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Hugh
Cunningham
hugh.cunningham@cognitomedia.com

The world's elite are just back from the annual World Economic Forum in Davos. After a week of discussion about politics, economics and business, the question is whether any of this matters now that the skis have been put away for another winter. 

We think it does. Here are five trends from Davos that we believe will resonate with communications and marketing professionals in the next 12 months.

Techlash

Davos marked the start of world leaders’ fight against technology giants Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon to reduce their monopolies and grip on society.
 
Theresa May gave a strong rebuke of big tech’s failure to self-regulate amid concerns about their tax arrangements, fake news, privacy and data encryption. The UK Government launched its ‘digital charter’ to “agree norms and rules for the online world and put them into practice.” The typically hands-off U.S. Justice Department sued to block AT&T Inc’s acquisition of Time Warner Inc. 

Given the marketing and communications industry’s growing reliance and optimization of their services to gain insight into their customers and reach new audiences, 2018 could be an intriguing year. Marketing teams must become experts in how the industry is going to change and how platforms such as Facebook and Google may fundamentally adapt their content and services to increased scrutiny and regulation. As governments look to increase competition in the space, knowing how to reach audiences using a diverse range of platforms is essential.

GDPR

Despite technology companies spending the last two years hyping the EU’s impending General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR), the main theme at Davos was ignorance. 

UK Digital Secretary Matt Hancock said over half of UK businesses and charities are unaware of the regulation, which will come enforcement this May. Given than non-compliance could cost some companies 4 percent of their global annual revenue in fines, that’s a scary notion. 

While ultimately GDPR is a technology issue, marketers can step in and take a role in the discussion. They should not assume that their C-suite is aware of the regulations just because of the chatter. Company data policies need to change, as do the corporate communication policies on how corporate data is collected and stored. What a company says publicly about their data practices could raise the ears of regulators, so marcom functions need to be prepared. 

Gender equality

Since The New York Times published allegations of sexual harassment against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, a flurry of news reports have exposed the twin epidemics of sexual harassment and the gender pay gap.

Despite being criticized for a lack of diversity, the topic was a constant talking point in Davos. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau challenged governments and corporations to end gender inequality and clampdown on systemic harassment and unacceptable work culture.

This issue will directly or indirectly impact many organizations and it is, in part, the responsibility of communications to prepare for it. Communications teams must work with HR to ensure they have sufficient frameworks and processes to deal with such a crisis. Ensure effective response processes and channels are in place and be proactive and tackle the issue head on through clear internal and external communication.  

Better Capitalism

The forum hosted a debate on the level of social responsibility required of the world’s largest companies. 

There was a broad consensus to move away from Milton Friedman’s maxim that the role of the CEO was to “to make as much money for the owners as possible while still respecting laws.” Leaders argued this is bad for society and does not lead to an efficient economy. 

BlackRock set the tone with a letter released just before the conference, warning CEOs of public companies that investments would favor companies that  go beyond their bottom line.

The media is taking note. Business Insider launched a new section discussing Better Capitalism. The FT launched an annual event on Innovative Finance as a Force for Global Change, preaching sustainable investing and the betterment of our society in the process. 

Cryptocurrency / Blockchain 

Several members of the old guard used Davos to launch a general assault on cryptocurrencies, the hip-and-cool new trend of ne’er-do-well youths.

Nobel prize winners predicted collapse. Banks said currencies lacked intrinsic value. Christine Lagarde, arguably the most influential woman in international finance, leaned heavily on the potential runway crypto provides for money launderers and terrorist finance. It was brutal – and not eased by the simultaneous plunge of major cryptos. 

But there was another: bitcoin and blockchain are being conflated. The same leaders who disparage the cryptocurrencies in one breath praise the blockchain technology it is built upon with the next.

Corporate communicators need to make sure that blockchain initiatives are not tied into the around cryptos. Companies not touching blockchain need to have an answer as to why not.  

The year to come

Don't dismiss Davos as the chattering of the global elite. Smart communicators will use what was discussed as a springboard to smarter, more relevant conversation in the year ahead. 

Hugh Cunningham and Sam Barber are account executives at Cognito