Event Review: OPI European Forum 2018

As the recent OPI European Forum in London showed, 'going digital' is a long, evolving and often challenging process. But not embarking on that journey will inevitably result in a dead end.

The seventh OPI European Forum, which took place at the beautiful and historic Royal Horseguards Hotel in London, UK, from 5-7 June 2018, turned out to be a thought-provoking and highly informative gathering, all basked in early-summer British sunshine. 

The networking at the event, which pulled together about 100 senior executives from the European business supplies industry and beyond, was described as “not to be missed” and “excellent”, while the quality of the conference programme was rated as “outstanding”, “first class” and “engaging and relevant”. Indeed, on the networking front, a record 100% of delegates described this aspect as “vital” or “important” in their decision-making to attend the invitation-only event. 

From the welcome barbecue, networking breaks during the conference sessions to the fabulous group dinner at the Skylon restaurant on London’s Southbank at the end of the first day, attendees had plenty of opportunities to talk to their peers in a confidential, Chatham House-rule dictated environment.

In fact, Chatham House rules prohibit the OPI team from divulging too much detail with regards to what was said at the forum — and by whom — but the core takeaways were many and varied.

Conference chair Gordon Christiansen, COO and SVP of Marketing at sales and marketing agency Highlands, opened the European Forum and took delegates through a packed programme of keynotes, presentations, panel discussions and roundtables. He did so with great aplomb, not only guiding proceedings and imparting his extensive knowledge of the industry along the way, but also dealing exceedingly well with a couple of technology hitches. 

The irony of these hitches — the event fell under a broad umbrella of ‘Going Digital’ — wasn’t lost on forum delegates. Nobody said it was going to be easy though, and the fact that the digital journey is a marathon rather than a sprint was aptly illustrated by many speakers, perhaps most notably keynote speaker Rob Laurens in the opening session of the conference. Laurens outlined the various phases of digital engagement and urged delegates to become ‘bionic’ businesss. 

Digital obstacles

There are many hurdles along the way. Companies need to seriously think about their presence on social media, for example, when things go wrong, and protect their corporate reputation. Cybersecurity is another hot topic that needs addressing. And pricing has become so transparent on the internet that it’s no longer a real differentiator. 

At the heart of it all are the customers, and the experience they’re having. OPI‘s CEO Steve Hilleard led a panel discussion to conclude the first conference day that included some high-profile senior executives. One of them put it quite succinctly. “You can’t be all things to all people, but investigate your company’s pain points, challenge them, invest in them and then fix them.” 

Customers — as well as a company’s employees, importantly — can be influenced, of course, and the beginning of day two saw a highly interactive talk on applying ‘nudge theory’ to change behaviour and mindsets.

The next OPI European Forum will take place at the Westin Grand Berlin, Germany, from 5-7 June 2019.