The World Economic Forum took place from January 23-27 in Davos, Switzerland. More than 2,500 leaders from business, politics, academia, media, and other sectors convened to discuss a host of key topics that are shaping global, regional, and industry agendas. In this MSLGroup-hosted roundtable, senior leaders joined Bernadette Casey in New York City to discuss the key communications takeaways from this year's annual gathering and PR's role in defining many of the world's crucial issues.
Olivier Fleurot, CEO, MSLGroup
Paul Fox, director of corporate communications, Procter & Gamble
Andrew Katell, SVP of communications, GE Energy Financial Services
Ken Makovsky, president, Makovsky & Company
Gerard Meuchner, VP and chief global communications officer, Henry Schein
Michael Petruzzello, managing partner, Qorvis
Britt Zarling, director of global strategic communications and thought leadership, ManpowerGroup
|(l-r) Ken Makovsky, Makovsky & Company; Britt Zarling, ManpowerGroup; Paul Fox, P&G; Olivier Fleurot, MSLGroup; Michael Petruzzello, Qorvis; Gerard Meuchner, Henry Schein; Andrew Katell, GE Energy Financial Services
Bernadette Casey (PRWeek): The theme of this year's event was resilient dynamism. What does this concept mean to today's communicators?
Gerard Meuchner (Henry Schein): When I think of resilience, I think of stamina. In our 24/7 world, we need more stamina than ever to do our work because it's nonstop. That notion of resilience speaks directly to our responsibilities.
In terms of dynamism, look at how much the media landscape has changed in the short time we've all been in this profession. We've gone from the days of a handful of major media to folks approaching us constantly from all sorts of media outlets. As such, we need to think at a higher and faster level to keep up with volume and demand.
Resilient dynamism is not only about needing the stamina to do the work we do, but also having a nimble mind to manage the very different audiences in this new world.
Paul Fox (P&G): Business has always been accelerating, but it's doing so at even greater speed now. As communicators, perhaps change is the only constant we deal with today. In that respect, our ability to stay intimately in touch with the audiences we're trying to serve has become absolutely crucial.
Ken Makovsky (Makovsky & Company): Our business has always required resilient dynamism, but today you have to be quickly resilient. You have to manage change more rapidly because we're so hyper-connected today.
There's an old saying about having PR whether you want it or not. That particular point is more relevant than ever because it doesn't matter today whether you're a CEO or a small business manager. In either case, you're public. You really cannot wait for the opposition to frame an argument without you and basically wait for the problem to go away because it's not going to happen.
Britt Zarling (ManpowerGroup): In thinking about stamina, durability comes to mind. You need durability to deal with the compressed economic cycles that will continue. There's also constant change to which you must adjust. That's the whole agility notion.
What does that mean for communications? You need opposing skill sets. More than ever, you have to be strategic and tactical. You must be collaborative, yet entrepreneurial. You need to understand concepts, but then be able to translate them into simple speak.
The ability to adjust to that is something today's communications people do not all have. Leaders such as us who consider ourselves experts in communications have to be better coaches on this because that's what will make a difference. Those are the types of communications people we need today.
Andrew Katell (GE): Among the other balancing acts a communicator must perform is reactive versus active. With the speed at which the world is moving, by the time a comment is made or a news story or blog post comes out about one of our businesses, products, or services, it's almost too late because it can escalate out of control very rapidly. That reality requires much greater anticipation of issues and preparation of contingency plans.
In the world I work in, we now have a regulator we didn't have before and we must be much more careful about how we communicate, as well as operate overall as a business. Regulators are a fairly new external audience that we have to consider.
Michael Petruzzello (Qorvis): At Davos, it seems they were trying to address the crisis in leadership that we've been facing over the last couple of years, which was an unfortunate result of the economic downturn and a lot of events in recent years.
