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Content, data & tech now key expressions in digital: Madison's Vikram Sakhuja

Sakhuja said creativity is undergoing a transformation

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MUMBAI: Last week witnessed the conclusion of yet another edition of the resplendent Goafest. If marquee industry summits are an accurate benchmark for trends, then 2019 Goafest will be remembered for its distinct digital imprint. Not just in terms of what drove conversations but the stellar award-winning work from some of India's finest minds clearly signalled which way the winds of change are blowing. In order to better understand what this year's summit represented in terms of real world trends, Indiantelevision.com caught up with one of the pillars of Goafest and Madison World Group CEO Vikram Sakhuja.

The big four creative agencies stayed away from the Abbys again. Do you plan to engage with them next year or is the onus on them to reach out now?

Our engagement was intense last year but this year it was even more and will continue to be. Would we love to have them back? Emphatically yes. Equally, even if they weren’t taking part, I wish they would come and take part in the vibe. I wish they would actually see the work which is winning and compare it with their work. I am absolutely delighted with the kind of quality work that is winning. So I don’t think we are awarding second-grade work, on the contrary, it is high standard work which is winning. Are we missing the big four? Yes, we are. We will invite them back and let them also, compete with the best of the best.

The Social Street won big last year. They didn’t participate this year. What happened?

I really don’t know. I think that question is best put to them. It was a very eminent jury that voted them, so I’m sure they had some fantastic work but I really don’t know what their compulsions were. We are missing them.

Has there been a dip in quality of speakers this year? Why was there an added focus on Bollywood?

I don’t think there is a dip in the quality of speakers. If I have to take a small dipstick of the kind of stuff that's happened, without exception people said the seminars were stunning. If you look at Madonna Badger, when she spoke about the objectification of women, it was relevant and powerful and she was direct. Here’s a lady who has been on the biggest stages and talked about it. Look at that authority. Look at Gordon Bowen, the first time you’re actually hearing the guy here and what brilliant eccentricity. Amid the growing focus on data, his big call for creativity, I thought, was a masterstroke. If you talk about Bollywood, I’ll tell you what inspires - the journey of these young kids like Siddhant Chaturvedi. He could be any of the kids who were actually participating there. So for them, it’s a journey and they are also going through their journeys. Whenever you go to any of the content sessions, all of us, in different stages of life, will filter whatever is being said from our current context or current perspective. What I take away will be very different from others.

Any of the bigger agencies that had stayed away and have come back this year?

Webchutney was there last year and they have done very well this year. FCB, Cheil and Grey were here. I think in media we've had even more. All the media agencies, without fail, were there in good numbers.

Any holes that you would like to plug going forward?

I think we’ve got the pulse right. It’s a celebration of creativity, the concept or the expression of creativity is now undergoing an evolution, if not transformation. For us at Goafest, to keep up with the times is going to be an exciting part of our opportunity and challenge. I think we displayed it this time and I think it will continue in terms of speakers, in the way we are curating our awards and celebrating victories. I think you're seeing the emergence of a new breed of creative of which we are the barometer and we are showing it under one roof. We will try to curate that with even more diligence.

If you had to ask you to pick one defining headline for Goafest this year, what would it be?

Democratisation.

Sony Pictures Networks India won the Broadcaster of the Year. The jury chair was Rohit Gupta. Do you think you should operate on a model where there is no potential or perceived conflict of interest?

No, I think that’s unfair. The jury chair actually manages the process. I don’t think they vote on anything mostly. When we’re sitting down as jury people, we are obviously recusing ourselves from our own work and recusing means we don’t even clarify, we don’t even talk, so I don’t think there’s any opportunity right now for them to influence the outcome in any way.

Do you see any similarities between the trends you referred to during your presentation at Pitch Madison and what you observed in terms of the kind of work that won or was submitted?

What I was referring to in Pitch Madison was more of an evolution of Adex because that was the theme of Pitch Madison, whereas this is a celebration of creativity. But if I have to look at some of the general themes, whether it is the rise of digital and within digital different expressions - content, data and tech, yes those are in ample display.

We kept hearing the word ‘real work’ at Goafest this year? How would you define 'real work?

Real work to my mind is something which takes the journey of the brand forward. We aren’t comfortable when something has been done just to get an award without it having demonstrated consumer experience. That’s a very grey area. So if a client has proved work, there’s no reason why it should not be entered. And I don’t think the jury, by and large, takes things in good faith. So when we are curating our categories, we make sure that the categories are such where brand building work should be entered. Real work should somewhere work for the brand.

Given the type of companies and work that ended up winning this year, would you say these trends are a fair marker for the ecosystem to understand what’s working and what's not?

Yes.

This year, there were quite of few surprises at the Abbys. With Viacom18 being crowned Creative Company of the Year and the likes of Mondelez jostling with agencies, are the lines blurring?

That's democratisation. Creativity is no longer preserved for a few legacy people. It is now open to a vast number of stakeholders including clients, data companies, broadcasters, media agencies and digital agencies. PR specialist winner is actually a digital agency. The entire ability for public relations to build a brand is so much more in digital today. Whether you have influencers or just the way you populate stories out there. None of us will turn around and say “Oh! Webchutney, PR agency, how is that?” Why are you so comfortable with that, but not comfortable with the client being the Company of the Year?

What are the key differences that you see between last year and this year?

I'll give you a weird answer, but I mean it. We have got a new sponsor and as it turns out it has added a refreshing change. We had a very treasured title sponsor for many years and now Viacom18 has come in. They have brought a different kind of energy in terms of the look and feel. They have brought a lot of value as a sponsor, so it’s a tangible difference from the earlier one. 

The content that we’ve put out in seminars has been more reflective of the changing narrative of creators. We have maintained a balance with curating work in terms of our categories and classifications. What has remained the same, consciously and strategically, is the same master jury. We will continue to go back to the people. Even this year we went back to people, listened to them at town halls. When we dramatically brought the number of categories down, I had gone to Piyush Pandey, Prasoon Joshi and listened intently and incorporated a lot of what they were saying into all of this. So we are into a serious listening mode with people we respect, so that constant evolution is happening.

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