Davos WEF
Davos WEF

These marketing chiefs are going to Davos — and here’s why

Delegates at the World Economic Forum in Davos
Bloomberg | Getty Images

The World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland, might not seem like the natural place for marketing, given its ambition to "improve the state of the world" in regards to issues such as global inequality and climate change.

But included in the 92-page official participant list are several chief marketing officers (CMOs) who are due to attend this year's event, which begins on Tuesday.

They include CMOs from Microsoft, Huawei, AT&T, Unilever, Sberbank and technology company ABB, as well as Davos regular Martin Sorrell, chief executive of agency group WPP, senior executives from the Dentsu Aegis group and Grey advertising, plus a delegation from ad tech company Salesforce.

Miki Tsusaka, CMO and managing director at Boston Consulting Group (BCG) in Tokyo, has been going to WEF for seven years. It's an opportunity to meet clients and get inspiration from leaders at the event, as well as mix with other marketers, she said. "I do meet with the CMOs when I'm there, there's a little bit of a club," she told CNBC by phone.

Topics she expects to cover include squeezed marketing spend — "No-one says 'I have too much budget'" — and the rush to hire or train people in new digital communications. "You have large organizations that have been marketing one way, then all of a sudden your marketing budgets above-the-line (in paid-for media) and below-the-line (such as for email marketing) go digital from (being) traditional and that talent pool doesn't change overnight," she said.

The gender inequality debate in advertising

"The marketing 'tech stack' is incredible. It used to be Google and Facebook and now new startups and software companies allow you to do much more scientific marketing. It's been a breathtaking change in the past five years," she added.

WEF partners

WEF is largely funded by businesses that join the Forum as members and partners. Fees range from 60,000 Swiss francs ($62,243) to 600,000 Swiss francs (around $622,000) "depending on the level of engagement."

BCG is a "strategic partner" of Davos, as is Unilever, which has six delegates on the list. For Keith Weed, Unilever's CMO, Davos is one of two major events he attends each year, the other being the Cannes Lions advertising festival.

At WEF 2017, the company published research on how gender stereotypes hold women back, and at Cannes last June it launched the "Unstereotype Alliance," a group aiming to remove sexism in advertising, in partnership with Mars, Johnson & Johnson, Diageo and others.

At Davos this year, Weed is taking part in a panel put together by campaigning organization the Female Quotient, on how to "affect positive change," along with other senior marketers, including Uber Chief Brand Officer Bozoma Saint John, Kristin Lemkau, CMO of JP Morgan Chase, and Carolyn Everson, vice-president of global marketing solutions at Facebook.

Weed didn't comment on his other plans for Davos 2018, but told CNBC by email that working with businesses at the event is a way to have a positive social and environmental impact. "Davos provides us with a platform to build partnerships and to influence the debate," he said.

For Henry Gomez, chief marketing and communications officer at Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE, also a WEF strategic partner), marketers have a place at Davos because they are central to business.

"When I sit at HPE's executive leadership table, I'm there as a business leader — not just a marketer," he told CNBC by email. "And while technology has brought the global economy growth and opportunity, there is no doubt that social media, AI, blockchain and other technological developments also present challenges. When it comes to determining responses, marketers are at the center of the action.

"Davos is a great place for CMOs to listen, learn and contribute."

HPE has five delegates on the list, and will host a breakfast with UPS on Tuesday looking at how businesses can best find value from "the data explosion," and Gomez will also meet HPE customers.

Ultimately, WEF is a place to get inspiration, Tsusaka said. "A lot of CMOs are there both to get the word out on what they stand, for but also digest like a sponge all the incredible things that are happening."