management is like an adopted child of the communications industry. Put a creative director, a filmmaker and an event manager in a room and I bet my ass that the event manager will get the least amount of respect. He could have a million years of experience and the advertising agency guy could be fresh out of college, the events guy will be looked down upon. For some reason. I don’t know what reason though.
In fact, more than just people from communications business, everyone I know disses event management business. Like I said, my “agency” friends would often tell me that I am capable of doing so much better than a mere events “job.” And they are not wrong! Events do not require a deep understanding of quantum physics or rocket science. It does not require too much creativity either (in terms of planning and managing it). But it does require a lot of common sense. And when I say a lot, I mean a lot. Like boatloads. And you know right? That common sense is apparently not very common!
So coming back, events business, on a perceptual scale, is a very fucked up business.
Someone needs to do something to bring it up the perceptual food chain. I mean when was the last time you saw an article about events management in Brand Equity? Which event management got a Bharat Ratna/Padma Vibhushan/Bhushan/Shri or one of those awards? When was the last time we celebrated a global award won by an events agency out of India? Which art college graduates want to join an events agency?
Get the drift? No? Leave!
2. Too many cooks
Every Tom, Dick and Harry with a laptop and a website is an events manager. Enough said.
3. Peanuts and Monkeys
Most event agencies pay peanuts to their employees. And thus, no points for guessing, they get monkeys in exchange. And when you put a few monkeys together, you are looking at nothing but monkey business.
Let me delve more on this. Let’s break the business in two. Demand side and supply side. Demand is when a company (client) wants to engage an events agency for an event. Supply side is when as an events agency, you need to hire someone to manage the events for you.
On the demand side, since events is the adopted child of the communication family, the last morsels of budget (leftovers after spending a disproportionate share on television, print, online etc.) is thrown at an events agency. These leftovers a.k.a. events budget often is so less that there is no money left on the table for the events agencies. So what do they do? What can they do? Cut corners or refuse work.
If an events agency refuses to work, the client can hire that Dick with that laptop for cheap. And since he’s Mr. Dick, he is happy with any work, even if he’s being paid nothing for it. And since he’s not being paid too much for it, he ends up giving out even smaller morsels and gets dumber monkeys in exchange. The shit just spirals down till it reaches the lowest levels of gutter that mankind has ever seen. And as a result, the quality of work goes down. And the perception of events as a business goes down even further. Repeat the process 100 times and you will know what I am talking about. It’s a never-ending downward spiral. Without an exit button. Rather than the shit hitting the roof, you are dumped face down in a river of muck. The kinds that Andy dragged himself through to freedom.
On the supply side, since everyone sort of “knows” that no special skills are required for events, people who typically can’t do anything else start work as event “managers.” And since the event companies will of course hire anyone who is willing to work for cheap, the monkeys, this “anyone” gets hired to do “something” that requires common sense, passion, attention to detail, understanding, planning, a mix of left and right brain etc. But because this “anyone” wants to do “any work,” they are ok with any salary. And this “anyone” at any salary often lacks the skills to manage an event and thus ends up fucking work. And Mr. Dick does not realizes that work’s getting fucked and thus over time clients get used to bullshit work by cheap agencies and cheaper monkeys. And the business, the discipline of event management continues to languish as the adopted child.
You see how it’s all a loop? Both on the demand side and on the supply side?
4. The pseudo magicians
In my experience, most events require serious time and planning. But for some reason, clients assume that despite working on tiny budgets, we the event agencies are like magicians and can pull the proverbial rabbit out of the hat. And a rabbit with another golden hat on his head. And dressed in Swarovskis.
In my 4 years, I have NEVER come across an event brief where I’ve had had ample time to crack it. Compare it to the time you give your “creative” agency. To crack a damn logo, they take forever. Event guys, on the other hand, get a few hours to crack a brief, get approvals, get the work done, execute and all that. And since more often that not, its a battalion of monkeys working on things, they end up doing very average work. Even though an agency may want to do good work, thanks to the deadlines, the work takes a hit.
Clients typically don’t give a fuck because they expect just “OK” work. Why? Because an events agency, by definition, sucks. It’s the adopted cousin. And since getting “OK” work done puts a check mark on their extensive KRA sheets, they do so and move along. After all who wants to stay up at night, think hard on work at hand and deliver it the next morning (except an events agency or once in a while, a creative agency)?
So in one line, we need clients who don’t treat event managers as magicians. I want clients that help the event companies grow. They must push people to deliver better, not negotiate on costs, trust their event managers and give a little freedom to do things. I have been lucky to have worked with a few clients like that. Few. Not all, not many. Few. Handful actually. That too because my agency has been working with them for ages. We had to earn it. And thank you guys. For helping me become a tad better if not a lot.
