I Was Supposed To Go To 8 Parties Last Night But I Only Made It To 6...


Photo: Business Insider

Given the quality of speakers at the World Economic Forum, you may be under the impression that people go for the content.

They don’t.

The content is a interesting diversion, for those with spare time, but the real reason companies happily shell out up to $600,000+ per year to attend the Davos conference is because of the schmoozing.

One senior executive I spoke to on Friday afternoon had just finished his 50th meeting in three days. The executive comes to Davos every year, and he’ll keep on coming, he says, because the density of clients and prospective clients in attendance saves him six months worth of world travel. The executive had attended only one conference session, on e-philanthropy, and he had bolted after 20 minutes because it was boring.

Late in the afternoon, moreover, the Davos day is only half over. The evening’s schmoozing has yet to begin. And the evening schmoozing is a networker’s dream.

And a corporate brand manager’s dream.

And a cocktail-lover’s dream.

I myself was invited to about a dozen parties on this particular evening, about eight of which I planned to attend. And there was nothing special about me. Everyone gets invited to that many–if not more.

So, let’s get going.

Across the street from the Congress centre is this big white building, the Belvedere hotel. The Belvedere is ground-zero for corporate schmoozing. Most of the winter, it looks like this.

During the conference, however, it gets a complete makeover. For starters, this sort of black space-ship thing is constructed on top of it. Why? To make room for more schmoozing and sponsorships.

Those photos were taken in the morning. In the evening, the entrance to the Belvedere looks like this. Your walk up the stairs is sponsored by KPMG.

They're with you all the way up, KMPG, whispering quietly to you as you climb.

And when you reach the top of the steps, KPMG also sponsors your walk down the porch of the black space-ship thing, which, during the day, frames a view of the mountains.

As you walk down the KPMG porch, you'll naturally glance toward the Kirchner Museum across the street. The Kirchner Museum is where another tier of parties--a much higher tier--take place. JP Morgan's in there tonight, and Jamie Dimon will be personally greeting every guest at the door. Accel's in there tomorrow night, with the best major party of the conference for the tech crowd. And, of course, the Kirchner has also sold a sponsorship--a huge ad for GenPact that you can't miss as you walk down KPMG hall into the Belvedere.

Welcome to the Belvedere! There's a party space in the lobby, sponsored by Audi. Those people, who look like royalty of some sort, are having a party around the Audi. They're glassed off from the rest of the lobby traffic, so they don't have to mix with the hoi polloi. And of course all of this is taking place in that temporary black spaceship addition that will be dismantled after the conference.

Not a bad space for a party, actually. Who doesn't want to drink around an Audi?

There's a full bar in one corner. And later, by the way, when cocktails are done, the guests will have retired to a full sit-down dinner in the back. (Where does the food come from? I haven't the faintest idea. This is a glassed-off section of the lobby.)

After the lobby, it's time to clear security. It's the standard airport routine, except for the shoe thing. Davos party planners, apparently, aren't worried about shoe-bombers.

Deloitte sponsors your walk down a temporary umbilical tube connecting the black space-ship appendage to the actual Belvedere.

And gives you an uplifting thought at the end...

Check your coat...

And pop up the steps into a purple psychedelic ante-chamber.

It's sponsored by Wipro.

And then it's another ante-chamber, sponsored by Bloomberg.

And then, finally, you're inside the real Belvedere. Though you could be forgiven for failing to realise that. Because this entrance hall has been sponsored by not one, not two, but three corporations. There's the green wall directly in front of you, for example (logo obscured--branding impression missed!).

And there's the hang-out area on the left, sponsored by someone-or-other, which a few folks are hanging out in.

And there's the door to the Bank of America Merrill Lynch party on the right.

But you're here to party, and maybe you don't want to party at the Bank of America party, so you check out the list of parties to figure out where you're headed. There are a dozen of them tonight--in this one hotel. Last night there were another dozen. Tomorrow night there will be another dozen. So there will be no shortage of places for you to drink.

I had a drink in the PwC Thought Cafe, and then I headed back upstairs. Another PwC hall led to the PwC party, so I checked that out. It was in a massive room with a massive bar at the end of this hall. (Lots of dudes in suits.)

On the way back down the PwC hall, I stopped into the Google+ Hang Out. A big bar, where Google is eager to buy you a drink.

In that hall, there was also evidence of the lengths the Belvedere goes to sell space to every corporation possible. This temporary wall, which separates the Wipro Antechamber from PwC Hall, will presumably be ripped down on Monday.

On the other side of the main entrance, a whole new series of sponsorships begins. There's the Zurich room, for example.

And a long hallway filled with cases displaying the wares of a half-dozen luxury sponsors--Christ, Rolex, etc.

(And, of course, for those who don't find their way down PwC Hall or into the PwC Thought Cafe, there's a messaging case for PwC.)

And some ski clothes from Ettinger. (You mean you had forgotten that people ski in Davos? They do! Just not anyone who attends the WEF conference. There's no time to ski. There's too much schmoozing and branding and drinking to do.)

Whoops. An empty case. It probably could have been sold for a hundred grand for the week. Fire that salesperson!

At the end of that endless hall, there's a floor-to-ceiling installation for some Brazilian fashion company.

And then there's the entrance to the Deloitte party, where the band is just warming up. Or maybe it's the McKinsey party. It was the McKinsey party on this night last year. And it was so packed and deafening that it felt like a sports bar during the Super Bowl. I don't know how much it costs McKinsey to rent this party space every year. But given the number of companies that would give their left nut for it, I'll bet it's at least a quarter-million for the evening.

Of course, the Belvedere isn't the only place in town that hosts parties, so it's time to start withdrawing. (And, in fact, it's a horrible place to have your party. Who wants to be one of dozens? And the parties don't even last all evening. By now, for example that Bank of America party has been dispersed to make way for the FT-CNBC party--in the same space. It will start momentarily, when they finish replacing the cardboard logos.)

Before I leave the Belvedere, though, I check out the rest of the black space-ship thing, upstairs from the coat check. Mostly, it's another long hall filled with corporate conference rooms. During the day, corporations have to have place to meet with the folks they're schmoozing, so they rent rooms like these.

Accenture has a nice big room, for example. With, of course, a bar.

At the end of the hall is the Wall Street Journal lounge. The writers and editors hang out there, when the room isn't hosting breakfasts, dinners, and lunches. Stop by some time. They'll treat you right.

And at the OTHER end of the hall, just above the coat check, is the CNBC lounge. There was a chair free when I arrived. The U.S. market was about to close, and they had TVs showing CNBC. So I took a break. It was only 10pm, after all. I'd been to four of the six parties I would eventually make it to that night. And the next one was a much more intimate one, held in a private chalet. There, there would be no corporate logos, just people, in a vastly more attractive setting. So I needed to rest up for that.

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