Q&A: Jack Modzelewski, Davos attendee

Jack Modzelewski, president of client relations at Fleishman-Hillard, was one of the 2,000 attendees at the five-day World Economic Forum conference in Davos.

Jack Modzelewski, president of client relations at Fleishman-Hillard, was one of the 2,000 attendees at the five-day World Economic Forum conference in Davos.

The event, which took place from January 26 to 30, brought together respected national, business, NGO, and cultural leaders to discuss solutions to current global problems. He answered's questions, via e-mail, about the sessions he attended, what he learned, and how the confab related to public relations. Q: What do you see as the purpose of the Davos Summit? A: Its stated purpose is: "committed to improve the state of the world." The summit connects people with powerful ideas and with passionate commitments to address major problems with those who can facilitate and expedite change. It may be idealistic, but for five days, influential people come together to discuss ways to try to improve the prospects of public health, economic trade, intercontinental harmony, and other assorted issues. Some World Economic Fund (WEF)-inspired actions make it beyond talk and gain traction in the real world. Even though only 2,000 people attend, there is a tremendous multiplier effect based on the broader communication, including media coverage, of some of the public-private initiatives and partnerships forged at the summit. While the debates in Davos are often diplomatic in tone, plenty of people there are not shy to give leaders an unpleasant earful on the pressing issues of the day. For instance, there was a panel on the multiple crises in Africa. Government leaders on the panel used clever rhetoric, but Bono - the pop entertainer and activist - cut right to the chase. He declared the acute poverty, starvation, and AIDS epidemic in Africa as a global emergency, not just a cause celebre waiting for political solutions. His message is millions are dying, let's act... now. Q: What was your main purpose for going to Davos? A: To represent, connect, and learn. I was there to be a visual representative of my colleagues at Fleishman-Hillard, especially our CEO John Graham who could not attend this year. I spent up to 15 hours a day attending sessions and having countless conversations with people. In the past few years, I have worked with some of our clients who were trying to connect with members of the news media or with business partners they wanted to meet during the summit. I met and talked with CEOs from various countries, with media executives and thought leaders from CNN, Forbes, BBC, Fortune, The Economist, and from non-English language media, too. I had candid discussions with several US Senators and Congressmen, and met new-generation Northern African leaders such as the sons of [Egyptian President Husnu] Mubarak and [Libyan leader Muammar] Gaddafi. Just about everyone you meet at the summit is relevant to our business. In an age where our profession is becoming more reliant on the online world, the Davos forum celebrates the art of old-fashioned face-to-face engagement and personal relationships. Where else can someone in our profession meet so many influential people in one place at one time? Q: Could you talk a little about the sessions you attended and what you gleaned from them? A: Another objective for attending is to absorb new information about emerging trends and threats, which may soon impact client companies and industries. In some of the 20 or more plenary and other sessions I attended, I learned that: in a decade or so, stem-cell research may have a measurable impact on a cure for diabetes if society does not thwart such research; more than 60 international news professionals have been killed in Iraq since 2003, and that no one seems to be accountable for their deaths; the US not only imports trillions of dollars of capital, it is about to become a net importer of food for the first time; if we are going to keep scorecards on corporate social responsibility, maybe we should do the same for government, the media, NGOs, and other institutions; and, while corporate governance measures such as Sarbanes-Oxley are transforming corporate culture, many CEOs, if they had access to sufficient capital, would take their companies private tomorrow and escape the tyranny of Wall Street. I also learned that most developed countries know they must confront the challenges of longevity economics - people living much longer and overtaxing the social systems that sustain them. And I learned that Eastern-style democracy, such as what has existed for decades in India, could be the alternative model for Middle-Eastern countries interested in democratic principles but not wanting to adopt an American model. I also learned that celebrities may be publicity hounds in a venue like the WEF, but they can raise money for causes faster than anyone else. Two words on that subject: Sharon Stone [who, during a panel, led a fundraising effort for bed nets combating mosquitoes, which raised $1 million in five minutes]. Q: How would you describe the emotions surrounding Davos? Is there a pressure to attain some sort of goal? A: The summit does not have any one goal but many long-term ones, such as how to sharpen the focus on how to resolve perennial problems such as Middle-East disharmony, conflicting interests surrounding the next round of World Trade Organization trade negotiations, emerging nuclear threats in countries like Iran, and how to contain global climate change. This year the WEF experimented with an interactive global town hall meeting in which hundreds of people, working in small roundtable groups, were asked to prioritize the world's most important issues and, then, propose solutions. It yielded some bold ideas; perhaps a few that may see the light of day. The problem with the concept was unrepresentative demographics, as 70% of the session's 800 participants were from the US or Europe. That meant people representing only about 12%of the world's population deciding policy for the rest of the world. Come to think of it, that does reflect the last thousand or so years of policymaking. Q: In reading dispatches from the Davos Summit, do you feel the press got the same experience from it as you did? If you were representing the summit, what message would you push out there that didn't get covered as much? A: I read the coverage in many English language newspapers and wire services, but that is just part of the world media who attend. Usually, there is a big focus on what world leaders say at the summit. This year British Prime Minister Tony Blair's speech attracted a lot of attention, as did the appearance of Victor Yuschenko five days after his inauguration in the Ukraine. I would like to see a content analysis study on the press coverage of the summit and whether the WEF is satisfied that its message is getting out. Then again, this is a case where the medium is the message. The fact that all these people with extremely busy and complex lives would come to a pristine ski resort just to talk about improving the state of the world - and not even bother to ski - is a remarkable feat and one for which Klaus Schwab, the creator of the WEF, deserves annual credit for pulling it off. Q: Did you meet with other PR professionals there? What was discussed? A: There were not many of us, perhaps a few dozen people from agencies and corporations. Every time PR professionals encounter one another in Davos, we comment on how fortunate we are to be at what has to be the ultimate stakeholder dialogue conference in the world. If you do not come away from Davos with fresh perspectives you can immediately apply to public relations challenges, then you missed the point of being there.

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