The new Davos guide to the post-trust era

The new Davos guide to the post-trust era

In 2021, a Financial Times headline declared that Davos — the popular annual gathering of world leaders in the Swiss Alps — was “dead,” killed in part by the “ultimate lack of legitimacy and credibility” that plagued its host organization, the World Economic Forum. World Economic Forum (WEF), especially in the wake of the Covid pandemic.

By 2023, despite predictions to the contrary, Davos was back, with the World Economic Forum citing a record number of participants and media coverage across influential global outlets. Davos, like its octogenarian founder Klaus Schwab, has proven its resilience, remaining a milestone every January for world leaders across stakeholder groups – including business, government, civil society, media and youth leaders. To meet and cooperate in what is otherwise. An increasingly fragmented world.

However, as Davos participants will attest, something has changed. Despite its celebrated bounce, there has been a different atmosphere in the Alps since Covid, more muted and focused on the work at hand. Many would argue that’s for the best: pre-Covid Davos has become a high-octane gathering of elites jostling to tout their accomplishments and invites to celebrity-packed parties.

Despite the best efforts of the World Economic Forum’s leadership to quiet the noise, Davos has evolved into the place for companies to amplify the rhetoric of tightly controlled companies and champion their patented solutions to big problems. The smell of self-promotion in the air was often stronger than that of Swiss fondue.

But the past few years have seen dramatic shifts in society’s awareness of global issues and expectations that have prompted companies to take some responsibility for addressing them. This has created new rules for corporate engagement, and with the Davos registration season underway, executives need to reconsider their strategies for “attendance” and how that sets the tone for the year ahead.

Let’s start with the global audience, which leaders in Davos are vying to reach through their busy agendas of interviews and social media campaigns. Covid has accelerated already evolving expectations about what people want from their leaders: honesty, openness, empathy, and – most importantly – legitimate engagement on big issues like climate change, equality, and health. According to a recent study by Weber Shandwick in the US, for example, most consumers expect companies to take public stances on critical social issues, with human rights and climate change top areas where companies are expected to take public positions and find solutions.

Many companies have already responded to this shift in stakeholder expectations by jumping on the ESG bandwagon and incorporating impact-based metrics into their businesses, using Davos as a “pillar” moment to talk about how they did well while doing better. good. However, we have now entered the post-trust era, where the term “greenwashing” – and its cousins ​​“bluewashing”, “pinkwashing”, and “rainwashing” – has become popular and serves to sensitize a wider section of the general public to corporate hype. . .

The New York Times recently fired a warning shot with its coverage of a “circus-like” climate week in New York City, marked by a bewildering array of marketing activities by companies that expanded more rapidly than actual climate solutions. With the UN Climate Change Conference (COP28) underway, the media and consumers alike are on high alert for corporate deception, setting an “influence trap” for companies eager to promote the results of their social or environmental initiatives. Avoiding this backlash will require companies to become more strategic about how and when they communicate their impact.

So what does this mean for a global stage like Davos? How can one of the world’s most powerful geopolitical platforms be leveraged without backfiring?

Although there is no single answer, there is clearly a common denominator: admitting that you don’t have all the answers. In an era of multiple crises – a phrase that was at the top of the Davos agenda in 2023, and reflects the powerful mix of environmental, economic, health and geopolitical issues facing society simultaneously – it has become increasingly implausible that any one company has the answer, let alone the facts. Or the full perspectives needed to make real progress. The most important issues of our time are deeply systemic, and companies need to rewrite their corporate engagement strategies in turn.

What does this look like in practice? This is where communicators can start:

• Make sure you have fully formulated the problem before offering solutions: Use design thinking techniques, including asking the right questions, to reinterpret the problem statement if necessary.

• Practice true stakeholder engagement: Bring meaning back to this buzzword by fully mapping the actors in your value chain and creating the right channels to engage them in two-way conversations.

• Building coalitions: Admitting that you do not have all the power needed to address deep-seated issues is not modesty, but realistic. Use the power of your platform to connect the dots and build alliances, including with competitors, to mobilize resources and drive long-term systems-level change.

• Make room for those who are often underrepresented: When you attend global events, aim to be the mediator or convener who enables others to express their views, rather than expecting to be the featured speaker at center stage.

There is no “one size fits all” – cultural norms and personalities play a big role here – but the underlying ethos is that companies should use landmarks like Davos to uncover blind spots and bring in others who know better. I can’t say how many more lives the World Economic Forum will live, but if leaders can come willing to listen and learn, they could infuse a few more decades of credibility and productivity into the platform.

Catherine Docampo is Senior Vice President of Leadership and Impact Communications at Weber Shandwick and former Head of Impact Communications at the World Economic Forum.

You may also like...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *