I’d heard a lot of good things about this forum. I was told that it focuses on real communication issues facing society and businesses, debates “hot topics” and connects communicators and thought leaders from all over the world. I’d never been before, but with that sort of recommendation, who wouldn’t want to be part of it? So I signed up, traveled to Switzerland and dived head first into the debate.
But did the forum live up to my expectations? What did it cover, what did I take from it and would I go back? Having had a few days to digest my experience, here are my thoughts.
My main observation is that the committee and organisers have nailed the title, location and content of the forum and, by doing so, attract an incredible mix of professionals from all over the world.
This is not a conference, it is a forum
And there is a big difference. At a conference people show up in their thousands, sit in packed auditoriums whilst someone preaches at them, collect free stuff from exhibition stands and try to avoid people selling them things they don’t need. At a forum, people go to share ideas, experiences and, collaboratively, shape the future of their industry. That’s precisely what everyone at this forum went to do.
Location, location, location
The forum is held in Davos, which, despite being tucked away in the beautiful Swiss mountains, is regarded as the epicentre of thought leadership and change as it hosts the annual World Economic Forum (WEF).
It is a pain to get to from the UK (2 hour flight and 3 hour transfer) but, actually, being in a town so small and secluded makes perfect sense. It gives you a break from the normal day-to-day hustle and bustle, allows you to focus on the topics of the forum and means you’re never more than 5ft from another attendee (not literally, but you get the point) so conversation continues outside of the auditorium.
Fantastic, passionate, expert communicators
Just over 130 communicators, representing 30+ countries and cultures, attended the forum. Despite the diverse nationalities, skill and background of the group – there was a common willingness to share knowledge and ideas and a shared passion for improving the communications profession.
There were open debates at the end of each presentation, lots of panel discussions and a group activity to stimulate interaction and collaboration. In the two days I think I spoke to most of the attendees at one point or another and always had a healthy discussion… with the exception of starting an awkward discussion between a Russian and Ukrainian… wooops.
In the two days there were presentations and debates around social media, the future of PR, technology, “big data”, communicator 3.0 and how to generate economic value through communication. Here are key lessons, trends and messages I took away:
- Communication needs to be authentic. Yes, that’s nothing new but your communication strategy should not just focus on building trust, but should reflect aspects of your brand, product or service that harbour the feeling of trust
- “If you don’t have data and analytics you don’t have a strategy?” Paul Holmes.
- Data enables communication to target on the ‘market of one’… but that isn’t enough. Communicators should be using data intelligence to give their audience the answer to the next best question they should ask – but there is a fine line between being helpful and tasteless.
- A communicator’s fight for their audience’s attention is getting tougher. People don’t read long articles (ok, it might take me a while to adapt this one), they typically read the first paragraph, scan for key words or read the comments to see if it’s worth their time. ‘tl; dr’ means ‘too long, don’t read’.
- In the same way a CFO is not solely responsible for the profitability of a company, internal communicators and PR do not control a brand’s reputation anymore. Establishing brand ambassadors is key, as is having a “better well done than well said” strategy.
- I also met the Scott Fahlman, the scientist who introduced this 🙂 in online communication 32 years ago. Now “the smiley” is used a billion times a day to express emotion in our communication! You shouldn’t underestimate the emotional impact of a smile!
Would I recommend it?
Absolutely. All I would say to anyone considering going in 2015 is that you need to go with an open mind and willingness to share your experiences, challenge thinking and actively participate in the debate.
I came away fascinated by how influential communication is in shaping business, society and culture and with plenty of ideas for how we will improve client projects in the future.
Matt is CEO of SHILLING – a specialist company that helps multinationals achieve their business goals through strategic and creative employee communication. Matt has worked in the marketing and communicators industry for nearly 15 years and is passionate around pushing the boundaries and challenging the ‘norm’ to engage, educate and inspire others.