P.S.: The other bit about being magicians is that clients often come up with weird demands at the 11th hour and they expect you to deliver. I won’t be surprised if I were stuck at the North Pole in December and the client asked me to light up fire made up of Sandalwood without using fuel and ensuring that there’s no smoke to disturb those sparrows nesting on top of trees in his backyard at his home in Gurgaon.
5. Too much operational work
The cheapest thing in India, apart from free air, is human life. There are just too too too too too many of us. And we want to keep ourselves busy. So we often hire people where it is not required. And too many people at places where they are not required translates into too much operational work.
After all each human being is as complex as other. Each of us, irrespective of our work, our role, our deliverable etc. has to eat, shit, sleep, fuck, play petty games, prove a point, justify our salary, play to our priorities (making a quick buck, using jugaad to ensure that our laziness is kept hidden from the world, sew that sweater for that impending nephew etc.) and so on and so forth. And often these people are monkeys. And to manage monkeys, you need a super efficient, duper tactful ringmaster.
And like a ringmaster, you have to juggle too many things and don too many hats and manage too many (often conflicting) things. Operations you know. That never seem to have an end.
Plus, in an events business, everything from design to execution to reports requires coordination with a thousand agencies and million people. Each cog in this giant wheel has it’s own reason to get stuck at the most uncanny times. And someone has to be on the top of his game to ensure that all cogs are well oiled and the machinery is running.
There are just too many variables and by the mere law of averages, one of those things that is supposed to work with stop working at a time when it can’t fail. And it eventually snowballs into all other variables going wrong. You know how those multiple organs fail? With just one hit? That!
6. Reliance on Mr. Gandhi
Most of the vendors to event agencies want to be paid in cash. Why? Not because they want to save tax. But because they want to make a quick buck. And in any business where cash rules, there are just too many “interested” parties. I have heard so many horror stories from friends, colleagues, strangers about constant badgering by these “interested” parties to see some photographs of Mr. Gandhi disappear in their pockets.
I wish I could change this and ask these interested parties to take a hike. Fact of the matter is, you can’t.
Of vendors, artists, clients, people, customers, Mr. Dick, Mr. Tom, the sweeper, the team, the pantry boy, the driver, the secretary to the CEO of the biggest client etc.
If we could just leave our egos aside and realize that we are merely giving services in exchange for money, the world would be such a better place. And the six things that I have mentioned above would get eliminated.
I mean I have had instances where I had to literally beg those MCs to please get dressed and get in the car so that the event may start, to those drivers in my office who were too hungry to drive me to a client meeting, to those clients for extra budgets because we were losing money on their work, to those team members to stay back after 7 so that we may come up with good solution to a challenge thrown by the client, to those bosses and “seniors” to allow me to handle things my way and so on and so forth.
Of course, for each person, they are the centers of the universe. But then I often wonder how can the most intelligent of all races fuck up like this? If only we could leave the E word behind, drop it from our dictionaries, life would be so so so much better.
So, someone may ask me that if the epiphany has happened and I enjoy the grind of an events business and I know what plagues the industry, why am I not working on it? Why am I sitting on the sidelines? Why is it that I am not trying to get the industry out of trouble? After all the future is bright. Most customers want to touch and feel and the only two things that would grow are events and online!
The answer, to be honest, is pretty simple. I have to keep my kitchen running. And two, I just don’t have the balls to change something at the cost of my family and my home and my comforts. I know I am being a hypocrite when I claim that I feel for the business and I want to fix it and yet I am not doing anything about it (apart from writing a wordy, bloody long rant).
It’s just that I need to find a way to get financially secure. Once I have the money, I will get back to events. Hopefully sooner than later. The question, as they say, is not “if.” But “when.” I will create a setup that does good work and charges a premium for the work done.
After all, an events agency is at the perfect intersection of things I love, the thing I am good at (I think so) and the thing that the world is willing to pay for.
That’s it folks.
Thanks to Sonali and Rohit George for reading the drafts and their feedback.
P.S.: If you want to help me change the way this industry is perceived, please do let me know. Will be happy to talk. This is something bigger than me and I just have to do this.
P.P.S.: For the curious sorts and to fire up my whims, my first stint with events did not happen at Gravity. It was at MDI. I was part of the team that organized and managed the annual cultural fest, Imperium. I loved working on it. It probably is the biggest achievement of my time at MDI apart from being part of the MML gang. And to be honest, from what I recall, back then at MDI, I was fucking good at it!
P.P.P.S: Was Imperium God’s small sign that I ought to be an event manager? Maybe. Maybe not!
P.P.P.P.S.: This post is almost 3000 words. Last time I wrote a post this long, I ended up writing #tnks. This time?