The 13th edition of the Olive Crown Awards – instituted to salute excellence in communicating sustainability – will be hosted in Mumbai on 5th April. It has been a great honour and privilege for me to be entrusted with running this prestigious event. The awards are nothing short of a legacy that has been passed on. With the continued guidance of some of our seniors in the IAA India Chapter, the Olive Crowns can only grow further and faster.
After going truly global this year and deciding to expand its scope to embrace CSR in the next edition, the Olive Crowns are set to take off with escape velocity. At this point of deserved celebration, the many challenges that have been overcome to solidify the foundations of this award bear mentioning. This is a token of gratitude to the rainmakers who weathered many a storm to see the Olive Crowns though its infancy. This teenager had many a fall in its early days. In fact, it was almost a still-born that was brought back to life.
Circa 2008. Kaushik Roy was the IAA India chapter President. There was talk about doing something new. Someone said that IAA should start to showcase communication as a force for good. Consciousness about the environment was just about getting seeded. The world had not heard of Greta Thunberg but some of us listened as responsible voices pointed us in the direction of sustainability. A unique award for sustainability? Would the IAA be too early? The people running the IAA in fact chose to be ahead of the curve.
Roy’s mandate to Ramesh Narayan was to create an award. Narayan christened it the Olive Crowns. Bhupal Ramnathkar designed the logo that continues to this day. Rules, categories were formulated, presented and cleared. Everyone was excited. Some well meaning members offered to get sponsors on board. Entries came, they were judged, the team was ready. On the sponsorship front though, they drew a blank despite the best efforts and intent.
The IAA President was clear that one cannot draw from the coffers and that the event must be pushed to the next year. But there was a serious view that if the awards night was postponed by a year, it might end up as a still-born baby. Roy had the unenviable task of launching the Olive Crown Awards but without the money.
Miracles do happen – especially if you keep your eyes open. Narayan saw an e-mailer for Goafest and the Abby awards. He thought it was an ideal place in which one could launch the Olive Crowns. The creative fraternity would be in attendance from across India, international delegates would be present, the works. But why would the AAAI and Advertising Club, co-hosts of the Goafest and Abbys, host the Olive Crowns of the IAA?
“Because I am asking,” said Narayan, informs a reliable source who was present. So he asked. And they said yes.
Veterans underline that it was a rare symbol of industry unity out of which was born the Olive Crown Awards. The Olive Crown is no ungrateful teenager. She shall be eternally grateful to the AAAI and Advertising Club.
The first steps were taken on the sands of Goa. But it took time for the baby to walk by itself. Struggles for sponsorship continued. While there were sponsors willing to come on board, their credentials were not aligned, some of us felt, with the personality of the awards.
An IAA and industry veteran who was privy to these conversations said his organisation would foot the bill. (Late) Pradeep Guha’s 9X Media supported the Olive Crowns for the next three years. The Olive Crowns began to walk and there was no looking back.
In the very second year of the Olive Crown Awards, Narayan met (late) Dr. Rajendra Pachauri for about 15 mins. He wanted to launch something we now know as ‘Lighting a billion dreams’. Raj Nayak, then President of the IAA said we should help. Contests, entries and media happened. Dr. Pachauri asked the IAA to get 15 media owners on stage. They took the ‘Lighting a billion dreams’ pledge. Soon after, the Nobel Peace Prize winner and head of UN’s climate science agency, would accept the Green Crusader Award at the Olive Crowns.
From political bigwigs to Bollywood superstars, the Olive Crown soon played host to the who’s who, spreading the message of sustainability in more ways than one. Amitabh Bachchan, John Abraham, Piyush Goyal, Menaka Gandhi, Praful Patel, to name a few, stood by the IAA for the cause. Needless to add, all of them added to the overall stature of the award.
From day one, the IAA has underlined that the Olive Crown Awards would not charge an entry fee. That there would be no ticketed event. When it was a struggle to even cover costs through sponsorship in the early days, it must have been a tempting proposition to charge entrants in one way or another. The legacy of the Olive Crowns we have inherited bears no such blemish.
Now, environment and sustainability are buzz words. That wasn’t the case when the Olive Crowns began. Thirteen years ago, there was no Greta Thunberg. Media wasn’t playing up her social media wars either. The Olive Crowns have grown up witnessing the arrival of the green paradigm, and has played a small role in nurturing it.
A few years ago, the IAA invited the Asian Federation of Advertising Association to enter the Olive Crowns. The awards saw entrants from Taiwan, China and a few other countries testing the waters. This year, IAA Global and AFAA were involved. Entries are in from Romania, Indonesia. Bangladesh, Nepal, Taipei and more countries.
This isn’t a milestone to rest at, because we know what has gone into making the Olive Crown what it is. We have miles to go but will get there thanks to the solid foundations, sacrifices and commitment of the people who built this award from the ground up.
Feedback from the corporate world suggests that the Olive Crowns should expand to celebrate CSR activities and not just communication of sustainability. That will be the next step we take, while saluting the fortitude of the Olive Crowns, with gratitude to those who guided her through.
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(The author is Chairperson, IAA Olive Crown Awards 2023.)
(First published by The Free Press Journal BrandSutra under exclusive syndication arrangement with MediaNews4u.com. Feedback: [email protected])