Advertising industry veteran and Chairman of R K Swamy Hansa group Srinivasan Swamy was recently elected Chairman of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA) for a term of four years. Here, he talks to SRABANA LAHIRI about his priorities for AFAA to make it future-ready, expanding its footprint, and why he is a strong believer in the power of delegation
Congratulations on being elected Chairman of the Asian Federation of Advertising Associations (AFAA). What will be some of your top priorities and action points over the next four years?
Thank you for your greetings. The Indian marcom industry is no stranger to AFAA, since we have had two stalwarts before me as its Chairmen – Gautam Rakshit and Pradeep Guha. AFAA is present in 14 countries in the region through its regular voting members. Of course, we have a few more members but they do not have voting rights nor can they take part in the management of AFAA. The first obvious task is to see how to expand our footprint. The second aspect is to see how to serve our members better. Each of our members is an association who may have other associations as their constituents, or could be a body of big corporates as their members. The task is to engage with our members’ members, so as to get alignment on what we need to do, to improve the standards of our industry or address issues that confront the industry. The third task is to build on the properties AFAA has and ensure that more people participate in them. The last couple of years have been hard for everyone, and as the nations open their doors for visitors, we should have more in-location events and initiatives like DigiAsia, FastTrack, Olive Crown Awards, Ad Stars, AdAsia, etc. Many things can be achieved when there is personal warmth and that is possible only when acquaintances turn into friendships. Last but not the least, my job will be to review AFAA’s constitution to make it future-ready – with passage of time, some course correction may be needed in the way the association is structured and administered.
We have seen radical shifts as the industry adapts to the post-pandemic world. What will be AFAA’s role specific to the region to support those shifts?
The communication industry has been in transition ever since the advent of digital, data analytics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, AR/VR/MR, etc. The process has been put on fast-track mode by the pandemic. The media environment has changed with anytime viewing of content. You no longer wait for the morning newspaper to consume the news, or worry about missing out on your favourite TV shows when you could always catch on it on the OTT platform. Consumption, attitude and behavioural aspects of consumers have also changed. Given these and other aspects, AFAA will see where the gaps are in the industry’s understanding and develop initiatives that address those. Given the language barrier in various Asian markets where English language alone may not be adequate, our initiatives would strive to overcome this handicap.
One of the objectives of AFAA is to centralise data and information relating to advertising and marketing on a regional basis. To what extent has this been achieved, and is the data accessible to industry stakeholders?
Data gathering and information sharing is a continuous process. In the last two years, there has seen some slack on this primarily because the bad news travels slower than good news! You will see renewed effort in this area and updated data will be on our AFAA website in 2022 for all our stakeholders.
Tell us about AFAA’s FastTrack programme and how it has been benefiting young professionals in the region, especially India. What is the selection process?
One of the most important initiatives of AFAA is to encourage the next generation of professionals to be future-ready with the right kind of attitude and skills. The FastTrack workshops conducted in Kuala Lumpur take on 30-35 such future leaders from across Asia and put up an intense course to fast-track their careers. So far, over 200 fast-trackers have benefited from it. The idea is to scale this initiative and perhaps do this in various countries if we can get hold of the right faculty in those countries. We want to ensure that we on-board the right kind of young people who can benefit the most from this. A rigorous selection process comprising written as well as oral testing is done in this regard in various countries.
You have been deputy chairman of AFAA recently and associated with AFAA and other industry bodies for a long time. What are some insights that you have gleaned over the years?
As Vice Chairman, I have been an observer principally. But some of the initiatives like Leaders Speak and the newsletter to our members were done by us from India to keep the members engaged during the pandemic. Our involvement with Ad Asia Macao content development and procuring speakers was total.
What are your plans for the next AdAsia and other AFAA events? How do you want to add more to them? What are the challenges?
The next AdAsia will be in Seoul, Korea in 2023. Digi Asia will be in 2022 and 2024 in Taipei, Taiwan. Since we had AdAsia Macao as a virtual event, we will have the physical event at Macao in 2025. Much of the other plans are work in progress.
What needs to change in the advertising world of today?
Change, as they say, is constant. And the marcom world is changing with it. AFAA is striving to get its members to adapt to this changed environment through its programmes and initiatives. The pace of change is not equal across the region and issues also are not the same. We will have to devise initiatives that are most relevant to the countries through our members.
What is a golden rule that guides you as a business leader?
I believe in the power of delegation and empowering people. However, I would stay close to them to ensure that they don’t stray from the course. It is akin to having someone drive the car while you assist them, being the non-intrusive navigator.
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