Inside OI West: Founder Paul Shepherd

Taking place on October 16th 2015 at the Mercure Hotel in Bristol City Centre, Online Influence West will host a wealth of influential speakers including Salesforce’s Jeremy Waite, Bauer Media COO David Gilbey, Ben Aronsten of Seedrs and Twitter’s Head of Content UK Paul McCrudden.

With the event drawing ever closer, we got the lowdown from the man behind the conference, Paul Shepherd.

Where did the idea for the Online Influence Conference originally come from?

I'd love to take all the credit but the first two Oi Conferences were actually run by a business acquaintance who has subsequently become a friend, Tony Dowling.

Coup Media sponsored the event in 2013, and then we acquired the rights in 2014. We were always planning to host a tech event so when the chance to acquire one became available we jumped at the chance.

How has the conference grown since it began?

In a word, massively. Oi'14 was all about seeing if we could bring in speakers from global tech organisations like Google, Twitter, Hootsuite and the like. I'm lucky to have contacts at these places and they were all really happy to come to Wales and help Coup deliver a great first conference.

We kept the numbers small, with 200 delegates, 8 speakers and just 2 sponsors. Having proven we could do it, we decided to really try and scale for Oi'15. This year we had 500 delegates, 10 sponsors, 30 speakers... and an afterparty! Now we're holding our second event of the year in Bristol on October 16 and will come back to Wales for March 2016 when we're hoping to bring a thousand delegates and more world class companies delivering world class talks.

The next conference is due to be held in the centre of Bristol, why did you want to hold an event in this particular part of the country?

I've worked in Bristol in the past and have a number of friends in agencies there. The digital/tech sector is one of the strongest outside of London and we had a lot of people travel from Bristol, Bath and further afield to be at Oi'15 in Cardiff. I think that by moving to Bristol, we'll not only be in the heart of a fantastic, forward looking city but we'll also become more accessible to companies a little further South who perhaps felt that Cardiff was a (Severn) bridge too far!

What has been your proudest moment in the planning and running of the events?

I think looking round at City Hall in Cardiff when it was empty but all dressed up for Oi'15 was quite a special moment. But I do have a problem with appreciating achievements. There are so many other things we could do that I'm always thinking of what we haven't achieved yet as opposed to what we have. That's something I'm working on!

What is next for the Online Influence Conference?

A hugely successful Bristol event, a much bigger Cardiff event in March 2016, and possibly some smaller regional events in between. We're exploring the opportunities in London and Manchester too, with a tentative look at the US planned for 2016.

What words of advice would you give to someone looking to get involved in the tech scene in the UK?

Attending events like ours will help because you get to hear from the cream of the crop and to meet people and build relationships that can help you. The UK tech scene is a strong one but you need to know what it is you want to do. Do you have a great idea you'd like to try and get to market? Do you want to work agency side, client side, what role do you feel you'd best best at etc. Also don’t ever be afraid to ask for help and advice.

How important is it for a business to adopt and maintain digital marketing?

I find it hard to believe that there are companies out there who haven't done so in some form or other already. It's simply how people research the companies they want to deal with nowadays and there are so many free or inexpensive tools to help you adopt digital there really are no barriers other than willingness.

In terms of maintaining a digital presence across multiple platforms then it becomes a more strategic requirement with planning needed and resource required. A commitment to the longer sales cycle needs to be made also because people today want to see authority and deal with companies that clearly know their industry inside out. Demonstrating that level of knowledge and thought leadership takes time but it's something that needs to be done now because the trend will not be reversed.

What tech trends have caught your attention of late?

I'm a huge advocate of using social data to gain intelligence and I still don't think companies are doing it well enough so the growth of data analytics, BIG data, social, smart and linked data is fascinating to me and I'm involved in a few companies doing interesting stuff in that space. It'll be interesting to see how we embrace the Internet of Things in coming years, and I can see that merging with wearables quite significantly too.

One thing that’s for sure is that we're entering a really exciting phase where some of that futuristic stuff which seemed so wildly off mark a few years back is starting to materialise.