One thing leaders must look at is that global economic recovery is largely driven by perception and confidence. Do we perceive things are getting better? Are we confident in our ability to invest and buy? To have that confidence, we must first have confidence in our political and economic leaders, our business leaders. That's where communications plays a very important role. It will help restore confidence in global leadership. It will help restore confidence not only in where our individual economies are headed, but where the global economy is going.
Olivier Fleurot (MSLGroup): Resilience is necessary because we are in a much more complex world. When I was a journalist with a French business newspaper, the world was simple. We were writing about the US, western Europe, and Japan, nothing else. We never wrote a line about India or China because we didn't know about companies there.
The first element is complexity – and a lot of CEOs are struggling to understand those crucial markets. The second one is speed. People are posting and tweeting about everything. You need to figure out very quickly who these people are and engage with them.
All this requires a lot of resilience and I see it when I try to advise clients. First of all, you need to be available all the time. You must have a good understanding of a certain number of countries and cultures.
Mindful of Davos' relevance
Arianna Huffington, chair, president, and editor-in-chief of The Huffington Post Media Group, spoke with PRWeek senior editor Bernadette Casey prior to the roundtable about her views on this year's World Economic Forum, including the key issues of women in leadership, redefining success, and social media.
Bernadette Casey (PRWeek):Women in leadership was a key topic of discussion at Davos. It's a huge issue in PR, as the C-suite is definitely dominated by males, though that's changing. Renee Wilson, president of North America at MSLGroup, and Karen van Bergen, new CEO at Porter Novelli, are examples. What caught your attention at Davos among the many conversations about this subject?
Arianna Huffington (Huffington Post): There was an obvious emphasis on greater gender balance. You still don't see as many women at Davos as men, but there were certainly more than in the past when I've attended.
In addition, just the recognition that this is where the world is going was noteworthy. There was a zeitgeist apparent. Part of it was that women are going to play a bigger role.
My biggest obsession is that women do not have to lead the same way men do. We need to identify the ways that haven't worked in how men have done leadership. We can do it differently. There was a lot of conversation around mindful leadership. I was stunned to see this was a track at Davos, but that's why the World Economic Forum remains relevant after all these years.
Klaus Schwab [founder and executive chairman of the World Economic Forum] is really good, along with his team, at recognizing where the world is going and developing tracks that are a bit ahead of that. An example is when I launched The Huffington Post in 2005. One of the first people from an establishment position who asked me to lunch to talk about what I was doing was Klaus. That shows he's really in tune with what's happening. That's why he's prioritized the question of women in leadership positions, as well as mindful leadership.
I was actually late for one particular session run by Professor Mark Williams, a professor of clinical psychology at Oxford, and Janice Marturano, who brought mindful leadership and dedication to General Mills and now has left to create her own mindful leadership business. When I walked in, Professor Williams was leading about 150 people, many of them CEOs, through meditation. That's not what you associate with Davos, right? But the reason behind it is that mindful leadership is important. It's also something women should take a leadership position on.
We can't let stress take us to the point where basically we make reactive decisions, as opposed to decisions based on sound judgment. After all, that's what leadership is ultimately about. It's about recognizing the icebergs before they hit the Titanic.
Casey (PRWeek): It seems more and more business leaders are really making that body, mind, and spirit connection and directly linking that to how they handle a crisis and how they run their own business. You talked about looking inwards. How might these concepts relate to communications professionals?
Huffington (Huffington Post): It's very much at the heart of communications because communications professionals are all about building connections. When we are enjoying what we do, we build better connections. Ironically, as digital connections are becoming more widespread, people are craving the live connection. That's why we see an explosion in interest in live events. When digital became king, there were many people saying, “Oh, this is going to destroy live events.” But it's actually far, far from it.
There is something in our DNA that still craves the human connection and wants us to be with each other, rather than just having these webcasts. And that's not going to change. In that sense, we have to learn how to handle technology so it doesn't enslave us.
