Davos World Communication Forum highlights

The World Communication Forum in Davos is the most international and diverse of all the conferences I attend around the world. This year was no exception with public relations professionals from around the globe including Belgium, Brazil, Bulgaria. Croatia, Denmark, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Italy, Malaysia, Mexico, Netherlands, Portugal, Russia, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the USA.

I was responsible for speaking in and moderating two sessions. The first was ‘PR is dead! < VS > Long live the all-channel-PR!’ and the second on ‘New business in new media environment or New media for new technologies/startups?’

Both were fascinating panels, despite some of our keynote speakers being unable to make it. For the first panel we found three excellent replacements: Zsuzsanna Beke, Head of Public Relations and Public Affairs, Richter Gedeon Plc. (Hungary); Galina Panina, PR Director and Manager External Communications, Leroy Merlin (Russia); and Eric Maillard, Managing Director of Ogilvy PR (France).

The future of PR panel kicked off with an excellent keynote by Paul Holmes of The Holmes Report who gave an overview of the public relations industry around the world and where he saw its future. I, and others, captured some of Paul’s and Uday’s insights in tweets:












The Three Whales Game

Ironically the highlight for me was actually the session I had some of the lowest expectations for. The idea behind the ‘Three Whales Game’ was to simulate the communications market and see if what emerged either resembled reality or what people thought it should be like.

Four of the forum delegates became in-house heads of communication (I was one of these) and the rest chose various roles such as strategist, creative, production, project manager, digital, media relations, measurement and analytics, events etc. These delegates split into random groups sitting on chairs that had already been placed into circles.

The game was led and devised by Lena Brandt with help from Ekaterina Lavrova. Lena explained the concept of the game, but it still left many of the participants confused as to the rules and what should happen next. But that was partially the point, as real life doesn’t have clear cut rules and instructions as what to do next.

Lena then assigned two projects to each of the heads of communications and we then had to either recruit and in-house team or appoint agencies. The remainder of the delegates were asked to form agencies or get a job. Initially it appeared that chaos reigned as everyone tried to figure out what to do.

I instantly decided my first priority was to recruit an in-house team who could assist me with managing my projects and recruiting agencies. I was allowed to appoint four people and decided I needed:

  • analytics and measurement – to direct the focus of my agencies and measure their success
  • project management – to manage my agencies and ensure they worked in partnership
  • media relations – as an in-house intimate knowledge of the company is usually better
  • digital – as social always needs to be led in-house

I didn’t want to recruit a strategist as I could handle that myself with the support of a good consultancy.

The first thing that I found interesting is that despite everyone sitting more or less randomly the initial agencies were formed out of these random groups, rather than by trying to put together the perfect team. I also found it impossible to recruit all four of my positions as people were unwilling to leave their agencies.

The second interesting phenomena was the emergence of a ‘mega-agency’ which acquired and merged with smaller agencies. Despite my determination to employ niche experts I was forced to use the ‘mega-agency’ as it was the only one I could recruit in time that could fulfil all my needs. Finding my niche experts was too difficult in the time available.

After the first part of the game we went on to the ‘third whale’ and were asked to see what would happen if we all tried to form PR associations. Three distinct groups emerged. The first and largest was an association that represented both individuals and agencies working in public relations. The second largest was an association of independent and specialist public relations consultancies. The third group, which I pushed for, was a union of in-house heads of communications. It was possible to be both a member of the first group and the last group.  My group probably most closely represented the European Association of Communications Directors.

Interestingly all three groups cited ethics/professionalism, training and lobbying to be priorities for their respective groups.

Now I’m looking forward to the regional session of the World Communication Forum in Moscow next month.