Close-Up: Johnny does Davos - inside the World Economic Forum

Johnny Hornby headed to Davos to join Sir Martin Sorrell in improving the world. To his surprise, there were also discussions about advertising.

A couple of weeks ago, I was the worst of things: "A Davos virgin." A man who didn't know his Belvedere from his Piano Bar, his Partners Lounge from his Global Village, or his Parsennbahn from his Schatzalp.

By last Monday, I had returned triumphant, judged by William Lewis, the editor-in-chief of The Daily Telegraph (albeit in an e-mail and not in his newspaper), to have been, and I quote: "By far the best newcomer in Davos."

Just before Christmas, my wonderful PA, Nickie Spencer, received an e-mail from the office of Sir Martin (Sorrell), the chief executive of WPP, asking if I'd like to join him in Davos.

So I booked in for the week while, of course, ensuring my wife was coming out on Friday night and that ten or 11 of us would be spending the Saturday and Sunday skiing.

The theme for the week struck me initially as a little intimidating. "Improve the State of the World: Rethink, Redesign and Rebuild." Crikey, and it all had to be done by Friday if we were going to get some skiing in. And some of the questions posed by the initial sessions on the first morning - "Avoiding the Double Dip", "Rethinking Systematic Financial Risk", "Germs and Globalisation", "Does an Algorithm Run your Life?" - looked a little intimidating too.

In all, there were more than 200 official sessions of that nature organised over the five days - as well as major set-piece events in the main Congress Hall, where the likes of the French president Nicolas Sarkozy, the South African president, Jacob Zuma, and the former US president Bill Clinton, to name but a few, were to speak.

Beyond the Congress Centre there was also the lure of the dozens of private parties, dinners and countless networking events.

Back on the agenda, I spotted a glimmer of hope: "The Growing Influence of Social Networks" (I feel sure I've been to that eight times). I felt confident I must know more about that than the assembling economists, bankers and sheikhs, until I saw also signed up were Reid Hoffman, the founder of LinkedIn, Biz Stone, the founder of Twitter, and Jake Davis, the chief executive of MySpace ... best get reading up, I thought.

I arrived feeling a little like I did arriving at freshers' week at university, wondering what the right balance was between signing up for all the clubs and being too cool for school and only going to the best and most exclusive parties.

Luckily for me, help was at hand in a variety of Davos dab-handers including the likes of Sir Martin, Peter Mandelson, Lewis and Rebekah Brooks, the chief executive of News International, who between them kindly invited me to all the best things and generally showed me how to play it.

What I came to realise as I lost my Davos virginity was that it is a mixture of many varying, but interconnecting, worlds - not just bankers and politicians - each with their own different issues, communities, heroes and big-shots.

And Davos also has some wonderful contradictions - there are banners everywhere proclaiming "Towards a Greener Davos 2010", yet you can only drive into the conference centre if you're in a convoy.

While everyone has their eyes and views on the big uber-debates and themes (and there were mainly two - the development of capitalism in the East versus the West, and banking and bankers' pay), people then return to their own worlds with their own sub-debates and themes.

Meanwhile, in the world of domestic politics, the Davos principle of only inviting sitting ministers was broken with the inclusion of key shadow Cabinet members and David Cameron there in force.

Cameron was the keynote speaker at the WPP-sponsored UK business leaders' lunch - where he left an audience largely impressed with his arguments for beginning to reduce the deficit and recognising the needs articulated by Obama to reform the banking system. He also told Martin he planned to lure WPP back to these shores.

And still in the world of domestic politics, Lewis, John Witherow, the editor of The Sunday Times, and I enjoyed the benefit of sharing amusing back-to-back fondues, first with the Tory leadership and then with Lord Mandelson and the Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, the following night.

And back in our world, the debate in advertising circles mirrored the bigger conversations, the surging growth of the East in new media versus the stilted position in the West. I wondered after a few drinks whether our agency having C,H and I as the first three letters of CHIna may be reason alone for us to join in this surging growth.

There were also genuinely interesting discussions around human behaviour and mobile technologies and the fast-changing nature of "advertising" with many more of our, and your, clients present than I had imagined before I went.

And who was the King of Davos? Martin or Maurice (Levy, the chairman of Publicis Groupe) were the only two frontrunners given that John Wren, the president and chief executive of the Omnicom Group, is like the guy in Charlie's Angels you never see. Maurice, I understand, always gets off to a head start having bought the company that does the logistics and hotels and then called it Publicislive - thereby also giving himself the opportunity to put anyone with WPP in their CV into a backpackers' hotel (Nickie soon fixed that). But by the end of the week, Martin had claimed the throne on the basis of being a character genuinely bigger than our industry, and someone to whom the chief executives and media constantly turn to to predict the economic future.

As I made my way back down the mountain on Sunday afternoon, I left Davos with not only an expanded view of the world, and an expanded liver, but also a feeling of excitement and inspiration by the people and ideas I had encountered and a genuine sense of wanting to return one day having done more.

- Johnny Hornby is a founding partner of CHI & Partners.

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