Learnings from the IAA World Congress in Kochi

The 44th edition of the world congress of the International Advertising Association took place in Kochi last week. It was the first time that the India chapter was hosting this event. I was present for all the three days to learn new things about the world of marketing communications. It was a wonderful experience to see media owners come together and spend crores of rupees to put up a spectacular show. Here are some of my learnings from this mega conference.

  1. The speaker line-up was star studded with all the three categories covered – politics, cinema and business. There were also professors, CEOs and ad gurus among the speakers.
  2. The venue was great and so was the food. At a three-day conference this is essential. In fact, at any conference even if it is of shorter duration these two are essentials.
  3. The hall was jam packed during the inaugural and closing sessions – which meant close to 2000 people (as per the organisers estimate) were in the main hall at one given point of time.

Any conference is made up of four things – Content, Sponsors, Delegates and the Production quality. This had mostly great speakers, very generous sponsors, a huge number of delegates and fairly good production quality. Despite that there were few things lacking. I write these so that organisers of such international conferences can avoid such pitfalls in the future to showcase India as more diverse, inclusive, professional and thorough.

  1. The time management was better than many other conferences I have been to in the past. But it was still falling short of being on the mark. All the three days began and ended with delays. Speakers were allotted 30 minutes, but several of them overshot the time allotted. This was not expected at an international conference.
  2. A bunch of semi-retired men were running the show and the four of them could be seen all the time taking centre stage. While I appreciate their stamina, there was no sighting of women in the core team. There was no young blood to be seen. And most of all it seemed that these four men were the be all and end all of Indian advertising.
  3. The food queues were too long and at times irritating. The rule is one should get to the first dish within five minutes or there should not be more than dozen people ahead of you. The queues for lunch were perennially long causing further delays to the second half on all the three days.

There were other minor issues as well. But I will stop at these three and now focus on the two best talks on each of the three days. One can still go to Twitter and check hashtag #iaaworldcongress to learn more from the tweets.

On Day 1 while Amitabh Bachchan was the star speaker his address was too long and did not connect with many in the audience beyond a point. Mukesh Ambani, who was slated to speak did not show up. However, the two sessions that stood out for me both for the simplicity and the style of the presenter were the ones by D Shivakumar on Brand Trust in the Digital World and the fire-side chat with Martin Sorrell.

On Day 2 I managed to use sometime during the lunch break to check out the works of art at the Kochi Biennale but the day at the conference was better than the first. Paul Polman’s talk on Shaping Society through Responsible Business and Jacques Seguela talking on Tech without Affect is the death of Advertising were the two sessions that stood out for me. Shashi Tharoor made a very well-prepared speech at dinner.

On Day 3 Robot Sophia was on display but the highlights were the talk on the Art of Making Choices by Sheena Iyengar and the penultimate session which was a fireside chat with Andre Agassi.

The next edition will be hosted in Russia. I hope to see new blood with diversity hosting one more in India in the future.

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Amith Prabhu
Amith Prabhu is the Founder of the PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS, India’s annual summit of reputation management professionals.

He is also the Founding Dean of the School of Communications & Reputation (SCoRe).

He can be reached at @amithpr on twitter.

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