Transparency, sustainable growth, and the widening generation gap have emerged as the key trends for communicators in Davos, Switzerland, for the 2013 World Economic Forum.
This year's event has the theme of “resilient dynamism,” which Caroline Wunnerlich, MD of Fleishman-Hillard's Brussels office, says is a concept that resonates with communications professionals.
“'Resilient dynamism' is about injecting vibrancy, while taking into account economic stability, to build sustainable growth, which is something we need to do for our clients,” she explains.
For Wunnerlich, the keynote by International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde is “very fitting for the PR industry right now,” citing her argument that “we need a bold vision with the ability to adapt tactics to new tactics.”
“In an economic context, Lagarde outlined three areas all economies need to focus on: openness, inclusiveness, and accountability,” Wunnerlich says. “I found this striking because it is something communications professionals are counseling their clients on.”
She points out that UK Prime Minister David Cameron also called for greater transparency from companies and governments in his speech on Thursday.
Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty agrees that transparency is a major theme of this year's World Economic Forum, and it is reflected in the tone of the event itself.
“It's the most transparent Davos ever. For many years, some of the venues were private, but now everywhere you go, everyone is tweeting and blogging - everything seen by everyone,” he says. “We have to continually recognize the fast pace of increased transparency and the implications this has for our clients.”
Flaherty adds that at this year's edition of Davos, there were a number of talks relevant to communications professionals on subjects such as social technology, online power, and tablets.
“It's a communicator's conference on steroids,” he says, noting that it signifies how communications is reaching “a new level of respect and awareness in business world.”
Last year, the European debt crisis dominated discussions. While Europe's economy is still hotly debated, along with the issue of the US “fiscal cliff,” “there is more focus on solutions” this year, notes Justin Blake, global lead of executive positioning at Edelman.
“There is an acceptance that it is not just a global recession but global reshaping,” he says.
In addition to Europe, there is a lot of talk about Africa and how it may be “the next frontier” for clients, notes MSLGroup CEO Olivier Fleurot.
“The population in Africa is set to double in the next 20 years, so it will be a place where our clients invest to take advantage of the growth out there,” he says, adding that corporate governance in the region needs to improve. “The challenge for us will be finding the right talent - people who understand local culture and know how to work for international clients.”
The topic of attracting talent points to the wider issue of ensuring there is not “a lost generation,” Fleurot adds, noting that the growing generation gap is creating a “challenge for the communications industry to attract and motivate talent.”
Citing a speech at Davos by Unilever COO Harish Manwani, Fleurot explains that the aspirations of Generation Y are different and redefining the workplace. This has implications for company CSR plans, he adds.
“In many cases, CSR is perceived as an obligation or an aside, but not part of a global strategy,” Fleurot says. “But what young people want is to see the purpose of the company embedded in the strategy – not something they do once a month, but every day.”