Over the last eighteen months or so, the Story Time team has been organizing digital interactive sessions and play sessions at leading schools across India. Yes, it has taken some time for parents and teachers to warm up to the concept of such kids’ activities – particularly since there is a general belief that a day without studies is ‘a day lost’ for a child. Thankfully, things are much more positive now, and we get regular invites from the heads of several well-known academic institutions from across the country. Back in August, we conducted a first-of-its-kind ‘Story Time Monsoon Camp’ – and it was a huge hit.
There is one thing though – planning a kids’ event in India is not as simple as doing the same in the United States and the United Kingdom. Our first couple of digital storytelling programs in the subcontinent were not roaring successes, simply because we were not quite familiar with how to customize program itineraries for the Indian audience. Copy-pasting the model we follow in the West (Story Time has been organizing kids’ events in the US for more than half a decade now) does not work here. Here are our chief takeaways from the events we have planned in India thus far:
- The need to start planning early – It takes time (read: weeks) for news to reach out to the people it is intended for. There is an overload of information in the Indian media – and parents, in particular, have a tough time keeping track of all the updates filtering in through print media, electronic media and news-based mobile apps for kids. We have made it a point to start planning at least three months in advance for every Story Time event. Announcements and event teasers are made from that time.
- Database maintenance is important – There are fans of the Story Time For Kids aplenty in the US, UK and Australia – but in India, Story Time publications is a relatively new presence. We cannot expect that the response level to our event announcements would be at par (till now, at least) with those made by, say, the Oxford Bookstore. This is where the importance of contact databases comes in handy. From schools, our representatives collect the names and contact details of meritorious students (generally from Classes I-IV). Whenever an event is in the offing, we call up their parents and send along invites. It’s an inexpensive, and mighty effective, way to reach out with a large audience.
- People love ‘free events’ – Harsh yet true – while parents in the West do not think twice about spending big bucks to get the best possible educational/entertainment services, back home people are still in love with the ‘cheap and best’ concept. One of our events in July illustrated this beautifully. We had announced a ticket price of Rs. 150 (reasonable enough, right?) for the event, for each kid. The response was very poor, with less than 15 parents having signed up. One day before the event, we made it a ‘free-for-all’ event. As soon as this happened, mobiles started ringing, registration requests started flooding in, and we ended up having well over 300 children at the event!
- Online promotions are vital – The number of Indian parents who actually scour newspapers and magazines for kids’ programs in their towns is…well…negligible. With the massive surge in internet usage in households, that is the channel via which event promotions need to be done. Practically everyone has Facebook accounts, and that’s why we create separate event pages on FB. The pages are regularly updated with new news, previews and other trivia from the upcoming storytelling sessions. In the West, we have parents contacting us regarding our program schedule – but in India, we have to push our events. It’s another thing that the attendees end up liking it!
- A successful event entails costs – There are so many kids in any Indian city, and if you think all their parents would come running to your event – you are sadly mistaken. In addition to the free online promotions, we go for paid ad campaigns (on Facebook as well as Google Adwords) for at least a fortnight leading up to the day of the event. Regular notifications are also sent via our iPhone app for kids. There have been several cases where we have put up hoardings and billboard ads – and the rates on those are not particularly low. It can’t be helped – we are relatively new in India, and we have to spend to get noticed.
- Following up with those who register – There has been a trend we have noticed among Indian users, which is not there among the parents in the West and Down Under. Over here, people tend to register for an event that they feel would be nice – without considering a) there might be a registration fee and/or b) they might not have a young kid in their known circles to take to the event (true story, we have come across many such cases, particularly during the Story Time Monsoon Camp 2014). As soon as someone signs up for our event, we call/email them – to confirm their participation. Those who had clicked randomly are politely ironed out. We are not into events for grown-ups!
- Corporate tie-ups are priceless – For a new self-publication house like ours, the importance of business tie-ups cannot be overemphasized. They can help in getting venues at cheaper rates (at times, for free), distribution of tickets, collection of names and contact information of little ones, and even chipping in with some financial support. Of course, the brand/outlet you have tied up with will seek some exposure for itself during your event. We do not negotiate much with such requests – after all, our partners are being of help.