So now the paradox is that you have technology helping us disconnect from technology. The most popular feature Apple introduced this year was the “Do Not Disturb” feature that allows you to turn off your messages for a period of time. I always put it on if I'm writing, for instance, because I want to do so undisturbed. We have 18 sections that deal with all these issues at The Huffington Post. We put them under the theme of “Less Stress, More Living.” The idea is to learn how to disconnect from technology at night, for example. One of the unintended consequences of our obsession with technology is we developed millions of people who cannot sleep, which would be helped if we simply learned to disconnect from our devices.
The minute you wake up at night and are tempted to look at your devices, when you go back to sleep it's not the same sleep. You have allowed your day life to get in the middle of your night life. Going back to leadership, these things might seem very small, but a key to good leadership is the need to renew yourself. If you don't renew yourself, you won't be a good leader, period.
So thinking back to that resilience theme, it's not just global resilience, it's personal resilience.
Casey (PRWeek): Perhaps more than most, communications professionals understand the 24/7 on-demand world of dealing with the clients. As such, it's very tough to balance an ability to fulfill your professional obligations while avoiding burnout and overload.
Huffington (Huffington Post): Absolutely, but once we recognize the importance of finding that balance, we can make it happen because we can see the results.
We also need to watch the language. At the moment, the leadership language is all male. It's about “killing it,” “crashing that,” “24-7,” all these sports metaphors. We need to bring in some more female metaphors to the language of leadership. Because when I hear, “This person is killing it, he must be promoted,” I don't like people “killing it.”
And one of my favorite things at Davos is what they are doing to tell people that it's a nonprofit group. This event puts you through an experience that makes you empathize with the poorest people in the world. I'm sure that as a communications professional, if you empathize with your client, understand what their problem is, you're going to be so much more effective at dealing with them. And that's more important than whether you are available 24-7. You can actually adapt to their mindset. For you to be available 24-7, you won't be as wise in the advice you give them.
Casey (PRWeek): PRWeek continuously talks about how social media, marketing, and communications work together. Social media has created tremendous change for brands, as they have become content creators that can send out their message directly. They needn't go through a third party. At Davos, there was some discussion about the “social CEO” being critical to driving a company to success. Could you highlight some of the more interesting conversations that took place at Davos around social media?
Huffington (Huffington Post): Ubiquity is the new exclusivity. It's no longer about doing something exclusively. Whatever you have, what matters most is getting as wide distribution as possible. That's why I love the fact that The Huffington Post, in addition to being a journalistic enterprise, is a platform. Increasingly, the more you can be a platform or be attached to platforms, the more you can get the message out or your client's message out.
Building destination sites, that train has left the station. We were lucky to start Huffington Post in 2005 because no other major destination site has been built since then. It's almost impossible to do that now unless you have something incredibly new that you would like to bring to the table.
So the game is changed. Whatever your content is, how many places can you put it on? How many Facebook blogs can you put it on? How many Twitter accounts? How many people can retweet it? So that's why we have a lot of brands now coming to us saying, “Can you build a section on The Huffington Post?” For example, General Mills has built a section called Living Better America, which has a lot of content it produces because, as Bernadette noted, brands have become content providers.
We partnered with Goldman Sachs – as announced at Davos – on a dedicated section called What Is Working. It profiles the almost 10,000 female entrepreneurs the company is funding and mentoring around the world. This is an incredible initiative worth $100 million that very few people know about. And the stories of these women are amazing. They are really out of central casting. Women building their own small and medium-size businesses, being backed by Goldman Sachs executives, not just financially, but they really mentor them. We are going to tell that story every day in this dedicated section.
Whether we're in the PR business or in the media business, we are about communications. It's not enough to have that big visual or the big 30-second Super Bowl ad. It's very often about staying on a story every day. It's the kind of obsessive compulsive nature of our job. That's what can be achieved by having these dedicated sections, which are there for a whole year, every day. And you never know who is going to check in, read them, be inspired by them, and connect with the brand or the message.
Casey (PRWeek): How has Davos evolved or expanded over the many years you've attended? What might be an interesting direction for the event to go in the immediate future?
