72 Hours in India: A One Smooth Stone Experience


Doing business in India is an exciting experience that requires adaptability and an open mind, as Mark Ledogar recently learned while working on a client assignment in New Delhi. In the following interview, Mark, a One Smooth Stone senior vice president, shares lessons learned while producing a video during an event in the Aerocity zone of New Delhi. With the right preparation and an ability to quickly adapt to local customs, Mark experienced a successful visit over the course of 72 hours in India. Stay tuned for more blog posts that discuss life for Stonies on the road. Meantime, learn more about Mark on our website.

One Smooth Stone: What project are you working on in India?

Mark: I was in India to capture video footage for one of our clients, which was holding an employee event in New Delhi. My assignment was to attend the event and shoot video footage to capture the content, excitement and opinions of those attending our client’s practice area meeting. The video shoot is part of a broader assignment to create a stronger brand for the practice area, which includes a communications plan and a three-city road show in Boston, New Delhi and Austria.

The event occurred at the JW Marriott in New Delhi. It’s part of a complex of hotels called the Aerocity, located very close to the airport.

One Smooth Stone: How did you prepare for the trip?

Mark: Before I even left the States, One Smooth Stone did extensive groundwork.

Naturally, we talked with our client to set expectations and define the deliverable. As it turns out, our client had other people attending the event whom we were asked to interview in order to create a separate video to promote our client’s internal knowledge-sharing website. So the initial project expanded in scope. Of course, we were happy to adjust our plan and capture footage for two different assignments.

We sourced a local video crew consisting of a bilingual videographer and crew that joined us for two days. We worked through a global resource that helps us vet this type of production partner. Once confirmed, we provided the team agendas, shot lists and technical specifications. We had to make sure the video standards they used would work in the United States and are compatible with video captured in the U.S. and Austria.

I also needed to do personal preparation that anyone doing business in India must manage closely in order to have a successful visit, such as immunizations and securing a visa to enter India, a process that requires a fistful of paperwork.

One Smooth Stone: What were your first impressions when you arrived?

Mark: I arrived at 2:30 a.m., and it was very warm both in the airport and outside. I was struck by the hordes of people gathered at the entrance to the airport this early in the morning. It was surreal to be in a place at 2:30 a.m. that was as crowded as an American airport can be at 2:30 p.m. Time of day was irrelevant.

I was also struck by the contrast between the impersonal security and the warmth of the hands-on service, all occurring at the same time.

Security is always present. The first thing you notice at the airport is a security guard with an automatic rifle. A bomb-sniffing dog checks your taxicab before you enter the hotel. Your cab passes two sets of gates with armed guards before you enter the grounds. Metal detectors are everywhere.

But the imposing security exists alongside some incredibly hospitable hands-on service. You don’t touch your own bag. Someone else does that for you. You are personally escorted to your room. You sit in provided chairs when you check in. The experience is relational, not transactional. People are eager to help you and make you feel comfortable at 3:00 a.m.

One Smooth Stone: What was it like working in India alongside local crews?

Mark: I was reminded of how production can be so different internationally compared to the way things are done in the United States. In the States, our production teams focus on the use of technology and lighting to support a portable, efficient experience. In India, producing a show is all about creating hard construction sets: building things with hammers, nail and painted wood, using a large labor force. You see three people for every hammer, where you would never see that in the United States. Over the course of the 24 hours of the set being built, the hammering never stopped.

I asked a colleague why the crews were so large, especially since there were more people onsite than were probably needed to construct a show. And I also wondered why the teams relied on hard construction, which is more difficult to build and tear down.

Well, it turns out that there is no technical training for the events industry in India. There is no school telling you how to create a set or how to do a video. Everyone learns on the job. So on a typical event team you have one person doing the work and a few to watch in order to learn. And creating high-tech sets is just too expensive. Using raw materials, such as wood, is less costly.

Once I heard the explanation, of course the approach I witnessed made perfect sense.

One Smooth Stone: How did the project go?

