In 2004, when Tommy Hilfiger was among the first international brands to come to India, Harshad Chavan was the brains behind the event. Working with Arvind Brands at that time, he went on to launch 15 other brands in the country with them, including Jansport, Kipling and Nautica.
For the next four years, Chavan helmed so many effective launches that when he decided to move out, there were 16 job offers on the table within three days.
But Chavan decided he’d had enough of the corporate life. “I thought that maybe I could start something on my own and see where it goes. Maybe I could take over these 16 brands too.” Backed by 16 years of experience — stints including spaceselling and subscriptions with The Indian Express and Tata Donnelley, business development with Australian film Powerlan and heading the sales and marketing for Mumbai’s top nightclub of the early 2000s, Athena — Chavan started Cream Events in 2008 and kicked off with campaigns for Puma and Tommy Hilfiger, both of which remain a part of his roster till date. Within four years, Cream had expanded their portfolio from two to 200 brands, launching 111 new ones in India.
“Brands could understand that I have been on their side and seen how retail and sales grow,” says Chavan, whose stint at Athena also proved timely. “Those days, John Abraham was just a model, Hrithik Roshan was just getting launched and everyone was eating out of my hands. We’ve maintained those relationships till date, so it’s easier for me to talk to celebrities today.”
At its peak in 2012, Cream started fielding offers for a take-over. “I spoke to three large PR companies who wanted to add an experiential vertical. I also met three venture capitalists without knowing who they were front-ending the deal for. Eventually, I went with Edelman and it was a seamless integration. I was really happy there,” explains Chavan.
But when the contracted expired, Chavan went solo again, with Cream getting a makeover of sorts under the name Toast Events. “It’s the same business with the same clients. When we took over Puma, it was a Rs 25 crore brand in India and is now valued at Rs 1,300 crore probably. The Bestseller group has gone from Rs 50 crore to Rs 1,000 crore. I’ve grown with these brands and now sometimes sit on their marketing meetings too.”
Chavan’s near-monopoly in the market is evident in the fact that Toast won 17 awards for their campaigns last year, and 21 more are nominated for accolades to be announced soon. What’s more, even rival brands come to Toast, not concerned about the prospect of clashing strategies. “It’s crazy that Puma, Reebok and Adidas, all work with us. Our experience in the field yields good results, so they stick with us,” says Chavan, whose company was responsible for 29 events this month itself. Some of these are repeat associations with brands that they have formed winning combinations with — Gap, adidas Originals, Sephora, Aeropostale and more.
Now 41, Chavan is well on track to achieve his goal of retiring at 45. In fact, he thinks he might be able to do so at 43. Anything left to accomplish in the next two years, then? “As a hobby, I sometimes work backstage at international concerts. I’ve done six shows with Madonna. I get such a kick out of it. Someday, I’d like to bring her down, or Rihanna, and do something crazy with them. I’m just waiting for a brand to give me the go-ahead,” he says. “And I’d love to be asked to launch Victoria’s Secret in India.”