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Interview: Srinivasan K Swamy, Chairman, Goafest 2014

“Some agencies staying away from some awards shows is nothing new. What I am unable to understand is the reason behind such a move this year…If there are issues, they should be sorted out. However, it can't be “my way or highway”. I personally think some creative leaders have certain perceptions about the Abby Awards process which will have to be addressed by The Ad Club”

Sohini Sen | Mumbai | May 12, 2014

Srinivasan K Swamy Srinivasan K Swamy

Srinivasan K Swamy, popularly known as Sundar Swamy, wears many hats. Besides being Chairman of RK Swamy BBDO, he is also the President, IAA India Chapter & Vice-President Development Asia/Pacific region of the International Advertising Association. That’s a handful by any yardstick. He is acknowledged as the person who has brought IAA into sharp focus in India through its various activities.

But Sundar Swamy’s biggest test is really the latest hat that almost seems to have been thrust on him recently as a last-ditch effort by the advertising fraternity – to take charge of Goafest 2014. Goafest has been buffeted by controversies for some years, and matters came to a head with the scam ads of last year. Six major agencies have pulled out from this year’s Abbys.

Swamy was game for the challenge. He is known among his contemporaries as a man to whom it is difficult to say ‘no’. He promises to deliver the best Goafest yet. Swamy speaks to on Goafest 2014, the challenges and his gameplan. Excerpts:

You took charge of Goafest at a time when it is surrounded by controversies and its credibility deeply eroded. Isn’t it like being a captain trying to keep a sinking ship afloat? 

I am afraid the analogy is not correct. Goafest is a great industry initiative. It is India's pride. This platform has been recognised as one of the biggest in the world. Very few countries conduct such a comprehensive festival where many things happen – Seminars, Conclave, Leadership Summit, fun elements like Beach Sports competition, Adventure Sports, Foam & Rain Dance, After Night Parties, differentiated Award nights, lunches and theme dinners, etc. Furthermore, this is a wonderful networking opportunity for the entire industry – where else do you see advertisers, agencies and media people in one location in such number? There is something in it for everyone.

Yes, last year we had some issues where certain awards given were initially withdrawn and then reinstated, leaving a bad taste in many mouths. With the benefit of hindsight, we could have handled it better. We are wiser by that experience and we know how to address such issues going forward. As you know, there will a window of time between the Shortlist and Final judging so that comments on shortlisted work will be taken on board by the Jury before assigning the award.

Considering that the advertising industry has thrust a difficult salvage job on your shoulders, do you think your team can pull it off?

I would not have assumed the responsibility of Goafest Chairmanship if I had any doubt about us pulling this event off. You will see this as the best event ever.

You have said that Goafest this year will be bigger and better. What are you planning to do differently this year?

It's not just bigger because of the many new categories that we have added – brand activation & promotion, public relations, broadcasters and publishers awards. It is also because of the scale on which this is planned. We never had 25 speakers speaking at Goafest. We never had three Award Nights before. We never such fun elements like After Night Theme Parties, Adventure and Beach Sports competition. It is better because of improvements all around. The stage will be more impressive, the opening and closing ceremonies would be welcome additions; the Award Nights will not be boring. The kiosks will as entertaining as much as educative with many Apps on display. I can keep going on, but these are best experienced!


How do you react to the large agencies boycotting the Abbys but entering other domestic awards?

Some agencies staying away from some awards shows is nothing new. What I am unable to understand is the reason behind such a move this year. After all, the awards are given by the industry for the industry. If there are issues, they should be discussed and sorted out. However, it can't be “my way or highway”. I have maintained that there can be multiple awards and there are multiple ways of celebrating good work. There is AdFest and Spikes Asia at the regional level. People don’t see issues with that. Internationally also there are multiple awards.

Don’t you think the sheen would be missing from the Abbys this time? After all, the winners would have won without competition from the biggies.

Someone famously said that the “winners are picked from the runners”. If you choose not to run, you have just conceded defeat. On a serious note, it is not a happy situation to be in when someone who can participate is not participating. But the show must go on and I am sure efforts will not be lacking in bringing them all back in 2015.

Scam ads led to a raging controversy last year. What are the precautions you are taking this year to prevent such a situation?

Scam ads were not the principal issue last year. All work that are winning are verified by KPMG for client authorisation for release and also for proof of release. It can be called scam only if clients don’t authorise it and that is not the case. The larger issue was plagiarism. Even here, there could be unwittingly similar work developed across various geographies or it could be marginally similar execution which someone may call "plagiarism". The Jury members will have to use their judgement against such work. We will have a window of time between shortlisting of entries and final voting for deciding winners and any observations received from anyone will be taken on board by the Jury before determining the awards.

How are you tackling the sponsors issue, given the apprehensions they have over past controversies, the boycott by some six agencies this year, and a likely low turnout of delegates due to the scorching heat of end-May?

Fortunately all our sponsors have faith in us and how we are taking Goafest forward. I can assure you there will enough people coming to Goafest this year to have a rocking time. I am unable to comment on whether it will be more or less than the past year since bulk of the delegate registrations always come in the last couple of weeks.

Digital is the buzz word everywhere this year, from marketing to advertising to just being social. How big a part is digital playing in this year's Goafest, both in terms of awards and in the knowledge seminars?

Digital awards have been part of Goafest for some time. We have a bit more than usual participation this year, but this is not even half of award entries we got from media agencies.

Today digital is mainstream advertising and most speakers will automatically cover digital in their presentation. We do have a couple of them from digital background which pointedly answers your question.

This is something that has been discussed many times in the past. Do you honestly feel that Goafest should move away from Goa but the industry is stuck because of the name?

There is nothing wrong with Goafest in Goa. Is there anything wrong with AdFest in Pattaya? Should Cannes festival be held in Moscow? Why should Spikes Asia be held in Singapore every year?

We kept the sensitive one for the last. You are an outstanding industry senior. Do you think that it is all an ego issue, and a few industry biggies are holding Goafest to ransom? 

I personally think some creative leaders have certain perceptions about the Abby Awards process which will have to be addressed by The Ad Club. I am also engaging with them and I am confident that they will be part of the Goafest platform for awards next year. This year, many of these agencies have agreed to take part in Goafest nevertheless.

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