Mark: The project was great. We conducted man-on-the street interviews using a crew consisting of me, a videographer, a sound technician, a media coordinator, and a production assistant. We had a branded backdrop behind us to provide visual context for the interview. It was easy for interviewees to find us and for us to quickly work with them.

People were very open to being asked questions for the video and to give their opinions, and to share their excitement for the future of our client’s practice area. We probably shot about 15 hours of footage and interviewed three dozen people over a period of two days.

The entire event was excellent. The attendees were very appreciative of the opportunity to meet as a group, which they had not done so in years. They appreciated the investment that executive management and customers made in attending the event and participating in the agenda.

We are doing our last leg of shooting of video footage in Austria. And then we’ll shift our mind to post-event follow-up communication.

One Smooth Stone: Did anything happened that surprised you?

Mark: Even though I had brushed up on some basic knowledge of cultural customs in India, I also had get used to some of the physical nuances of working with other people in India. For instance, when I would ask someone a question, he (there were no women on these crews) would waggle his head slightly from side to side in reply. I did not know what to make of the gesture. By contrast, in the States, if I ask you a question, I am accustomed to you nodding your head forward or shaking it from side to side in order to indicate agreement or disagreement. After a few instances of encountering the subtle head waggle, I Googled the phrase “Indian head shake” and sure enough, I found some answers telling me that the “head bobble” is a common gesture that indicates “I understand.” Once I understood that crucial detail, I looked at the interactions in a new light. What seemed like a meaningless gesture had great meaning.

I was also surprised at how adventurous it can be to buy a pack of undershirts. Before our video shoot occurred, I had some free time, and I asked a front-desk attendant where I could find some undershirts that I had neglected to pack. He got me a driver who was instructed to take me to a “show room.” I wondered, A showroom? For undershirts?

It turns out that a showroom is a series of small store fronts with merchandise jammed in the stores. The rooms are called showroom because the storefronts are brand specific. You go to the Nike showroom for workout clothing, for instance. My driver took me to the Jockey showroom, which was loaded with everything I needed.

Just getting to the showrooms was an interesting experience, involving a ride through unbelievably crowded streets. Walking across the street was bewildering. On the surface level, the streets looked like chaos, but it works. At one point, we started walking across a boulevard, and we stopped at a median. For us to make it across the street, my driver literally had to grab my shirt and pull me across. Had I waited for the traffic to clear, I’d still be standing on the median today.

One Smooth Stone: What was the food like?

Mark: The food was great. I ate a lot of tomato broth with lamb, tofu or chicken, a saffron rice, a lot of naan (Indian bread), very similar to what you would find in the States. I was also reintroduced to Kingfisher beer, which I last had in Uganda.

They use all parts of the chicken. You’ll more commonly come across bone and fatty meat of the skin. According to the people I was working with, the food I ate at the hotel was authentic, if more rich than what one would make at home.

One Smooth Stone: What are your lessons learned from the experience?

Mark: The experience was a reminder that the world is not and should not be U.S. centric in how things are done. There is no single correct way to create an event. I needed to learn not to judge the ways and styles of the local production using standards we use in the U.S. You have to judge the work in context of the audience being served. That’s a reminder for me to bring back to everyone at One Smooth Stone.

I was also reminded that time is irrelevant with global travel. Be prepared for a 24-hour experience if you are going to do business in a place like India. In the States, the airports are fairly quiet between 1 a.m. and 6 a.m. with few flights operating — not so internationally.

And getting the right help upfront is important before you leave the States. Working with a service that expedites the procurement of a work visa and sources international team members was worth every penny of the cost.

Finally, regardless of the culture, events create community. We know about the power of community that an event creates in the United States. It was empowering to experience, first hand, the unique sense of community that the event in India created for its attendees, as well. The desire for community is universal as is the power of events to deliver it.

For a complimentary 30-minute consultation on how to build your brand and inspire an audience through events and communications, please contact Brian Duffy by calling 630.427.4235 or by emailing bduffy@onesmoothstone.com


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