Huffington (Huffington Post): I remember 2001 because it was the first time Davos actually took place in New York. It was after the terrorist attack. It was really a demonstration of solidarity to have Davos in New York. That program put a tremendous emphasis on the global leaders of tomorrow, who were all young. A lot of them were individuals you might have expected to be protesting Davos.
I found it fascinating that these people who had been protesting against Davos and against all of the world's leaders coming together and ignoring problems happening in Europe were invited to the event. It was incredibly smart. It's an example of having your finger on the pulse of what is happening. And that has been evolving.
Last year, there was a new program introduced called Global Shapers. They are under 30 and are all doing amazing things to make the world better.
I'm very proud that my own chief of staff Daniel Koh was just selected to be a Global Shaper for next year because of the project he's been spearheading at the Huffington Post called “JobRaising,” which is a competition we hold for the nonprofit with the most innovative job creation idea. The Skoll Foundation gave us $250,000 to distribute and that has become a competition online to raise more money.
These are some of the innovative ways we can do things that are needed, such as creating jobs. A lot of young people are no longer waiting for somebody to offer them a job. They're going out and creating their own. That's amazing. The fact Davos was able to capture this trend and invite these people to be a part of it is why it's still relevant and why it will be resilient for many years.
The global economy
Casey (PRWeek): Between traditional markets and emerging regions, the global economy is a huge issue – and communications plays a key role in shaping those stories. Could you identify a couple of areas where there is either great opportunity or tremendous challenge for business?
Zarling (ManpowerGroup): Emerging markets are leapfrogging. They need to because they must compete globally now. What does that do for businesses? It creates challenges and opportunities, but, for the most part, it's compressing value chains. It's compressing pricing. It's compressing costs and expenses, so companies have to operate in a much more agile way. That gets back to the resilient dynamism.
As communications people, we can no longer approach our roles with the mindset of just needing to understand our own company's platform. We must have a refined understanding of what's going on globally, politically, socially, economically, and then take that into account and connect it to our company's platform and vice versa.
Meuchner (Henry Schein): Five percent of the world's population is in the US, so most of the world is outside the US. Multinationals must start thinking about how to deploy communications assets because the average US multinational probably has an overweighting of communications assets in the US and underweighting in all of those other regions of the world. It is those regions that are growing faster than the US and have much more economic promise, China and India most notably.
In the years ahead, you'll see a shifting of the deployment of these assets to the emerging markets because you can't effectively communicate in another part of the world from the US.
It's more than just communications, obviously, when you're competing in markets such as China and India. There are also government relations aspects. That's vitally important and can only be developed in a real way by having people in those locations.
Katell (GE): GE has had a major business and communications focus on decentralizing and deploying more of our talent outside the US where the growth is. Putting it another way, communicators need to chase growth – economic and business – and there's no substitute for being in-country on the ground.
I've spent years in Russia. I covered the UN as a journalist. That kind of world-view is very valuable even if you wind up focusing only on a domestic market in whichever country it is because, overall, it feeds into the key characteristics needed for all communicators – perspective and context.
Petruzzello (Qorvis): One thing we hear from clients is that global communications is no longer just looking simply for global strategies that can be executed locally. They demand more adaptability. They want to take global strategies and adapt and implement those market-by-market while simultaneously allowing those to bubble up so that when you go from emerging markets to mid-level markets to more mature markets, you can develop strategies that really work for all of them, instead of a one-size-fits-all approach.
Fox (P&G): One of the big takeaways for me from this year's event was a tangible sense of optimism… an optimism we haven't seen out of Davos since probably 2008, before the recession set in.
Yes, there were clearly areas of continued concern, particularly in regions such as the Middle East. There are issues from an economic point of view in Western Europe. However, there was a general sense of optimism, particularly from business leaders, that we were seeing the end of the tunnel and not yet another train heading our way. People are a lot more encouraged here in the US. For the first time, Africa had a huge presence at Davos. In fact, as communicators, we must begin to think about Africa and its growth potential.
