I attended the World Economic Forum in Davos in January, and this year’s meeting lived up to my expectations and then some. As a lover of snow, I quickly realized that I had picked an especially good year with the extreme snowfall – six feet in six days – more snow than the Swiss had seen in the last three years.
The excitement of the week ahead was palpable and some unexpected news had everyone buzzing. Donald Trump would be speaking at the end of the week (the first President since Bill Clinton to do so), which, needless to say, brought uncertainties: What is he going to say? How divisive would his words be to the gathering? Would his presence up-end media opportunities for clients? And phrases like “sure to be a carrot and stick speech” were swirling as steadily as the snow.
I was there as part of an FH team on behalf of a new client. That brought its own pressures, but at the same time, it was extremely exciting to be with them and bond on one of the world’s most exclusive stages.
Here are some things that I learned that I hope can help others next year:
Get your badge early. My Davos badge was a “hotel” badge, which was the most basic and only let me in to certain events—nothing at the main hubs, such as the Congress Centre or Belvedere Hotel, where many of the main speaking engagements took place and where major broadcasters like CNBC, Bloomberg TV, Fox Business Network had set up their broadcast booths. Next year, with more time to prep, we’ll make sure to secure higher-level badges.
Book your hotel early. We ended up staying far out of town in the village of Tschiertschen, which while charming and “classically Swiss,” was 1 1/2 hours from Davos when the roads were clear of snow. Because we booked at the last minute, there was nothing else available.
We learned toward the end of the week from our hotel manager that some organizations book a block of rooms, but then release them after they determine that they will not need all of them. While I have not verified this, it is good to bear in mind. But if at all possible, book early with a hotel that has a cancellation policy.
Hire a driver. Given that we stayed so far outside of Davos, hiring a driver who knew the area and could drive in extreme snowy and icy conditions was essential. On our first day, we left our hotel at 6:00 a.m. in whiteout conditions. The car we booked was extremely expensive — $9,000 for the week. But that was the going rate.
If you stay right in Davos, a driver is still a good idea, but keep in mind that the town is extremely crowded and jammed with traffic. Many times, we found it quicker to walk to an appointment. But be prepared with good winter boots and possibly crampons (think snow chains for your feet). There were several reports of slips, falls and broken ankles. Don’t attempt the streets in dress shoes!
Make time to network. Whether it’s the Promenade — the equivalent of Main Street in Davos — where major delegates (i.e., organizations participating in the forum) take over retail stores and host receptions and meetings during the day, or the many after-hours parties hosted by top media outlets, companies and consulting firms host, Davos is the place to network. Participants are very open to meeting new people, sharing ideas and even striking up new business relationships.
(Side note: the Promenade is an interesting phenomenon, and we were told that store owners can make as much as 50% of their income for the year by vacating their stores for the week and allowing top companies to move in and occupy their space.)
Staffing your client is pretty much a 24/7 job of staying on top of their panels, Salon Dinners, media interviews and last minute messaging—but in the small slivers of time we had to ourselves, we found attending side events as extremely valuable, providing the opportunity to talk to top editors, current and former clients, colleagues and other high-level individuals.
Subscribe to the daily Davos e-newsletters by Quartz, Fortune CEO Daily and WSJ. This will keep you up on what’s being talked about at the conference and what’s resonating. This year, the most prominent topics were AI, women’s issues in the wake of Me Too, corporate social responsibility and block chain and Bitcoin. You can also advise your client on what’s trending, potential hot-button issues and how they can tailor their messages during interviews to the daily news cycle.
Set up a base camp. This is where you can go during your free time and rely on it for getting work done. The Hilton Garden Inn was where we set up camp on the first day and it worked well (Yes! The Hilton Garden, not the Ritz Carlton!). We never had a problem finding at least a few chairs and comfortable couches where our team could work. It’s the only hotel inside the security zone and was also a good place for spotting high profile folks who were passing through following a speech. We saw Al Gore, Energy Secretary Rick Perry and others.
Finding space for media interviews: Leading up to Davos, we were told about the “bilateral” rooms that you must reserve in advance for media interviews. While these rooms may be suited for some of your interviews, also keep in mind that many major media organizations, like the WSJ and CNBC, have lounges where meetings can take place.
Your first visit to Davos may seem a little overwhelming early on, with so many people and so many moving parts. But my FH colleagues and I settled in and learned the ropes pretty quickly. Next year, we’ll be veterans.
Sheila Rose is a Senior Vice President and Partner in FleishmanHillard’s Global Media Relations practice and based in New York.