On the sidelines of the I-Com Global Summit that took place in Porto last month, we caught up with the event’s founder and chairman, Andreas Cohen. Edited excerpts:
Now in its eighth edition, how did the festival come about?
It began as a spin-off of a Procter & Gamble initiative called Fast. It was started in the late-1990s (1998) to get some of the early definitions around digital and hold early discussions on standardisation of it. After we did that for around four to five years, P&G asked me to chair one of the committees that was dealing with audience measurement. I was a strategy consultant and that time. After another few years of building up connections with other associations around the world, we decided it was important to bring everyone together physically to discuss what was happening. This happened towards the tail-end of 2004. At that time no one really had a point-of-view on online audience measurement. We did a summit every other year starting with Berlin in 2005.
I was a strategy consultant but didn’t have the patience to do things like writing a book, white papers and stuff like that.
Then came a point in 2013, when I made a decision to only do I-Com. I started focusing only on it and basically began to shift the community. We had to brace new members and add on other marketing sciences and areas as they became relevant.
How has the event evolved?
Now, we’re a member-based organisation. We operate in a space called smart-data marketing and help them (members) gain a competitive advantage in that space. Anything that a CMO would look at – product, price, promotion, people – it could be advertising or could be how they could leverage value from data. It’s no longer about digital; it’s just about leveraging data from value. That’s the vision I had and was fortunate to have people who saw value in it and invested a lot of resources to help us achieve that vision.
In 2014, we started the annual rhythm. The key thing to understand is that now we have around about 600 people involved in the boards and councils. We have a very talented, exceptional group of people who help organise this (festival). We are adding new areas every year.
How many people have attended the festival this year?
This year around 450 people attended the event. Our aspiration has never been to make it particularly huge. Most of the people who attend I-Com go to some of the large festivals too, with around 30,000 to 100,000 people showing up. Our members appreciate us being more selective. Most people out here are director/VP level upwards. This is not about trying to help everybody.
Without trying to be snooty, it’s a community for people in the forefront and that’s why people love it. We don’t want to be in a stadium. People like the intimacy here. We are open, it’s not about how big you are or how much money you have. It’s about how good one is. We have programmes for start-ups too. We had an Indian start-up that was nominated to be here too, but they unfortunately didn’t have the bandwidth to be here.
What all can one expect at an I-Com Global Summit?
One of the most exciting programmes we have is the Data Science Hackathon. It begins a few days just before the Summit and is run as a separate event. There, the brightest teams from big agency groups, marketing technology companies and university students are competing to solve cutting-edge problems of large brands.
We also have the Data Creativity Awards. We define it in a generic way and also have different specific categories. What’s interesting with this is (and especially) if you’re not from the United States or the United Kingdom is to know that you’re doing world-class work. It’s like a litmus test. We have about 170 people on the jury for that Data Creativity Awards. We make sure one judge won’t see more than seven entries. We want to make sure that if you enter the awards by sending in work, people will really look at it. It’s very complex to prepare an entry and we think people should have a good look at it.
Lastly, we have the start-up programmes. We have accelerators and innovation partners around the world. They help us source the start-ups that are doing interesting things. Unilever has a very strong programme to bring in start-up technology and use them to their advantage and you’re going to see more of that.
What would be your key message to Indian marketers?
For anyone, it’s important to educate the client about these kind (data based marketing) of projects. Many markets don’t have this. Clients don’t have pitches to say ‘we want competitive advantage through data’. We want to help educate the markets where they need it. We are looking at markets like India, Dubai and Singapore to expand. My message is, ‘don’t wait for local initiatives. Come to global events like I-Com and learn, get inspiration and go back home to do great things’. It’s for people who want to prove themselves on a global level, and learn from people on a cutting-edge globally.
We have an advisory board in India, and a couple of years ago we had discussions about what’s happening in India in data. They would say ‘we don’t know’. When asked for reasons, they would say ‘we are only an analytical hub for stuff that’s happening outside of India’. Today, that’s shifting. The benefit India has is that there’s a lot of talent in India.
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