WEF 2020: Communications
in the Year Ahead

Our President Jessamyn Katz attended the 50th Anniversary of the World Economic Forum in
Davos, Switzerland this year.

Staying Connected Through the Pandemic:

It’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but the positives are seeing everyone as their true selves.

This January, my global colleagues and I were in Davos for the World Economic Forum. It was an opportunity to hear from business and world leaders and get a sense of what’s to come for Communications and Marketing leaders in 2020.

Technological transformation, sustainability, climate change and corporate purpose permeated conversations. Communications and Marketing leaders have both the opportunity and an obligation to drive impactful narratives around these topics. Here are a few of my key takeaways:  

The role of the Communicator is more important than ever. This year, it seemed that more WEF sessions were geared toward marketers and communicators. For every CEO who attends, there is a CCO and/or CMO as part of the delegation or team presence in Davos. This mirrors what we see daily, namely that CCOs are often the right-hand person to the CEO, on hand to shape messaging, manage crises, and clarify the core vision and company story that propel the company forward.

Content competition. As I experienced at WEF, much like back at sea level, leaders and organizations are competing for attention. Companies make serious investments and host compelling events with data-rich content, and yet it’s impossible to consume it all or attend every event. Communications and Marketing executives play a key role in curating content that is strategically aligned to business objectives and will break through the clutter.

The Communications function is broader and more diverse. New data from the WEF’s Jobs of Tomorrow Report reflects the continuing importance of engagement in the new economy, giving rise to greater demand for roles in Brand, Marketing, Communications and Content Strategy, as well as roles focused on People and Culture. At Heyman Associates, we see this complexifying of the function and work closely with our clients to help determine what makes sense for the current and future state of the function when bringing in new talent.

Trust matters. The latest Edelman Trust Barometer indicates that trust in capitalism and institutions continues to decline, which led Weber Shandwick Chairman Jack Leslie to comment that businesses and their Communications teams are in a very “serious moment” without a wide “margin for error.” It’s up to Communicators to rebuild this trust in key audiences.

‘Purpose’ is the new word. While in years past, I heard ‘mission’ and ‘brand’ as the keywords for discussion, this year the word ‘purpose’ seemed to usurp them all. While purpose is defined differently at each organization, companies are wrestling with the expectation that they need to exist to do more than serve just shareholders. A company’s purpose is critical to attracting and retaining talent and – ensuring that purpose is authentic. Purpose and CEO activism are not one and the same but current and future employees have an eye on both.

Engage your workforce. While the importance of culture and employee engagement is not a new piece of the puzzle for CCOs, this year there was more discussion around the topic with a broader leadership set. Verizon’s CEO Hans Vestberg, for instance, was cited for his ongoing training and education program to ensure all individuals in his 140,000-person workforce have a path forward and “feel leadership responsibility.” Leaders are responsible for ensuring employees and culture are at the core of a strategy. 

We’d love to hear your takeaways and look forward to continuing the discussion. Until next year!

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On Monday evening, April 6 a group called New Jersey Networkers were eager to talk about how their companies are handling the crisis, communicating with employees and even making plans for bringing people back. This group is comprised of communications professionals who live or work in New Jersey. The group was founded by Lisa Ryan of Heyman Associates, Jane Randel of Karp Randel and Craig Rothenberg, senior level communications consultants with impressive corporate backgrounds. 

Most everyone agreed their CEOs and senior leaders have gotten into a rhythm of more frequent and meaningful communications to their teams. Companies had to move quickly on decision making. Would they be made at HQ or would countries, regions or sites make critical decisions? Positive outcome has been employees seeing their CEO as “human” videoing themselves at home, allowing employees see who they really are when delivering heartfelt messages. In one case, a CEO didn’t tell the internal communications team he was doing a video and when he sent it to them they saw a totally different side of him – employees loved it. Senior leaders are acknowledging employees are going above and beyond; the question has become how and when do you start acknowledging them. Most companies are doing this at the local level—not over-thinking things, just do it.  

The group also discussed the working from home routine, what will happen when we’re allowed to return. Will we fall back into old habits? Will this change working from home? Will we all designate a remote day, or more? Companies are thinking through this now. At the same time, companies are looking at the changes they’ll need to make in terms of their business – things like larger inventories on hand, CSR program funding, diversity and inclusion program continuation, et al.  

The group agreed it’s been an emotional rollercoaster, but the positives are seeing everyone as their true selves, much more personal. People say they’ve never felt closer to their teams. It seems people are more patient and tolerant. Most make sure they are doing some social and fun things with their teams. Some resources shared: