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The Influencers

Web Summit: Goodbye Dublin. Hello Lisbon

CKSK, 1 year, 11 months ago

INFLUENCER: Graham Nolan, Head of Strategy at Irish agency CKSK, on constants and changes in a revolutionary world

Web Summit: Goodbye Dublin. Hello Lisbon

For those who have not attended Dublin’s mammoth Web Summit event, imagine for a moment what the Cannes Lions represents to the Advertising and Marketing community, but then replace sunny Cannes with wet Dublin and the Advertising and Marketing folk with Technology and Start Up enthusiasts. From humble beginnings only five years ago in Dublin, the event has grown from 500 attendees to a spectacular 40,000 today and pushes the RDS conference campus to its very hinges, as it bursts with tech fans from all walks of life and every corner of the globe. Arguably though, Dublin and its social scene has added extra dimension to a northern European event held in chilly November with the “Night Summit” social aspect a huge draw and fast becoming as essential as the day summit events themselves.

It is perhaps this pressure on facilities and the logistics of moving and servicing this many people in the village that is Dublin that has forced the hand of Irish Web Summit organisers after five years to take the significant step of leaving and moving the event from Dublin in 2016. Next year Lisbon assumes host city responsibility, the first time the event will be held outside Ireland – and all after the particularly poisonous and very public spat between the Web Summit and the Irish government has cast a large cloud over events this year. Problematic Wi-Fi access, and often the lack of it, has become a running joke for opportunistic brands poking fun on social media, hotel prices in the city go into orbit and the challenge of transporting 40,000 people within a small radius have all become areas of friction between the organisers and public bodies. It has inevitably lead to a “conscious uncoupling” between them and the Summit’s “Home Nation”. Although no one demanded the Web Summit sanction the cost of a hot dog and drink amounting to €20.

This year the sprawling RDS campus has again heard from experts in how technology is disrupting, reshaping and evolving businesses and organisations across fields as diverse as marketing, startups, music, sports, content, commerce, fashion and health tech. Countless numbers of entrepreneurs with the next big idea seek out connections and funding opportunities that will unlock the next tech innovation. Irish entrepreneur Oisin Hanrahan is the 2016 stand out, successfully securing $50 million worth of funding for his “Handy” start up – an on demand service which connects customers with DIY and cleaning services. Currently taking over 100,000 bookings in-app in 28 cities, Oisin aims to use the money to expand the platform’s global reach.  It’s this dream, this profile raising and financial backing that brings so many people to Dublin to mingle with the local community, eager to learn how tech can transform their businesses.

For me, the most remarkable moment came, not in any of the keynote addresses from the many tech giants in attendance – including Facebook, Google and Amazon – but during a small “fireside” conversation on the Wednesday afternoon featuring John Sculley from Zeta Interactive, a marketing cloud data driven company who advise businesses on how to acquire and profitably retain customers. On paper a standard Web Summit talking point – Big Data is the oft-repeated on-trend term used to get people to sit up and take notice. But Sculley’s name brought me back to the first business novel I ever read a long, long time ago in my student days. The book was “Odyssey - from Pepsi to Apple” from none other than John Sculley and told his story from his days as the youngest CEO of PepsiCo to his time as CEO of Apple Computer. It was Steve Jobs who lured Sculley from PepsiCo in the early 1980s with the challenge "Do you want to sell sugared water for the rest of your life? Or do you want to come with me and change the world?”. Classic Jobs. An offer not to be refused.

30 years later Sculley is still aiming to move the dial even further in his role as founder of Zeta Interactive, pushing the agenda of data, machine learning, omni-channel marketing and how to bridge the gap between creativity and data driven decision making. Impressive stuff from a man who arguably identified one of the most powerful data observations in the 1980s Cola Wars as he rolled out the Pepsi taste challenge across America in supermarkets and on TV. His simple but powerful insight at the time was that more people who tried Pepsi in a blind taste challenge preferred the taste over Coke – a data point that inspired Pepsi to overtake Coke sales in the 1980s for the first time and a marketing master stroke.

Whilst the Web Summit may leave Ireland for Lisbon and John Sculley has long left the world of TV advertising for more complex cloud-based, data driven decision making, the one constant is evolution and nowhere is that fact more prominent than in Web Summit’s world of technology, digital and data. We are living in the 21st century equivalent of the 19th century industrial revolution, and evolution is happening at pace. Sadly, the fact that the Web Summit takes place in a 19th century venue in Dublin currently means it has evolved beyond Dublin’s means.

That’s progress and only time will tell the true price to Ireland and the Web Summit organisers as it evolves out of Dublin and into its new Lisbon home. We’re sad to say goodbye because Web Summit has been good to Dublin. But Dublin has also been good to Web Summit. We leave each other all square.



Graham Nolan is Head of Strategy at CKSK.COM