Standing out from the crowd: the World Economic Forum in Davos

salt’s Emma Kirby shares her insights from four years’ experience shaping and executing WEF communications programmes for global organisations.

“Social media has created a historical shift from the historically powerful to the historically powerless. Now everyone has a voice.”

– Sheryl Sandberg, Chief Operating Officer and Member of the Board, Facebook, USA, at the World Economic Forum, Davos, 2015.

Every year the world’s movers and shakers gather at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos to discuss how they can work together to tackle some of the world’s most pressing issues. Having helped clients develop thought leadership for WEF, and spent many hours on the number 87 bus in London trying to arrange media interviews in the congress centre for spokespeople on the ground, I was very excited to attend the WEF this year.

For businesses the cost to attend is high so there’s a need to guarantee a strong ROI from your communications. But at an event where your company CEO or business is jostling for attention among world leaders, hundreds of other CEOs, never mind the millions adding their views on social media, how can you stand out from the crowd? Here are my top four Davos take outs.

1. “I GOT A FEELING….” that the WEF needs to diversify!

Will I Am’s An Insight, An Idea session was one of the most popular all week. Why? It wasn’t because the audience were Black Eyed Peas fans, it was because they wanted to hear a different point of view. Diversity is a hot topic at Davos, but who’s taking about it? Typically older men in suits. To stand out businesses need to ask themselves not just if their delegation is representative, but how can their communications be accessible, inclusive and represent a range of views.

Do: Ask yourself – if women, youth, or cultural diversity is something you are talking about at WEF, who in your organisation should really be talking about it?

Don’t do something at WEF because that’s the way you’ve always done it. It’s certainly a crowded stage; the only way to stand out is to push the boundaries and dare to be different.

2. #IMPACTTHATMATTERS

Deloitte’s wall of post-its was one of the most talked about displays during Davos. In a place where every inch of space is branded, it’s not just what you say but how you present it that counts. Deloitte’s wall not only looked good, it also showed they were looking to listen, and to absorb insights and input from both attendees and those following the event online.

Do: be visual, flexible and present your thinking and ideas in new ways.

Don’t: release a twenty page corporate white paper and expect everyone to read it cover-to-cover.

3. IT’S A BALANCING ACT

The media hub at Davos is a hive of journalists from across the globe. The WEF is your opportunity to identify journalists from your business critical markets and showcase the expertise of your spokespeople. By finding the right balance between significant national media and global outlets you can ensure your messaging reaches the key decision makers in countries that are vital to your business.

Do: identify media priorities by aligning with your business focus areas.

Don’t: simply target outlets with the highest reach.

4. EVERYONE HAS A VOICE

Davos can give leaders a false sense of security; it’s small, it’s familiar, and sessions are often carefully choreographed. But this is changing; open forum sessions and debates now invite questions from Twitter and interactive forums with participants in hubs around the world encourage leaders to confront different views and perceptions. Being open and timely is essential – don’t be afraid to communicate your point of view.

Do: look for opportunities to participate in or lead open sessions, or discussions which are live streamed online.

Don’t: hide in your comfort zone or be afraid to challenge those with opposing views.

Protest at Davos

With the global media focusing their lenses on the world leaders and A-listers assembled at Davos, it’s not surprising that activist groups often use novel stunts to attract attention to their cause. These are some of our favourites:

  • Two years ago, Greenpeace activists shut down a Shell petrol in Davos by chaining themselves to the pumps in protest against the company’s plans to accelerate oil extraction in the Arctic.
  • With heavy snow and freezing temperatures a regular feature of WEF Davos, this year, protestors from Action/2015 built 193 snowmen – one for every country recognised by the UN – to raise awareness of their organisation and focus attention on the global development agenda.
  • Campaigners from the Femen protest group took a leaf out of PETA’s book and staged a topless demonstration drawing attention to women’s rights in 2013.

 

Photo credit: World Economic Forum