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Davos 2021: What does this year’s gathering mean for your thought leadership strategy?

Ben Harrison

All eyes – among business commentators at least – are currently on (a virtual) Davos 2021, where the world’s power players are meeting to discuss the impact and implications of Covid-19.

Davos 2021 ‘gathering’ marks the launch of the World Economic Forum’s Great Reset initiative, and calls for the “mobilisation of global leaders to shape the principles, policies and partnerships needed in this challenging new context”.

Many businesses look to Davos for strategic cues, and the debates are fertile ground for thought leadership for the weeks and months ahead. Here, we find out from our editorial team which themes they will be following this year and why.


  1. Beyond geopolitics

In the past few years, when businesses have talked about geopolitics in their thought leadership it has generally been in the context of emerging risk: the impact of protectionism; the threat of trade war and regulatory fragmentation. Looking ahead, there is still plenty to feel anxious about – the evolving US-China relationship being a case in point – but there is also cause for optimism (just about), and some big questions to ask about the social and economic opportunities of a post-pandemic world.

How can countries find common ground and collaborate in the fight against climate change? Is there a future for the global city, and how can it work better for the people who live there? If a whole chunk of the global economy has effectively been reset by coronavirus, how can organisations develop something fairer and more dynamic to take its place?

Questions like these will obsess your audience for several years to come. Now, and at Davos 2021, is the perfect time to work out what you want to say about them.

Piers Tomlinson, Editorial Director

  1. Tech for good

Big tech firms have infiltrated our lives like never before as people work from home, socialise via digital platforms and rely on technology for entertainment, shopping and even educating their children.

Many commentators have written about the decline of the so-called techlash, which was fuelled by our need for a lifeline to the real world and the promise of a way back to normality. That decline made governments and the public willing to continue kicking the question of regulation down the road.

But fast-forward to 2021 and the wake of the US election, and we are on the brink of what finally appears to be a sea change in the way big tech firms operate. We wait with bated breath to find out how the banning of President Trump from Facebook and Twitter (among other developments) will play out in the publisher vs platform debate that has been raging for so long.

But one thing’s for sure: the merits and drawbacks of technology is going to be a hotly debated topic in the coming months. This represents a rare opportunity for tech firms to be part of the narrative on a global stage. As countries seek to balance the pressures of health and economic recovery, now is the time for technology marketers to illustrate exactly how firms can ‘build back better’ and become fairer, greener and society-enhancing.

And just as with the regulation of big tech, business cannot afford to wait for governments to put the necessary frameworks in place: companies are seeking answers to their big questions now. How do we use technology to reduce risk? To build resilience? To deliver strong, inclusive, sustainable growth? Marketers need to be ready to answer their call.

Laura Adcock, Senior Editor

  1. The future of work and society

The future of work – where, when, how and why we do it – has long been a hot topic for thought leadership. But it has never had much of a connection to the broader social landscape. It wasn’t until the events of 2020, as physical boundaries blurred in the shift to remote working, that we saw a true merging of the work and social spheres.

Gabriela Hersham and Andrew Lynch, co-founders of London’s Huckletree co-working space, observe that, “as a generation [of workers], we’re experiencing a major cultural shift in how we work, and a psychological shift towards how we work together, too”.

I’m not just talking about the pandemic, although that is certainly front of mind; last year was also a watershed moment for diversity and inclusion, as Black Lives Matter and the rapid shift to working from home shed light on inconsistencies in equality and opportunity for people of all backgrounds. We also saw a rise in the climate-conscious worker, as lockdowns highlighted the impact of consumerism, travel and workplaces on the environment.

What does this mean for Davos 2021 and the year ahead? Fjord sees this as an opportunity to innovate in the areas of culture and talent inside the business. Edelman observes that while trust in governments and economies has ground to a halt, CEOs and businesses are now expected to play a bigger role in social change.

Regardless of the outcome, though, I would bet that it is the businesses that can articulate not only why, but how, they are fit to respond that will come out on top here.

Meg Wright, Senior Editor

  1. Better business

We heard a lot about stakeholder capitalism last year. And the Business Roundtable’s statement in August 2019 on the purpose of a corporation signalled a shift away from ‘shareholder primacy’. But the subsequent stories of corporate hypocrisy and inaction tell us it won’t be an easy transition.

Companies are under pressure to be more transparent, consistent and responsible, but can they do it? In its award-winning Moral Money newsletter, the FT cites new research from New York University professor Tensie Whelan that shows that just 6% of 1,188 board directors at Fortune 100 companies have environmental or governance experience.

As businesses deal with a disjointed recovery, they will focus on a smaller number of strategic priorities. But how do they consider all their stakeholders in those decisions – especially when there are knowledge gaps?

Brands that overstate their credentials should beware the glare of consumer and investor scrutiny. But for those that have embedded ESG principles into their operations, there is a chance to tell more rounded stories.

Customers are interested in how responsible business is woven into every aspect of your business – from rewarding talent to treating suppliers. McKinsey predicts that 2021 will see stakeholder capitalism come of age; perhaps we will see a similar level of maturity in how companies talk about their purpose beyond profit.

Sean Kearns, Editor-in-chief


These big themes are likely to be a catalyst for your content (not to mention the topics on everyone’s lips at Davos 2021), but be careful. You need objective, strategic thinking to make these topics your own: examine your competition; exploit your internal expertise; and focus on your prime directive. Nail that, and it could be your brand driving the conversation next year.

In 2018, we took our Learning from Leaders research to Davos to see what the biggest business leaders thought of the findings. Watch the video below:

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About the author: Ben Harrison

As marketing executive, Ben leads various marketing activities such as the firm’s social media effort, our always-on content programme, and all aspects of the website – from maintenance to re-designs. He also manages the department’s tech stack, delivering an increasingly seamless experience from marketing all the way through to the sales team.

Ben also contributes to the marketing team’s overall strategy and goals, helping to plan, execute and effectively measure all our content and engagement that push the firm towards brand- and commercial-oriented goals.

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