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The World Economic Forum: Beyond the Annual Meeting


As an event brand scales and gains prominence and traction, it becomes inevitable that the brand extends itself beyond the original product. In this sense, the events business is like any other business, and event production companies are like any other companies. Whereas other business models scale by increasing their product lines or distribution channels or services, event companies typically increase the presence of their brands by doing more events.

Take the example of the World Economic Forum. With the help of the Swiss government and the European Commission, the WEF has come to be regarded as by far the most influential brand in conferencing anywhere in the world. The brand was founded 46 years ago as an annual meeting in Davos. This annual meeting is still the flagship product of the World Economic Forum today, and each year, a thousand companies pay a $600,000 membership fee to send their leaders to congregate at this forum.

But after four decades of operations, the World Economic Forum has come to bear the responsibility of doing more than just hosting an annual meeting. To really be “Committed to Improving the State of the World”, this organization now has a staff and board of over 300 people who represent thought leaders in the world’s largest corporations, governments, academic institutions, and nonprofits. The scale of this organization has enabled them to establish their presence in other parts of the world and at other times of the year, beyond just the 4 day meetings in Davos.

Altogether, the World Economic Forum hosts about a dozen meetings a year, including annual meetings in China and the United Arab Emirates, and meetings in other countries depending on what’s happening in the world in any given year. The Forum also produces a number of research reports throughout the year on global trends and policies, to be used and cited by member companies, governments, and institutions.

At home, the World Economic Forum unsurprisingly defines the city of Davos, a ski-town with a population of about 10,000 without the 3,000 person annual World Economic Forum meetings. The Davos Congress Centre — the local convention center — was built in 1969 to host the original World Economic Forum. The site has hosted the Forum every year since its opening, and the 3 major renovations executed in 1979, 1989, and 2010 have all been made possible with World Economic Forum money.

We’ve explored in the past this elusive notion of what the true “product” is that an event production company creates. A human gathering is ephemeral by definition, and most of us smaller than the World Economic Forum do not build our own real estate for our productions. The pertinence of this question that may seem only academic is that without a clear definition of our product, it has proven often challenging for event professionals to truly extend their businesses to their true potential.

If an event is determined the ownership of a moment, like a Macy’s Day Parade owning the morning of Thanksgiving, then improving the product would be to increase the presence of the event at that moment in time. If an event is determined by the ownership of a theme, like TED’s Ideas Worth Spreading, then improving the product would be to increase the presence of that theme in the global narrative. The World Economic Forum has committed itself to being a platform for non-partisan dialogue on the most pressing issues facing the world. Its curation of its community, its contents, its programming every year, and the development trajectory of the brand, has all remained true to this original mission.

See you at the next exploration!



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