If you ripped the lanyards off the necks of every one of the ad guys (most are, in fact, guys but that’s an issue for another day) at Cannes, and strung them together, you would likely end up with a big swinging lanyard that would stretch to the upper atmosphere. Yet PR — gloriously positioned at the center of everything that matters and will matter in communications — is the discipline that doesn’t get much oxygen at the annual creative bacchanal on the Cote d’Azur.
The bad news is our agencies’ poor showing at Cannes is our own fault.
But there’s good news, too. We can get all the self-flagellating done today and spend the next eleven and a half months getting ourselves Cannes-optimized.
I think it’s the right thing to do.
Because winning at Cannes puts our industry’s vision and creative fervor on the global stage. And getting those Cannes wins to become currency in PR — as they are in the advertising world — will be further proof that we are THE powerhouse engagement discipline.
Here’s how we’ll get there:
1) Lose the humility.
We’re a humble crowd. Many of us have spent decades advancing others’ causes. Advocating passionately for brands, organizations, and their leadership. We’ve labored proudly and successfully way behind the step-and-repeat.
But we need to remember that we do it with ideas. Massive ideas, small ones, bold ones. Brash ones. We create the ideas. We activate them. We measure their impact.
But we don’t always show ideas our love. We don’t always pluck them from the big, multi-phased and faceted programs where we’ve buried them and give them full-on adoration. And, if you think about the PR world as “Planet of the Apes,” we don’t always make the idea people our apes.
That’s our opportunity. Brazen, ape-like chest-thumping about our ideas. Every day. And a little verging-on-worshipful respect for the idea-makers in our organizations. That’s everyday life in the ad world.
2) Make simple the new big.
Many years ago, PowerPoint came into our lives. And it was good. It liberated our ideas from punctuation. But, at the same time it allowed us to create bloated, run-on ideas, blatherful notions that require tiers of sub-bullets to make a dent in anyone’s cerebral cortex.
That doesn’t cut it at Cannes. Nor should it cut it with our clients and teams in any other town. The ideas that engage and move and change and enrapture are really simple to understand and easy to repeat.
This year, PR Lions were given to a foundation that got Israelis and Palestinians to donate blood — to each other — “because we cannot kill someone when our own blood runs through their veins.” We rewarded a Dutch lingerie company that proved its push-up bra’s efficacy by putting it on a male model. And we gave gold to a group that saved a local library by claiming they were about to stage a book burning party. (Even those who don’t have a library card, get the significance of that). Simple, one-liner ideas are the biggest of all. It takes the right minds, strong discipline, and hard work to pare down the ppt to get to the powerfully simple idea but that’s the secret for winning in Cannes and beyond. It’s classic advertising rigor. We need to be sure it’s ours.
3) Remember that creativity is a universal language.
Funny is funny in Tokyo, Brussels and Beirut. Moving is moving in Milan, Rio and Dallas. Humanity is at the heart of inspiring work around the world.
This year we saw extraordinary humanity in an Italian campaign that replaced actors in ads and on TV programs with people with Down’s Syndrome. And we saw a different kind of humanity in an Australian firm’s move to sponsor the White House to showcase the superior whitening power of Vanish Napisan washing powder. (That would have made 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, the Vanish Napisan White House).
We saw eye-popping “mega- campaigns” — those with colossal events, buffed and fluffed movie stars, extraordinary social and digital components and more. We knew the work. We’d seen its power. But at Cannes the intimacy of an idea that makes a human connection outguns an uber-initiative. It’s not that we shouldn’t enter those campaigns. They’re some of the greatest in our industry. It’s that we need to be thoughtful about how we story tell in this forum, whittling them down to a creative essence that speaks louder than the sum of its tactics. It’s an approach that has value long after you head out of Southern France.
So there are steps we can take. But, for many, Cannes remains a conundrum. Should we join ‘em if we can’t beat ‘em?
It will take insurgent spirit, idea-building muscle and a lot of heart to change our fortunes there. But I believe that the discipline that drives the conversations, creates the content and engages across platforms — that is PR — can part the sea teeming with the bold, Lions-winning denizens of ad agencies and grab its rightful place at the center of the world’s biggest festival of creativity.
And I believe we will.