Blogs & Comment

From Bollywood to big bucks

How Canadian businesses can profit from the Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) Awards that just swept through Toronto.


Jewel Samad/Getty

Planet Bollywood landed in Toronto last week, and over four days infused the city with curry, dancing, and a whole lot of excitement for a burgeoning industry (for proof check out pictures of mayor Rob Ford with Indian star Shahrukh Kan). The Indian International Film Academy (IIFA) awards, which took place Sunday night at the Rogers Centre, are held in a different city each year (last year in Colombo, Sri Lanka), and in addition to infusing a place with glitz n’ glam, present a big money-making opportunity for the host. The Ontario government knew this when they bid $12-million to have the honour, according to the Globe and Mail, and preliminary numbers show the wager will pay for itself. 

According to an article in TheGrid, the IIFA attracted 40,000 tourists to the city and 700 reporters, providing media exposure for Toronto the the tune of $85 million. The more long-term financial results will hopefully come from members of the Canadian business community, many of whom attended the IIFA’s global forum on business on Friday. The event was moderated by Sabbas Joseph, one of three founders of India-based event-marketing agency Wizcraft and was an opportunity for Ontario businesses to meet with executives from India’s top corporations. Over 40 delegates from the country were present.

According to the Economic Times, Stewart Beck, the High Commissioner of Canada to India, said: “The two governments have set a target of growing the trade between the two countries from $5 billion to $15 billion in the next five years” and Canada expects to create new business opportunities and partnerships in sectors such as clean technology, media and entertainment, tourism and higher education.

A company that has long seen the value of business in India is Montreal-based animation software company Toon Boom (which I recently profiled). Ten years ago, the company that had quickly landed a partnership with Disney decided to enter the Indian market. Despite a thriving entertainment industry, there was none for animation, and the company saw this as an opportunity to be pioneers. Now, Toon Boom’s Harmony program is used in 1500 Indian schools and 50 studios. India’s animation industry has grown from nonexistent to a C$2billion and currently makes up 40% of the company’s sales.

How’d they do it? CEO Joan Vogelesang offers some tips on how to enter the market.

1. Think outside the box

“I just thought, ‘what’s going in India? And I flew there'” says Vogelesang about why she entered the market. “You have to have that kind of nomadic sense there are opportunities in other places.” At the time people called her crazy for not sticking to the U.S., but her curious attitude landed her ahead of the curve of other companies now scrambling to take advantage of BRIC markets.

2. Cater your pitch

Vogelesang realized part of the problem animation wasn’t taught in schools was improper branding. Though India had a thriving arts community, the education system favoured more technical subjects such as engineering and medicine. Once her animation-software development company started using the word “infotainment” to describe the medium, Indian educators were intrigued.

3. Hire people who speak the language

Five of the seven members on Vogelesang’s executive team are first-generation immigrants. An Indian employee can communicate more effectively with business people in the country, and since they know first-hand about the culture, can provide invaluable background for other staff going overseas.

4. Be sensitive to the culture

Even if your employees aren’t first-generation immigrants, they need to be more flexible when doing business in another culture. “I see it when I go to India and China with people visiting from the U.S.” says Vogelesang. “They’re appalling in their communication.” She gives the example of being too aggressive, not reading body language properly. Or not slowing down or adjusting for people to whom English is a second language.