About this project
— Organising the first edition of the World Communication Forum "Communication on Top" back in 2010 I was not creating just another event on PR – I intended to build a strong international community of communicators of the new era, a forum for high-level professionals to set up the world communication agenda, to discuss key drivers and challenges of the industry. Seven years ago I decided to describe my experience in a book inviting the most important members of #WCFDavos community as co-authors, - says Yanina Dubeykovskaya, WCF Davos Founder & Content Director and WCFA President.
The book is aimed at everyone who is interested in communications, community management on global scale and businesses which are more than just businesses. It describes the history and story of the World Communication Forum "Communication on Top" – one of the most influential global events in the communication industry.
But the goal of this campaign is not just to publish the book and let you know the story – our goal is to deliver it to 100 universities with communication faculties all over the world.
The book contents
Chapter 1Birth of the idea
Chapter 2Birth of the event
Chapter 3Birth of the community
Chapter 4Birth of leadership
Chapter 5Birth of the brand
Chapter 6Birth of competitors
Chapter 7Birth of the business model
Chapter 8Birth of influence
Chapter 9Birth of a mission
Extracts from the foreword
by Scott Fahlman, Research Professor Language Technologies Institute and. Computer Science Department. Carnegie Mellon University
This book offers an insider’s view of the birth of the World Communication Forum, and its evolution from a crazy dream to a successful annual meeting, and then to a community and an international brand. For this brief foreword, my friend Yanina Dubeykovskaya asked me to share some thoughts and observations about WCF from the viewpoint of an industry outsider: What did I learn about the communications profession, what surprised me, and so on.
I’m not a communications professional. I’m not associated with a PR firm or an advertising agency, and I’m not an official spokesperson for anything. I’m a professor in the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. I do research on artificial intelligence — in particular, on the problem of giving computers something resembling human-like common sense and planning ability, and the ability to understand everyday English and other human languages.
In a sense, I do work on the problem of communicating effectively, human-to-human or robot-to-human. But my current research is way down at the level of basic mechanisms for understanding what is being said, and for choosing the right words to generate simple descriptions. I have always been fascinated by the higher-level problems that communications professionals work on: persuasion; producing clear (or sometimes deliberately unclear) explanations; choosing words and images that evoke certain feelings in a human audience; using symbols and metaphors to convey more meaning than just what the words or pictures actually say; and creating brands, slogans, and jingles that burrow into the listeners’ brains and refuse to let go.
So how did I get involved with the dedicated and energetic people who created the World Communication Forum? For me, it started in 1982 with a little joke that went viral (though in 1982 the term “go viral” was unknown).
At that time, I was a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). In those days, we had only primitive computers and even more primitive inter-computer networks. We could send text-only email to one another at CMU, and we had just gained the capability of sending email messages to computer scientists at a few other universities in the U.S.
One problem we encountered, even in those early days, is that in a quickly written text-only message it is hard to tell whether someone is being serious or sarcastic. So as part of a humorous email conversation with friends, I suggested that we could use the character-string :-) as a quick way to say “I’m only kidding,” and we could use :-( to mean “I’m serious.”
That idea was adopted by others at CMU, and soon it had spread to the other research universities on the network. Within a few weeks, people started making up more of these text-strings, and later someone named them “emoticons.” We were actually able to watch this idea spread through the academic world as our network became the Internet, more universities and companies joined, and connections were made to research networks in other countries.
Eventually, in the 1990s, computers appeared in people’s living rooms. For the first time, non-technical people were exposed to emoticons, and they immediately started using them. And soon after that, the text-only symbols evolved into the graphical emoji that we now see everywhere. Ever since that time, I have been better known as the “father of the emoticon” — ten minutes of my life writing a silly message — than for anything I have done in my 40-year career doing cutting-edge AI research. I’ve made my peace with this odd situation: this is not what I wanted to be famous for, but it’s fun to be a little bit famous for something.
“Branding” is an important focus for many of the communications professionals who attend the WCF events: How do you create a memorable brand? How do you increase its worldwide recognition? And how do you build and defend the brand’s reputation?
It occurred to the WCF planners that somehow, almost by accident, I had created a worldwide “brand” that has lasted 30+ years and that is instantly recognizable by almost everyone who uses a computer or smartphone. By some estimates, the smiley-face emoticon and its many descendants (emoticons, emoji, stickers…) are used in messages by real people a billion times a day. So that’s pretty good brand recognition.
In 2011, the WCF organizers contacted me to ask if I would come to that year’s meeting in Davos to give a keynote talk about emoticons. Could I give a talk explaining my secret for creating a successful brand?
Until that moment, I had never thought of the smiley emoticon as a “brand,” but I guess it could be viewed that way, even though it is not usually associated with a product or money-making service. And I certainly had no big secret. But I thought I could give a talk on emoticons that would amuse the conference attendees, and perhaps be of some value, so I accepted the invitation.
For various reasons, we weren’t able to put this together in 2011, but I finally was able to attend the 2014 meeting in Davos and to give the keynote talk. It was well received. After the talk, a lot of the conference attendees wanted to get autographs and photos with me. That surprised me, but it was fun for everyone.
Since then, I’ve kept in touch with the WCF people, sometimes helping to judge their annual Communications for the Future Awards and sometimes serving on their advisory board. I’ve come to know some members of the WCF community pretty well, and I’ve sort of been adopted in the role of “Token Outsider” and “Chief Science Nerd.” In 2016 I was able to return to the Davos meeting as head of the jury for that year’s individual awards. I was also in a couple of panel discussions and gave a talk at a related event, Zeppelin View 2016, that was focused on the interaction between communications and technology.
