The executive committee of the Advertising Agencies Association of India (AAAI) was divided when Srinivasan Swamy, as chairman of the body, mooted the idea of Goafest in 2005 along with a few others. Besides taking the AAAI awards to the shores of Goa, the vision was to create a festival, replete with conclaves, seminars and the works. Many felt that it may not work – that many agencies would not participate, and the body simply did not have the money – revealed Swamy, delivering his acceptance speech after receiving the AAAI Lifetime Achievement Award for 2016 in Mumbai on 29 July.
“It was a leap of faith, to make AAAI the destination of choice for awards,” he said, adding, “Two years later, the Ad Club also joined (with Abbys). In the first year, they rebuked the invite.”
This ‘leap of faith’ to make the AAAI awards the most coveted was prompted by his experience as the body’s president, when he was giving away the AAA awards on stage in 2005 – an award many did not respect.
‘Not a welcome member’
Post the reading of the citation by AAAI VP Ashish Bhasin of Dentsu Aegis Network, and a speech by industry veteran and his friend Ramesh Narayan, Swamy outlined his entry into the AAAI executive committee, of which he has been a part for 18 years now and president for three years.
“When I joined, I was not a welcome member,” stated Swamy, explaining the rationale behind his agency RK Swamy deciding to get involved with the body.
“We felt something was not right. If something is not going right, you have to get involved to set it right and not be a spectator,” he added.
When the industry was looking to resurrect Goafest in 2014 after a turbulent and divided year, there was one man it turned to, to steer the ship.
“The only reason I did (take it up), was that if we didn’t make that happen, I didn’t know what would happen to Goafest,” noted the ad veteran and chairman of RK Swamy Hansa Group.
It turned out to be the most profitable year of Goafest till then, he revealed, crediting AAAI colleagues and industry peers for driving it to greater heights in subsequent years.
He also cited the IAA Silver Jubilee event in Kochi in 2015, which many said would not be possible, but was pulled off by a team effort. This too had its origins in a leap of faith from what was perceived possible.
‘RK Swamy would be delighted’
Fifteen years ago, RK Swamy was a standalone agency. It is today a complex agency offering a comprehensive suite of services – across 25 verticals housed in four companies in India and two abroad. It would possibly be in the top three or four as a marketing services group in India today, observed Swamy.
“When we launched BBDO India in 2007, people asked, ‘Are you doing the right thing? You are cutting the ground beneath your own feet.’ Today, we have a larger market share, and a better market presence. It is definitely better than what we would have had as a standalone company,” noted the AAAI Lifetime Award recipient.
Recalling working with the late RK Swamy from 1998 to 2003, he said, “He’d be a delighted man to see the enormous growth of the agency in the last 13 years.”
‘Long journey ahead’
Swamy recited a couplet from ancient Tamil literary masterpiece Thirukkural, as he thanked the audience: “Eendra Pozhudhin Peridhuvakkum Thanmakanaich Chaandron Enakketta Thaai” (The mother who hears her son being praised as ‘wise’ will experience more joy than when she did, at his birth.)
In that vein, Swamy noted that his parents would be happy to know that the world thought of him as a wise man.
Thanking Ramesh Narayan, his wife Sudha, and the executive committee of the AAAI for the award, he said, “This Lifetime Achievement Award does not mean retirement for me. I am not going anywhere – because I do have a long journey ahead.”