Web Summit founder Paddy Cosgrave is more PR master than prodigal son

Caveat: Paddy Cosgrave follows Michael O’Leary playbook as Moneyconf moves to Dublin

 

Let us not get too misty-eyed about the return to Dublin next year of a conference organised by Paddy Cosgrave. He may have taken his Web Summit from Dublin to Lisbon in a spectacular supernova of sulk after falling out with the Government in 2015, but this is no tale of the return a prodigal son.

For a start, the prodigal son in the biblical parable came home broke. The accounts of Cosgrave’s company indicate he is a multimillionaire.

And forget the typical tech-industry bluster about “incredible moments”. This week’s decision to leave Madrid and come to Dublin next June with Moneyconf, the fintech-themed spin-off from the Web Summit, is, indeed, all about the money. Cosgrave’s money. In a hard-headed commercial world, his nut is tungsten.

The announcement came on the second day of this year’s three-day event in Spain, to the disappointment of locals. El País, the Madrid daily, recalled that two years ago, when Moneyconf came to Madrid, Cosgrave said it would be “our city”.

The event, which attracts about 1,000 attendees, is likely to quintuple in size by moving to Ireland.

Moneyconf was held in an old Boetticher lift factory on a state-owned site in Madrid. According to an account to El País by city officials, Cosgrave wanted to expand the event but was constrained by the venue. Shades of RDS 2015 here.

City officials suggested several large sites around the city, according to the account. Officials told the newspaper that all of them would have been more expensive for Cosgrave’s company, so it went elsewhere.

Tickets

Moneyconf, which brings together financial institutions and the companies that supply technology such as payments systems, is already selling tickets for the 2018 event in Dublin.

It is aiming for 5,000 attendees, and “super-early” tickets are on sale for €495, or a cool €4,950 to also attend the “f.ounders Fintech” event. The regular price for Moneyconf attendees rises to €995, while the “late” cost leaps to €1,995 closer to the event.

Let’s assume Cosgrave gets his 5,000 attendees, who end up paying an average of, say, €750. That’s possibly €3.75 million “on the door”, before a single sponsor or exhibitor has signed up.

According to a brochure sent out upon registering interest, companies can sign up to sponsor, for example, the speakers’ lounge or media village, meeting rooms or dinner and drinks events.

Exhibitors can choose between five packages, from bronze to titanium. There is no mention in the brochure of the costs for exhibitors and sponsors. It is akin to the menu for a three-star Michelin restaurant: no vulgar price listings, but you know it is going to be a damn expensive meal.

Cosgrave has not yet announced the Dublin venue for Moneyconf 2018, but there are few possible options.

It is difficult to imagine Cosgrave quitting Madrid for Citywest, just off the N7 on the way to Kildare. Tech geeks are meant to be cool, not Rathcoole. The obvious location is Convention Centre Dublin (CCD), beside the financial district and directly across the river from the city’s tech zone. But one of the days scheduled for Moneyconf next June clashes with a conference of 2,000 gastrointestinal radiologists, who booked CCD three years in advance.

Then there is Web Summit’s old stomping ground, the RDS in Ballsbridge, with which Cosgrave appeared to dynamite his bridges while going out in a blaze of petulant glory in 2015. It would be an ideal venue for Moneyconf and has space on its calendar.

Perhaps Cosgrave, hard-headed as he is, can renew his relations with the RDS in much the same way as he plans to do with the State.

Cosgrave has been extremely successful and is incredibly driven. The flip side of the latter trait, however, is a notoriously tetchy persona and an ego the size of Jupiter. He regularly scorns the Irish media, who return the compliment. Or maybe it is vice versa.

Tweets

Following the Moneyconf announcement, he clashed unnecessarily with numerous Irish journalists on Twitter who made ironic or cynical references to the fraught circumstances of Web Summit’s departure.

Cosgrave asked one hack if he was “smoking crack” while tweeting, and disparaged an RTÉ broadcaster as a “muckraker” (he frequently uses that one).

The announcement also included a mystifying line about the return to Dublin having “nothing to do” with the impending departure of the Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, another player in the Web Summit Battle of 2015. So why mention it?

It seemed like a cheap shot at Kenny. But it, along with the Twitter spats, fuelled the publicity and the intrigue, which was probably Cosgrave’s intention all along.

Cosgrave’s Twitter feed from the last few months also contains several of what appear to be thinly-veiled swipes at Denis O’Brien over many issues, including Independent News & Media’s coverage of the Fine Gael leadership contest and what Cosgrave saw as INM’s preference for Simon Coveney over Leo Varadkar.

Varadkar’s election was “a bad day for billionaires”, Cosgrave guffawed.

But with his persecution complex and aggressive disdain for Irish media, Cosgrave is more like O’Brien than he realises. He is also redolent of Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary in the way he plays public officials of various European cities off each other for his business, while lambasting the Irish Government.

A new dog, but the same old tricks.

Footnotes

The Restaurants Association of Ireland (RAI) has called the shortage of chefs in the State a “crisis” and puts the deficit at 5,000. It partly blames the State and urges the re-establishment of the state tourism training body, Cert.

But while it is complaining about the “ludicrous” situation, the hospitality industry should also look a little closer to home for reasons why there is such a shortage of chefs in the sector.

Anyone who has trained in the restaurant and hotel industry, or who has worked in it over several years, knows of the culture of bullying and exploitation that exists in many commercial kitchens.

“Cheffing” can be an interesting, rewarding and varied career. But it can also be a tough slog to the top. Over several years, I saw many chefs regularly emotionally abused, screamed at, bullied, ridiculed and humiliated.

It was too prevalent and too normal for it to be anything other than an ingrained, macho industry culture. My friends in the sector tell me it still goes on.

The culture is also glorified by the media and entertainment industries, through the veneration on television of overt bullies such as Gordon Ramsay.

Developing training capacity is one thing. But if the RAI really wants to boost the numbers of people prepared to enter its industry as chefs, its members should redouble their efforts to root out the culture of bullying in kitchens.

 

The word on the street is that Independent News and Media (INM), where there is a boardroom civil war between chief executive Robert Pitt and chairman Leslie Buckley, will no longer be represented by the agency Heneghan PR.

The high-profile agency has for many years been very closely associated with Buckley, although a PR agency usually reports to the chief executive, so the parting of ways is understandable.

The first task in the inbox of Heneghan’s replacement will be to manage publicity around August’s delayed annual general meeting.

No word yet on who will take over the gig. Whoever it is, they had better be diplomatic.