- Contacting the students directly – We do this in two ways. Firstly, we make arrangements to distribute event flyers in front of the best play schools and normal schools in the city where the event is being planned (at the time when the juniors get off). We are fully aware that about 70% of those flyers would probably be thrown away or used as paper napkins (!), but even if the remaining 30% are read – we can look forward to a healthy event registration count (or at least, inquiries). Secondly, we make announcements about upcoming events during each of our digital storytelling sessions. Once again, forms are given out, and the kids are told to fill up their contact details under the supervision of their class teachers. In this manner, we now have a pretty healthy database from several top-ranked Indian schools.
- Focus on kids’ health – In the West, the average parent is finicky about taking their kids for regular health check-ups. In India, the approach towards children’s health is way more lackadaisical. As a company that cares for kids, it is our responsibility to gradually change this mindset and raise awareness levels. In each of our events, we have free health and dental check-up sessions (and yes, they are free!). For us, the well-being of kids matters the most.
- Promoting your products – Okay, now let us consider our events from the business perspective. Most of our digital storytelling and play sessions are free, we do not charge anything for health check-ups – how do we finance the entire programs? Of course we have a separate fund for that, but in addition, we also organize book fairs – showcasing the Story Time storybooks exclusively. Unlike the West, parents in India are not quite comfortable with the idea of buying books online yet. A well-attended kids’ event is a great platform to promote our books, and they find plenty of takers too. In our latest event, nearly 200 of our paperback/hardcover books were sold – with ‘The Jungle Book’, ‘Aladdin’ and ‘Simon In Space’ performing the best. We often have mini-tattoo stalls too, where kids can get themselves inked at minimal cost.
- Having a helpdesk on D-day – We do not mean this in a derogatory sense – but at times we have seen that more people have come to our event than the number of registrations, particularly at the free events. Now, we love to have as many smiling kids at our events as possible, but everyone has to come through the proper registration process. We set up a help desk at the venue on the day(s) of our events – where the registration numbers/names are checked for each attendees. Things remain a lot systematic.
- Original stories are what’s required – This pretty much applies for children from foreign countries as well. Thanks to cartoon shows, mobile storytelling apps for kids, picture books and the like, present-generation kids are familiar with practically all the classic fairytales (and even a few new ones, like ‘Chhota Bheem’!). If the same old tale of Cinderella or Rapunzel is narrated to them, the kids would lose interest pretty soon. For our story sessions, we have a pool of original shorts, animated by our in-house graphic designers. In the books offered at our online bookstore, we include interactive games, puzzles, masks, origami fun, and many other interesting add-ons. To keep kids engaged, there has to be plenty of ‘wow-factors’.
- Encouraging young talents – Indian kids are more shy, compared to their Western counterparts. Our challenge lies in encouraging these children to showcase their talents, feel confident, and feel good about their individual skills. Singing and dance competitions feature regularly in our kids’ events, along with sit-and-draw challenges and extempore speeches. It gives us great joy, and parents surely feel the pride, when their wards captivate audiences with their performances.
- Having volunteers with designated tasks – You might have a team of 100 people, but if each of their roles is not properly defined, confusion and chaos would ensue during the event. As Indian kids or their parents are not used to the type of sophisticated interactive sessions Story Time has become well-known for organizing, participants have to be helped and guided at every step. Our entire team is divided into groups of two (in most cases) – for manning the help desk, doing the story narrations, supervising the book fair, ushering kids from one section of the venue to another, etc. Everyone knows what (s)he has to do, and that rules out confusions.
- Keeping parents at ease – Like the Story Time Monsoon Camp in Kolkata, most of our events are kids’-only affairs. Parents are not supposed to stay present in the room(s) where the activities are taking place. We make it a point to convince the (often tensed) parents about the safety of their sons/daughters – while they are attending our events. Those at the reception tell the parents when they can come to pick up their kids. In the meantime, we stay vigilant. Kids are supposed to be restless, and it is up to us adults to keep an eye on them.
From the last couple of months, we have introduced card designing games in our children’s events in India. At the Monsoon Camp, we had kids drawing pictures to wish ‘Happy Monsoon’ to their parents (the teachers attending the event said this was a nice touch). India still has a long way to go with the concepts of purchasing books online, digital interactive story sessions and mobile apps for kids. Story Time is doing its bit to add a bit of freshness to fun activities for children.
Next up, we have an event lined up on Children’s Day. Wish us luck for that!