On the way to my first WCF conference in 2014, I really wasn’t sure what to expect. The organizers had been very nice people, considerate and helpful in setting up the travel. But what would the conference attendees be like?
It’s ironic, but the communications/PR/advertising profession has a big PR problem. The popular media, at least in the U.S., often portray this profession as a high-pressure, super-competitive, cut-throat collection of warring agencies — hired guns who will do anything to win and keep a valuable client. The popular TV show Mad Men, set in the 1960s, helped to shape this image.
And even without such fictional portrayals, the public usually sees the communications profession at its worst. All the good things that the profession does for the community and for responsible clients tend to go unnoticed. What the public sees and remembers are the ads and press releases trying (successfully) to persuade people that cigarettes are good for them, or that a major oil spill is really not a big deal — and seabirds are a nuisance anyway! We see political campaigns in which PR people are working very hard to help their candidates persuade voters using lies and very selective telling of the truth.
So what would the Davos attendees be like? I knew that they would mostly be articulate and intelligent people with some degree of empathy — ability to understand the other person’s beliefs and feelings. Those traits are a prerequisite for success in a profession whose goal is to inform and persuade people. But what else?
What I found at the conference was a big, and very happy, surprise. The people there were very pleasant and outgoing. Most of them knew one another, and most seemed to be good friends. Far from being cut-throat competitors, in the talks, panels, and random conversations, they all were sharing ideas very openly and helping one another to learn new things. There was much discussion of branding, storytelling, making emotional contact with the listeners, the best way to use new social media tools, ideas about how to recruit and retain talent, and how to shape communications for different cultures around the world.
There was also a lot of talk about the ethics of the profession and how these very creative people could use their talents to build a better world, to direct resources to serious social problems, or just to show people the good things in their own environment that they might be missing.
You can learn a lot about the ethics of a profession by watching the awards they give to one another. I was on several of the judging panels for the WCF awards, and it was inspiring to take part in these discussions. Yes, there were certainly some awards for people and firms who had come up with clever brands or campaigns, doing good work for their clients, making use of the latest techniques and introducing new ones. But a surprisingly large fraction of the nominees and awardees had done something really positive in their communities: drawing attention to some beautiful, unspoiled, and largely undiscovered regions; sponsoring a youth choir or a competition for aspiring chefs; creating a mutual-assistance network for women entering all-male fields; setting up a communal incubator workspace where new, tiny companies could support one another; building bridges between cultures that had traditionally been enemies; helping the general public to understand science… This was a very long way from the greedy world of Mad Men.
So that is what I saw at the WCF Davos meetings, and at some of the satellite meetings organized by the same group. It certainly changed my perspective on the field of communications in a very fundamental way. Along the way I have become friends with many of these people, and I admire what they do — well, most of it.
I'm still not sure whether the public view of the communications profession is just wrong, or whether the Davos meetings attract the best and most community-spirited people in the profession, or whether everyone is just on their best behavior at these gatherings. It’s probably a combination of all three. But I think something important has been built here. Long may it continue!
World Communication Forum mission
To unite trend-makers and influencers from the global communications elite and provide a platform for discussion focused on the future development of communications and their role in business, society and politics; to provoke in-depth analysis of the form and content of interaction between business, media, and society, on the one hand, and the state, on the other. What all communicators need today is a global network for distributing best practices achieved in crisis communications or change/reputation management and useful strategies applied in investor relations, employee motivation, government lobbying, etc. Equally necessary is to foresee the upcoming communication trends and secure a successful method for analysing the key problems, finding solutions and offering best tools which could serve top-managers in their decision-making or daily professional tasks and, through the exchange of ideas and opinions, help them improve their own corporate and social efficiency.
A selection of World Communication Forum reviews from its participants
“The World Communication Forum offers associative platforms the extraordinary opportunity to interact and create successful, long-lasting partnerships with the common goal of sharing ethical standards and criteria based on the service being provided to clients, which must continue to be honest, transparent, and effective."
Andrea Cornelli, CEO of Ketchum Italy and PR Hub Coordinator
"For me, WCF Davos is the ideal place (physical or digital) to hear a new, different voice in the industry. It is a voice that has become stronger throughout the years. And it is a voice that needs to be heard, not only because WCF Davos deserves to be recognized, but also because it will bring the function of communications to a new level of professionalism. It will help communications to become more influential and impactful, and isn’t that what we are all aiming for? As a result, I have deep respect for Yana and her friends for having built something beautiful, and I’m thankful for being part of her circle of friends, peers, or whatever you want to call us."
Andre Manning, Global Vice President Corporate Communications of Philips
"Since the inception of the World Communication Forum in 2011, the event has proven to exert remarkable influence on the profession of strategic communication through convening senior practitioners to share best practices and learn from one another and to debate issues at the forefront of the field – from age-old questions such as ethics to the use of cutting-edge technology ranging from mobile phones to robots. These practitioners have returned to the 30 nations they hail from to operationalize many of the ideas born in Davos, helping to make communicators more influential within their organizations and more effective and ethical in their work. Ideas conceived and refined at the World Communication Forum have helped make the work of corporate, non-profit and government communicators around the globe more informed, creative, and powerful."
Kara Alaimo, Ph.D., Global PR consultant, Assistant Professor of PR at Hofstra University, and author of Pitch, Tweet, or Engage on the Street: How to Practice Global Public Relations and Strategic Communication