Like no other event, the annual World Economic Forum in Davos provides us with a compelling reminder of how the language of public relations has well and truly penetrated the boardroom.
The importance of trust, the requirement for authenticity, the need to marry profit and purpose — these are all issues that effectively form core elements of the Davos agenda. This year, for example, it is income equality that appears set to concentrate the minds of the superelite, who have identified it as the most pressing threat to the global economy.
As WEF founder Klaus Schwab argued last week, uninclusive growth is not sustainable. The title of this year’s Forum, meanwhile, is “The Reshaping of the World: Consequences for Society, Politics and Business.” It is the kind of phrase that will ring true with public relations people, or at least those who are aware of the need to balance multiple stakeholder expectations, rather than focusing on profit to the detriment of all else.
So it is hardly surprising that Davos is now an increasingly necessary stop on the global treadmill for senior comms heads and global agency CEOs. A couple of years ago, we analysed this trend in some detail, asking whether Davos simply represents an exercise in spin—an attempt to deflect criticism and deter regulation during the one week of the year when business leaders profess to care about anything other than profit.
That kind of argument is not an uncommon one, but is sharply contested by the public relations people who make the Davos pilgrimage. If nothing else, the WEF affords them an opportunity to position their work as central to corporate behavior, rather than as another trivial marketing tactic. In that context, the Forum’s agenda is not the only draw; the opportunity to build relationships with business and political leaders can only help the industry’s efforts to build stronger boardroom credibility.