-Steven Althaus, head of global marketing and brand comms, Credit Suisse
-Sarah Backhouse, MD of Communications 50 and Sustainability 50, World 50
-Justin Blake, global lead, executive positioning, Edelman
-Craig Buchholz, CCO, Procter & Gamble
-Joe Cohen, CCO, Axis Capital
-Vitor De Souza, VP of comms, Cisco
-Corey duBrowa, VP of global comms and public affairs, Google
-Jessamyn Katz, president, Heyman Associates
-Jennifer Kuperman, head of international corporate affairs, Alibaba Group
-Jennifer Lowney, head of corporate comms, Citi
-Franz Paasche, SVP, corporate affairs and comms, PayPal
-Beatriz Perez, SVP and chief comms, public affairs, sustainability, and marketing assets officer, Coca-Cola
-Sabia Schwarzer, global head of comms and responsibility, Allianz
-Sally Susman, EVP and chief corporate affairs officer, Pfizer
Moderator: Steve Barrett, VP, editorial director, PRWeek
From January 22-25, global leaders representing governments, corporations, nonprofits, and a variety of cultural, societal, and thought leaders gathered in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.
This year’s theme was "Globalization 4.0: Shaping a Global Architecture in the Age of the Fourth Industrial Revolution." The agenda focused on the need for global entities to transform and work collaboratively in a world reshaped by advanced technologies – physical, digital, and biological – that are spurring innovations at unprecedented speed and scale.
It’s a focus that underscores unprecedented comms challenges and opportunities. So it makes sense that, of the more than 3,000 attendees at the event, PR’s presence and power was more visible than ever. This was highlighted as PRWeek convened a roundtable featuring 14 of the industry’s top leaders, nine of whom represent Fortune 500 companies.
At the annual summit, where many major business deals are made and U.S.-based companies validate their global status, the conversation touched on topics ranging from trust to taking a stand to the evolving CCO-CEO relationship.
The industry leaders explained why Davos is a pivotal event for the communications industry and identified their key takeaways.
Alibaba Group's Jennifer Kuperman (r) was among nine leaders representing Fortune 500 brands at the roundtable.
•END TO SILOS
Steven Althaus, Credit Suisse: We can only protect and build the narrative of our organization if we take the functional silos of marketing, communications, and branding and unite. Otherwise we will not be able to participate in the kinds of conversations and debates in which we need to be a part.
•PR’S BADGE OF ACCEPTANCE
Justin Blake, Edelman: A dozen years ago, the Forum wouldn’t have accepted a CCO for an [access all areas] white badge. Now, the difference in how executives in this role are driving decisions as influential counselors to the C-suite is evident. A key part of the communications function’s evolution, though, is knowing that we are leaders from whom people want to hear.
•ENGAGE AND EDUCATE
Sally Susman, Pfizer: The world seems increasingly volatile and unpredictable. Part of my role is to interpret that volatility for our CEOs and boards. This is my third time at Davos and I’m actually leading our delegation this year. We’re trying to engage and educate around our main purpose. We’re looking for breakthroughs that change patients’ lives. Whereas Davos was once a place for my CEO to sit with other CEOs, it has now become an opportunity to build momentum around some of our public expressions.
•CHANGES OVER THE YEARS
Franz Paasche, PayPal: When we came here three years ago, there was a lot of discussion about private-public partnerships. Then all the discussion was about Brexit, the American election, and other populist movements. This year, with so few political leaders here, the discussion is about how companies can step up and work together to solve big issues facing the world. That has always been a subcurrent, but it’s much more distinct this year.
•THE SECRET WEAPON
Jennifer Kuperman, Alibaba Group: We have six Chinese management members in Davos. We have 99% of our business in China, but 99% of our investors in Europe and the U.S. This is great exposure of our leaders to the outside world, but also a development opportunity for our management to better understand the Western world and share perspectives. And as we tell our story and build our reputation, brand, and business, [comms is] actually the strategic secret weapon behind all this, making it happen.
•A MATTER OF TRUST
Sabia Schwarzer, Allianz: Davos is really helpful as a reminder of what themes are important, the themes that usually don’t get talked about day to day that we around this table try to uphold in our companies, such as trust. Our leaders come here and see how important it is for everybody to talk about it - walking down the street and seeing all the banners about trust.
•DRIVING TOWARD SOLUTIONS
Jennifer Lowney, Citi: We position [Citigroup CEO] Mike [Corbat] as a global face of finance. This is a good place to help make that happen. The confluence of our highly politicized times and this conversation around the CEO voice has created a sense that [a leader] needs to use his or her voice to pick a side. We’re trying to have our CEO use his voice to help drive toward solutions.
•WHERE’S THE YOUTH?
Vitor De Souza, Cisco: This is a great place to educate the C-suite on the new world of communications. The transparency. The speed. I love walking around with the executives so they can see firsthand how it works in day-to-day life. We’re talking about the future at Davos, AI and the like, but what’s missing is a strong delegation of youth. That would help.
•WORKING WITH THE COMPETITION
Beatriz Perez, Coca-Cola: You can have discussions with your competition and align in terms of what’s good for the world. Have real conversations, then go out and take actions as an industry. That is highly beneficial. And I love the efficiency of it.
Corey duBrowa, Google: In this tumultuous environment, I’m seeing affirmation that purpose can be business-led, particularly from a coalition point of view. Also, employees are looking to employers on issues about purpose, trust, and how they see their roles not just as employees of Company X, but also what they can do from that purview. Additionally, we haven’t done a good enough job showing what AI can do from a purpose or social benefit point of view, such as helping meteorologists prepare people in the line of storms and floods to take preventative measures.
•VOICE AND VALUES
Craig Buchholz, Procter & Gamble: Our Toxic Masculinity Gillette campaign is a really interesting case study to understand the myth versus reality when you take a stand. We did a survey and, despite everything you might have heard, only 8% of consumers who saw the film recall hearing or seeing something negative about it. You have to know what your values are as a brand. Eyes wide open isn’t that hard to do when you know your values. We have an obligation to leverage our voice to drive racial and gender equality – and we do that through our brands as much as our corporate voice.
•LOOKING OUTSIDE THE BOX
Sarah Backhouse, World 50: I am able to see the big trends that cut across communications and sustainability and bring them back to World 50.
Joe Cohen, Axis Capital: We’re investing so much more time and resources into employee communications, making people comfortable with change, and helping educate our employees and colleagues on the need to be upskilled and the competencies and capabilities that will allow you to thrive in your role.
•TAKING THE PULSE
Jessamyn Katz, Heyman Associates: It’s a great opportunity to take a pulse on the function. The value of the comms role has never been higher, but the scope is more complicated. It’s important to compare notes with everybody here on how they’re approaching their worlds differently in a more efficient way.
FACTS AND FIGURES FROM DAVOS
•22% of participants were female
(up from 21% last year and 15% in 2014)
•114 countries represented
(U.S. was the nation with the largest delegation; Western Europe was the region with the largest delegation)
•27 years that Credit Suisse’s Steven Althaus has attended Davos
•92: age of oldest delegate – David Attenborough, naturalist and narrator
•16: age of youngest delegates – Skye Meaker, South African photographer, and Greta Thunberg, Swedish environmental activist who shared a panel with Bono and Will.I.Am
Sources: World Economic Forum; Quartz; PRWeek