As global business media focus their lenses and notepads on Davos, some inside and outside of the plush economic confab are beginning to ask: Is it really worth it?
New York Times business columnist Andrew Ross Sorkin today covered the "hefty" price of entry at Davos, reporting a basic level membership to the World Economic Forum costs about $52,000, plus another $19,000 for a ticket to the Davos event -- plus tax, of course. Membership levels that gain entry into private sessions pass into the six-figure range. And that's just for a single executive.
There's no question that barrels of ink are sucked up covering the schmoozing and occasional deal-making that occurs in the Alps. But the PR value in having your chief executive make the scene pushes up against the actual cost of attending and what could be seen as an Antoinette-like PR cost as well.
Weber Shandwick in a study released this week found that seven in 10 industry-leading CEOs skipped the top four business conferences in 2010 -- Davos, the Clinton Global Initiative, Fortune's Most Powerful Women Summit and the Wall Street Journal's CEO Council. The PR firm said the economy, ROI, and competing priorities on CEO agendas could be among reasons for sitting out the confabs.
While Sorkin questions the value of the investment, what about the PR value?
Richard Edelman clearly sees a worthwhile investment in attending. He uses the gathering to officially release the firm's respected Trust Barometer, which he will do tomorrow in Davos.
WPP chief Martin Sorrell, who presides over PR and advertising titans like Burson-Marsteller and Hill & Knowlton, is also a big believer in the scene. As London financial sector veteran David Buik wrote for CNN, "two delegates have been more visible than any other: Martin Sorrell, the CEO of WPP -- the largest advertising and PR agency in the world -- and Howard Lutnick, Chairman and CEO of Cantor Fitzgerald and BGC Partners."
Buik noted: "Sorrell is generally considered to be one of the most accurate barometers of economic activity; hence he has always attached immense credence and importance to the WEF in Davos."
Two years ago, bank CEOs skipped the forum in an apparent effort to avoid a PR fallout that would have likely been akin to auto execs taking private jets to talk with Congress. But any stigma from the financial crisis appears to have abated for the financial sector. As Bloomberg put it: "Two years ago, after the 2008 financial crisis, the CEOs of Bank of America, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley stayed away from the annual forum. This year the only major Wall Street banks that arenít sending CEOs are Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Morgan Stanley, instead represented by President Gary D. Cohn, 50, and Chairman John J. Mack, 66, respectively."
Bjorn Edlund, retired executive VP of communications for Royal Dutch Shell who attended the Forum in the past, said the event is "neither the global elitist conspiracy that leftists make it out to be, nor the toothless prattle fest that more rigorous policy wonks tend to see it."
Edlund runs down a typical Davos day in a blog post, adding: "I saw it also like a global annual Rorschach test. The tensions and ambitions of a fractious world are projected and interpreted by a select global elite."
As for the image of the Forum itself, Buik argues that it has moved on from "Dom Perignon, Cristal, fois gras and caviar" to a globally supported symposium tackling important issues of the time.
He writes: "It has taken world problems such as food, the failure of World Trade Organization members to reach a global trade agreement, climate change and a financial crisis in 2008, to take this event out of the jamboree category and transform it into a preeminent event for all politicians, CEOs, finance directors and economists to be supportive of."