As communicators, we also need to be where the business is. We need to intimately understand it. For us, it's not just understanding the business. It's understanding the consumer.
Another key factor when looking at the global economy is the fact we have massive moving populations. More than ever, people are leaving their places of birth and moving to very different regions. This is a dynamic aspect we're only beginning to understand. Right now, it's the equivalent of France's and the UK's population moving. It won't be many years before it's the equivalent of the US population moving. That has a dramatic impact upon culture, too, not just the economy.
Petruzzello (Qorvis): When we think about the emerging markets, the fascinating element is the demographics. When you look at Latin America, the Middle East, China, and India, 40% to 60% of those populations are under the age of 20. You have enormous numbers of people who have yet to come of age as consumers, but that is something we're going to have to deal with in the next five to 10 years.
These youthful populations are different than their parents. They grew up with a mobile phone and Facebook. Not only are they moving physically, they're clearly moving every day with information.
Fleurot (MSLGroup): PR and communications didn't exist in those countries 20 years ago, so the maturity of those markets, in terms of communication, is very different from what it is here.
Of course, our clients are very eager to find exactly the same kind of processes, but it doesn't work that way. For instance, we just produced a white paper on the PR industry in India because we think we have a role to play to make sure this industry makes progress and develops.
In Africa, the population is going to double in the next generation. Double. It's 1 billion today. It will be 2 billion by 2045 or around that. What's going to happen there?
We are at a very beginning moment in Africa. My clients are asking me how can we help them there. My issue is finding people who simultaneously understand how we want to work and the local culture. That's a big challenge, but I believe Africa is the next frontier.
I was struck by the fact that in all the Davos sessions I attended before, the person who was talking about Africa was Bono on stage with Sharon Stone raising money for bed nets. It was all about how can we help them because it's all about disease and issues. This year, the sessions were talking about growth, economic growth. There has been a 5% growth in the last few years in Africa. We don't notice it because we only talk about China and India, but it's 5%. It can be 7% or 8% in the next decade.
Petruzzello (Qorvis): I also noticed something different about the discussions on the emerging markets, particularly Africa and some of the others. In the past, as we thought about those markets and as they thought about themselves, they looked at us and said, “We simply need to dovetail or attach ourselves to what's happening in the Western economies and we'll shape a draft to success in that manner.”
Today, they don't seem to be doing that. They look at the US and Europe and say, “That is not the total solution to our problems or the only path to our success. We're going to have to do more on our own and in our own way.” You start to see some development of independence in identity of these markets that you really didn't see before.
Philanthropy and finance
Casey (PRWeek): Catalyzing Markets through Philanthropy was a key session at Davos this year. CSR has long been a major communications focus for in-house teams and agencies alike and the discussion at Davos accentuates that. How is this element of your jobs evolving?
Fox (P&G): P&G has always believed that for CSR to be sustainable, it has to be intrinsically linked with a business. It cannot be episodic.
Let's take Africa, for example. We've done a lot of work there. One of the many things we have noticed was how few girls were actually in school there. And this was in a number of African countries, particularly sub-Sahara.
Logically, you might attribute this to the fact they have some sort of duties back in their villages. However, the truth is they didn't go to school, or they dropped out of school, because they were girls. Every month, they menstruated and they had no protection at all, so when they did have their period, they would stay at home. They would stay in their villages until it was finished and then they would pick up school again.
Well, if you do that for several months on end, you suddenly realize you are a month or two behind the boys in class. The distance expanded to such an extent that, eventually, they gave up. It's not good for that community's economy to take out large numbers of females who had completely dropped out of the education system.
P&G has a feminine protection business. We can do something about that, which we did. We called it Protecting Futures. That's just one example.
Katell (GE): We do traditional philanthropy through our GE Foundation. In addition, we are very focused on some of the key problem areas in the world, especially in developing nations, such as healthcare, energy, transportation, and water.
From a communications standpoint, we have latched onto those in a campaign called GE Works. It works well externally, but internally, our employees, which total more than 300,000 worldwide, get very excited about it because it is precisely business driven and, therefore, sustainable. These are not giveaways. These are economically viable deployments of our technology and capital.
