Harindra Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of Percept Limited, talks about the 10th edition of Sunburn held recently in Pune, taking new IPs to the international scene, and the organization’s journey from being an entertainment company to a live media asset
By Samarpita Banerjee
For more than nine years, Sunburn has been ruling the Electronic Dance Music (EDM) festival scene in India. While other EDM festivals are also on the scene, Sunburn’s popularity remains on top. Perhaps comparable to Tomorrowland - one of the biggest music festivals in the world - Sunburn has at its helm advertising agency-turned-integrated marketing communications service provider Percept Limited, run by the brothers Harindra Singh and Shailendra Singh. Sunburn, one of the most enviable intellectual properties in the country today, has not only become one of the biggest venues for music lovers but also for brands that are increasingly seeing the festival as an easy platform to connect with a large group of young people.
Of late, Sunburn has been in the news: first, because of a change in venue from Goa, where it was held for nine years, to Kesnad, a lush green expanse of land near Pune; and then for opposition from politicians who termed the festival as ‘obscene and corrupting’. However, Harindra Singh, CMD, Percept Limited, seems unfazed. “It’s been almost 10 years that people have been making noise, but the festival is still happening. I personally see all the resistance as a gratification of our achievements,” he says with a smile.
TURNING INTO A LIVE MEDIA ASSET
The achievement that Singh talks of comes with the credibility that the property enjoys. The number of sponsors has steadily been on the rise, and close to 60-70% of Sunburn’s revenue now comes from sponsorships. Brands like Gionee and Renault were Sunburn’s co-presenting sponsors, along with other brands like Kingfisher, Smirnoff, Ola and FBB, Ray Ban, VIP Skybags, Redbull on board.
Explaining why the property is a hit with marketers, Singh says, “We started as an entertainment company, but over the last few years, we realized that we were not really making enough money out of ticket sales. If I consider myself a live entertainment company, I should be making my money out of the sale of tickets. But that wasn’t enough and we were losing money. So, we shifted focus to finding more sponsors. Once we did that, an automatic shift happened in our minds and we started restructuring our events to deliver value to sponsors. Earlier, sponsors would simply put banners and tables, but we said no to that. We wanted to make sure that the sponsors got exactly what they wanted. So, automatically, from a live entertainment company, we repositioned ourselves, in our own minds, to a live media asset. The moment we did that, our sponsorship revenues grew fourfold in one year. Now I think we are probably the only company that has made this transition globally. Brands today run campaigns around Sunburn. We are very successful as a live media company, and sponsors and sponsorship revenues are very important to us. We get close to 60%-70% of our revenues through sponsorship and we are enjoying that.”
OF BOLLYBOOM, EAT PLAY LOVE & MORE
Following the popularity of Sunburn, Percept has created other IPs including Bollyboom, a Bollywood-themed dance and music festival and Eat Play Love, a food, art and music festival that made its debut this year as well as other properties like Windsong, FLY, Fight Night and Champions of the World. While the company has already taken Sunburn to international venues like Dubai and Sri Lanka, it is planning to make its other properties global as well. “We are planning to take our properties like Bollyboom and EPL international. For Sunburn, we are thinking of exploring Eastern Europe, South America, South Africa and East Asia. We will take Bollyboom wherever Indians reside; so USA, North America, Canada, UK, everywhere. It’s still in the planning phase,” says Singh.
The expansion is proof of Singh’s confidence in the future of live events, be it in India or globally. “Despite the social media boom across the world, we have been more anti-social. While I was a kid, I spent most of my waking hours outside with friends; it’s quite the opposite now. Most of people’s free time is being spent on screens. What we are doing today is creating another excuse for human beings to come together. So I feel we are actually the future,” he adds.
THE FALLOUT OF DEMONETIZATION
While the organization is doing well on the sponsorship front, how badly did demonetization hit the live industry and Percept? Using an interesting analogy, Singh says, “It has slowed things down, but when you have pain in your body, you have to chop, cut, take an injection. I think the step was long overdue and something needed to be done. It’s ironical for a country as big as India, that there are only one crore tax-payers, and how long can this small number carry the burden of the entire nation? We need infrastructure, education, medical facilities and so much more. This step is in the right direction. We could have been slightly better prepared, though. It has definitely impacted our businesses. The first few events we did after the November 8 declaration saw nobody drinking or eating because there was no money. There was no cash or change. So, it was a bit of a problem, but I am sure it will solve itself. For the larger good of the nation, I think we should accept this suffering.”
FOCUS ON EFFICIENCY & CONSOLIDATION
For now, the New Year looks encouraging and Percept has a lot of plans in store. “For 2017, we are looking at more consolidation, more focus and more efficiency. We grew too wide and got ambitious and we will continue to be that. But I think we went a bit too thin, and lot of the new things that we tried, coincided with the entire collapse of the so-called ecosystem. The global economic meltdown of 2008-2009 was the time when we had put our life’s earnings, all the money that we raised, and all the debt that we had, into the pipeline. And when our products were ready, there were no takers. In one shot, we blew a couple of hundred crore rupees. That was tough. Now, we struggle for a few crores. So, it will take us a little while to clean all of that out. We have, I won’t say down-sized, but right-sized our organization and we are bringing focus on whatever we are doing. And it’s okay, we have done this many times earlier and we will do it again.”