Lessons from a Davos virgin

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Maxus' worldwide chief executive shares lessons from a first visit to the World Economic Forum's annual gathering

The World Economic Forum meets annually in Davos, Switzerland. Its motto is: "Committed to improving the state of the world."

A lofty ambition and, now, a slightly daunting one, as I’m attending for the first time. I have had a bit of a run-up in my role as the vice-chair of the Future of Media Global Agenda Council, but this is the real deal and I’m one of a group of five from WPP globally. No pressure, then.

To attend is a privilege. What better opportunity to lean into the global agenda for our industry and our clients? Yet a scan of the delegate list reveals a paltry repre­sentation from adland. A smattering of super-senior chief marketing officers, but it’s mainly chief executives or chief financial officers, and very few from creative and media agencies. There are more lobbying pollsters, PR companies and media owners.

So while the UK – via the Advertising Association – has worked hard to prove the economic importance of our industry (the Advertising Pays study shows that for every £1 spent, £6 is returned to the UK economy), the rest of the world seems less convinced.

Another lesser-spotted species at Davos is the female – at a "high" of 17% this year, driven by a quota set by the WEF in 2011 that requires all forum partners to include one female in every five delegates.

As a Davos virgin, I was keen to get advice from experienced attendees. My Future of Media GAC chair, David Kenny, also happens to be the chief executive of The Weather Channel, so he was my go-to person for climate-based sartorial advice. Comfort and warmth over style. Hat, gloves, snow boots … and high heels in handbag.

The volume of talks, workshops and debates creates an overwhelming schedule requiring extreme diary organisation. Much the same as with Cannes, the smaller sessions tend to be the best.

As the president of Wacl, "Nudging the gender gap" was a priority; more broadly for my day job, I attended "Leading mindfully", as well as talks on the digital economy and tomorrow’s connected consumers. The latter was a lunch with firestarter chats and five potential high-growth groups to think about: Generation K (aged 13-20), moneyed boomers, smart consumers, economically empowered women and emerging markets. And, within those, the challenges of new distribution models and value exchanges required in a digitalised world.

And then there were the ice-breakers, cocktails, breakfasts, brunches and dinners (you name it, Davos has created a networking opportunity around it), where a similar rule seemed to apply: eschew big events in favour of more meaningful, intimate meets.

A highlight was the Guar­dian dinner, where Alan Rusbridger, Andrew Miller and David Pemsel were joined by Eric Schmidt, Sir Tim Berners-Lee, Carl Bildt, Vittorio Colao et al to powwow the future of the open internet as we swing between more encryption (the Sony effect) or less of it (the Charlie Hebdo effect). It’s an age-old tale of good versus bad, and trust, power and control – but, crucially, who gets to decide? Google? The US government? Spooks? Slightly more tangibly, I learned that we should all be using Pretty Good Privacy for e-mail. From there, it was off to the infamous WPP ski chalet party, which had an amazing and bizarre mix of guests from Tony Blair to Will.i.am.

My Future of Media GAC also met up to continue our mission. There has been intense pressure to define and refine our core project (a two-year term), and topping the agenda are issues of intellectual property, data and privacy, digital "readiness" and its economic importance, and the global digital divide. Our role is to provide thought leadership and insight in our field to the forum. As part of that, I got to listen in on the governors meeting for the Media Entertainment & Information group.

All in all, "doing Davos" for the first time has been a completely mind-expanding experience. A privilege, a steep learning curve and a stretch beyond my normal role, for sure – with the rosé of Cannes replaced by fondues and schnapps. I leave – and I appreciate this sounds grandiose, so forgive me – with greater clarity on what I can do in my new(ish) role to lead more mindfully and successfully. With a clearer sense of how the huge and growing role of media can help shape our clients’ businesses.

Lindsay Pattison is the worldwide chief executive of Maxus.

This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.

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