Interview: International Advertising Association World President Srinivasan K. Swamy

The newly-elected IAA World President discusses the future of the association with Taiwan News

Ramesh Narayan (left) with Srinivasan K. Swamy (right) (Image by IAA Taipei)

Ramesh Narayan (left) with Srinivasan K. Swamy (right) (Image by IAA Taipei)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — The International Advertising Association (IAA) celebrates its 80th year of connecting advertisers, agencies, and media companies this year, and newly-elected World President Srinivasan K. Swamy, along with Chairman of the Steering Committee Planning and Marketing for the IAA 2019 World Congress, Ramesh Narayan, sat down with Taiwan News to discuss their experience as leaders in the industry, and their goals for the future of the IAA.

Both Swamy and Narayan hold years of experience in advertising and have enjoyed bountiful careers throughout their time at multiple organizations. They each own advertising companies (R K Swamy BBDO and Canco Advertising Pvt Ltd) and have made many proud achievements. But for Swamy, his work with the IAA has been some of the most significant:

“We started the largest advertising festival, the World Congress, where people come every year to celebrate advertising and attend quality seminars and have a great time in the evenings.

We’ve [also] rewritten the history on how advertising agencies are not subservient to media. We wrote a contract where we said that broadcasters and the IAA will work in tandem to decide how credit will be given, what actions will be taken if there’s a defaulter etc. In most countries, the media decides who gets credit, the media decides the advertiser gets what price etc. So, we decided on a joint initiative.

Gender sensitivity is, I think, one important subject we’ve taken on multiple times. We’ve done research in India to say whether people are gender sensitive in advertising, and surprise, surprise, we found that most major marketers and most major agencies come across as seriously gender sensitive when it comes to positioning women in advertisement.”

Narayan was also keen to highlight some of the work he has been involved in with the IAA to address social and environmental issues:

“The India Chapter of the IAA [has] worked on many meaningful initiatives. We introduced the Olive Crown Awards, which is the first and only award that recognizes communication in sustainability. It’s now a global award, not only in India, and we get entries from all across Asia: Sri Lanka, China, Taiwan…

In an effort to show that what is good is also good for business, we had a campaign which highlighted the apathy of the voter when it comes to elections. It’s not political so it’s not saying, ‘You should go out and vote for this or for that party,’ but, ‘you must go out and vote!’

We did another campaign on exhorting employers in a crowded metropolis like Mumbai to adopt Flextime to take the load off the overburdened infrastructure. We [encountered] a frightening statistic that a lot of people die in the hurry to get to work on time. So, we also took it beyond a mere communications campaign and actually had our managing and committee people address trade bodies; professional bodies.”

The IAA first started in New York but has now spread to many markets, with a chapter also operating in Taipei. The purpose of the organization, Swamy explained, is largely to protect the freedom of commercial speech.

The president reiterated that advertising is all about marketing and communication, and it is within the interest of the consumer that advertising is conducted independently, without interference from state bodies. Government interference is something the advertisement industry has battled with for many years, but the IAA has fought tooth-and-nail to maintain self-regulation. The organization has devised its own system for dealing with conflict resolution:

“If there is somebody exaggerating a claim, for example, suggesting an advertisement is targeted improperly, towards children maybe, our standards of quality, our own self-regulation bodies will get the advertiser to correct the claim if it is wrong. Or if it is demeaning to women, for example, we will ask them to correct the advertisement. Then [we] get the government to act—but not necessarily in the interest of the advertiser. Self-regulation is something we prescribe and assiduously support.”

One of the other key functions of the IAA is to educate, train, and prepare a new generation of advertisers for the future via cutting-edge education programs, both executives explained. The IAA has an accreditation program, currently active in 44 world-leading universities and professional schools, that has been producing top young industry professionals for 20 years.

The IAA also proudly hosts an extension chapter named “IAA Young Professionals”, which provides a learning and development platform for future industry leaders, and an opportunity to network and meet more seasoned advertisers for guidance and mentoring purposes. Narayan commented that this is an area in which the IAA’s Taipei Chapter particularly excels.

During Swamy’s two-year term as World President, he is to lead a 25-country executive committee, as well as host next year’s World Congress in Kochi, India. He hopes the IAA can expand operations under his guidance, but expressed that taking on the position of World President has been no easy feat, describing it as both “exhilarating” and “tiring.”

In the IAA’s 80-year history, this year marks the first time an Indian national has been elected World President. Swamy commented in Livemint last month that his election marked not only a personal milestone, but was symbolic of India’s ascendancy to a leading position in the world advertising fora. The president told Taiwan News that it was an honor for his country to be the first Indian head of a such a global institution, and said it was a sign of changing times:

“I think that India has been growing in many ways as a country for the last few decades, and the time for India, Asia and Africa has come. We don’t need to think that it’s the domain of the rest of the world to tell us what to do; it’s equally our time to establish that we truly represent the globe, not only a certain hemisphere.”

The pair’s visit to Taiwan this time around has largely been to promote the 2019 World Congress. Narayan told Taiwan News that it is the largest marketing and communications event in the world, and the schedule for the 2019 forum alone is enough to demonstrate so. Responsible for the planning and marketing of the event, Narayan has arranged for 33 global leaders in the field to give talks on a plethora of topics, such as advertisement and the media, technology and digital platforms, A.I., and deep learning—just to name some.

The event will also provide attendees with three evenings of huge entertainment that will enlighten guests to the wonders of Indian culture. Narayan stressed that he wants the whole experience to be extremely memorable:

“In India, there is a Sanskrit phrase meaning ‘The guest is God.’ So, we welcome [everyone] as a god—you will have a divine experience!”

To celebrate the IAA’s 80th anniversary, the organization adopted a new logo under Swamy, befitting of its new mantra. The president explained that their guiding philosophy was to be the “global compass” of marketing and communication, and thus his team created a brand new emblem to represent this.

(Image from IAA Global website)

Swamy said his organization will take this mantra to guide its future. In order to become the voice of the communication industry, he commented, the IAA needs to increase its membership and develop new chapters in countries currently missing its presence. He said he will be working hard to support the next generation of advertisers, and aims to expand the association’s footprint from 44 global education institutions to over 100 during the next few years.

Interested parties can register for the upcoming World Congress in Kochi, India here. More information about IAA Global can be found on its official website.