GE is big in renewable energy – wind and solar. It's been our fastest-growing business for the past five years or so on the investing side. Our recruitment drives for employees, as well as the feelings of our current employees, has revealed this to be a very exciting area. They believe it is personally rewarding and satisfying to be a part of this every day when they come to work.
Meuchner (Henry Schein): There's an evolution occurring in CSR that is moving away from the simple disbursement of cash to what Henry Schein calls “participatory philanthropy,” where companies are taking advantage of the things they do well to improve the communities in which they operate.
We're the world's largest provider of healthcare products, primarily to offices of doctors, dentists, and veterinarians. We have a lot of product that we give away to NGOs well before a crisis hits. We have a program whereby the NGOs receive product from us that is perhaps unsalable or no longer usable to us for whatever reason.
It's not that money is unimportant, but it's much more meaningful to employees that they're directly involved in helping promote the social good because the very work they do is being applied to these issues.
Makovsky (Makovsky): I've had clients involved in those kinds of programs and an issue that often comes up is whether or not they should promote their CSR efforts versus just doing it.
Zarling (ManpowerGroup): If CSR efforts are not helping further the mission of your company, the organization will not be there any more to give the cash. As such, the sustainability conversation must come from the business' perspective, as well as the social perspective.
The GRI [Global Reporting Initiative, which is a nonprofit that provides all organizations with a comprehensive sustainability reporting framework] Index is among many tools we now have to report on this kind of activity. Communications plays a big role in making sure the message is connected that way. Otherwise, it can sound disingenuous, look disingenuous, and look like checking the box – and that's not intended.
|Africa's growth was among many points emphasized by MSLGroup CEO Olivier Fleurot (l)
Fleurot (MSLGroup): That's why we have this expression “greenwashing.” The majority of companies still don't think about this the right way. CSR must completely be part of your strategy. You have to work on a purpose. And this purpose must be created and co-created by your people, the staff, and even other stakeholders, such as suppliers. You must involve and engage a lot of stakeholders to make sure the purpose will work and will deliver performance.
We have developed processes that we call Purple. Purple is made of purpose and people, and we think it must come from the bottom of the organization as much as from the top.
The new generation will look at your company and ask about what good you do beyond making a profit. They want to know how they will be engaged every day with a purpose that is a bit broader than just making a profit. That generation requires it, so if you want to hire the right talent in the next 10 years, you need to have that.
Fox (P&G): There have always been three very distinct categories in this space. There is a group that really doesn't care about CSR and sustainability. Then there are those who are deeply passionate and run their lives against CSR and sustainability principles. Then you have a very large category that sits right between them. They believe it's important, but they won't trade off performance for sustainability reasons.
It's that latter group that is beginning to get, for want of a better description, more enlightened. They are becoming more aware that they have a power. They have a power either to group, to collect on social media, or they have a power through their spending to affect change.
As communicators, we absolutely need to ensure the authenticity of these programs. That's a job both internally and externally because, to Olivier's point of greenwashing, way too much of it still occurs. It's misleading to consumers. As communicators, we really have a role to play in ensuring that particular practice dies out forever.
Katell (GE): There's great variation in what we're talking about in different parts of the world as far as development and awareness of CSR and who's driving it.
In Russia, for example, it's a fairly new phenomenon for big corporations and wealthy individuals to latch onto this. At the moment, they are doing so under encouragement from the state, as opposed to perhaps grassroots, which is probably more the case in countries such the US.
It's quite fascinating to watch how emerging markets are developing in the area of CSR, including in how they communicate about it, and whether, frankly, they are doing it purely for PR reasons.
Makovsky (Makovsky): Having been on the boards of a number of industry organizations, many of them are tackling research standards, but no one has done anything about industry standards on CSR. It would really be an advance for PR if we could get one of the industry organizations to undertake those kinds of standards because they are critical.