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Insight: TGH Collective Founder Tay Guan Hin on His Personal Experience at the Epica Awards Sri Lanka Amidst the COVID-19 Pandemic

SRI LANKA – On March 5, 2020, the inaugural Epica Awards Sri Lanka launched with a bang, bringing together a community of creatives and advertisers, and a jury purely composed of journalists. This is the first major international creative festival and awards to be held in Sri Lanka in 12 years, and despite the growing concerns surrounding COVID-19, the show pushed through successfully. Keynote speaker and TGH Collective Founder and Global CCO Tay Guan Hin shared his first-hand experience with adobo magazine, and how the pandemic has affected the Epica Sri Lanka Festival show.

Read his full story below:

As I approached the airport, I begin to wonder if I made the right decision to fly. I have never seen Singapore Changi International Airport so empty before. It’s one of the busiest airports in the world. The Grab driver anxiously left quickly, leaving my luggage and me standing in the departure lobby. I looked around and realized I might be the only one on board the Sri Lanka Airlines.


Sri Lanka’s 4As president Sugibun Sathiamoorthy and I have been texting furiously back and forth for many weeks before the festival. I know how much it meant to him for the Epica Sri Lanka festival to be successful. I asked him weeks ago if this will get cancelled? Which he texted to say, “This show must go on!”.

For the first time in Sri Lanka’s history, a major international creative festival and awards will finally happen. There has not been something like this for the last 12 years since the last local show occurred.

So the stakes are high to ensure everything goes well as planned.

I arrived at Bandaranaike International Airport, and to my amazement, it was packed. After flying past immigration courtesy of the Silk route fast pass, I met up with the driver who took me to Taj Samudra.

The Taj is one of the most beautiful hotels I have ever stayed in, offering views of the mesmerizing Indian Ocean and its in the vibrant city of Colombo.

Sugi greeted me in the lobby. His eyes were barely open as he had not been sleeping for days. He was an excellent host and a true gentleman. I have been to Sri Lanka many years ago and always remembered their warm hospitality, and this wasn’t anything different. Just before dinner, I managed to squeeze in time to walk along the Galle Face Beach to witness the stunning sunset. Enjoying the beauty of Sri Lanka.

Later that evening, Sugi and his team took a few of us to the Bavarian German Restaurant for a meat fest. We wanted to order Corona beer, but they ran out? Hmm, I wonder why? 

The following night, we visited the Nuga Gama, Cinnamon Grand. I would highly recommend it if you want to know what a traditional village in Sri Lanka looked like back in time. The entire restaurant centred around a Nuga tree (Banyan tree). All the dishes we ate come from authentic traditional Sri Lankan food.

The Epica Sri Lanka Awards Festival started on the 5th March, and I am surprised to see the majority of the speakers and jury members who made an effort to fly in and support the show. Those who couldn’t be in Sri Lanka, due to travel bans, like Ted Lim, Merlee Cruz-Jayme and Adam Ferrier made the special effort to skype, in the comfort of their own homes or office.

Babita Baruah, whom I worked with in JWT, was fully committed to speaking, she flew straight in after one of her global meetings ended. She told me how important it is to keep a commitment as a last min cancellation to any event impacts the confidence of the audience.

I was very impressed with how well organized the conference was. After 12 years, you can see everyone’s appetite to learn and be inspired. Everyone I spoke to, burst with delight, and remarked on the quality of speakers. I overheard an agency head telling their clients the office will be closed for two days to allow their employees to soak in as much learning as possible. I had the opportunity to share not one, but two presentations after Sugi kindly asked me to fill in for a last-minute dropout. As a keynote speaker, I have a few signature speeches created, so it helps to be always prepared. 

“Imperfect Beauty” was about how brands should tell imperfect stories to find the right connection with their audience. There’s beauty in being authenticity. It’s reflected in my journey about how I overcame my “imperfections” to find the right connection with my wife. 

Right after my second presentation on the future of vertical storytelling, it was apparent to me that most haven’t seriously considered creating mobile content to fit the vertical format, so it was heartening to receive many appreciations after. It clearly shows how agencies and clients are hungry for new information that will help to future proof their mobile content engagements.

The theme of the awards was unbiased creativity. The 4As approached the Epica Awards because they were attracted by the show’s independent, unbiased jury of journalists. Epica’s extensive online jury of more than 200 international Journalists got a chance to vote on the 400+ longlist. I spoke to a few creatives who were all satisfied with most of the winners chosen. 

I thought the elephant repellent incense sticks for Aura by TBWA/Sri Lanka was a simple, cheap, effective way to ease the human and elephant tension. I didn’t realize it was a significant concern in Sri Lanka till I was almost run over, head-on, by an enormous elephant who rushed out while the owners chased it while I visited a temple. Since villagers pray early in the morning and during the evenings, it was also the same time elephants traveled into the villages. A great product idea that has a dual function.

The Grand Prix “Petal Paint” from Leo Burnett was by far the strongest and most significant win of the night. Someone remarked it was an old piece of work; however, after the Easter 2019 bombings, the submission period was extended for two years.


Despite the Coronavirus and other adversities, Sri Lanka finally got their award show and festival. Congratulations to the 4As Sri Lanka, Sugibun Sathiamoorthy, Shane, Sheron JayasundaraChandu RajapreyarRinesh JayarathneRuchi SharmaRossen KrauseSajith WeerasingheRashini Nadarajah KuthoorUdyami Peiris who worked tirelessly to make it happen.

Now that WHO declares the Coronavirus, a pandemic, and every government is issuing travel bans around the world, I guess this will probably be my last event I will be allowed to attend for a very long time.

Partner with adobo Magazine

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