I agree it could be perceived as paradoxical, if not provocative, to celebrate empowered PR the very day four PR agencies only, out of dozens of advertising, digital or media agencies, were awarded PR Lions at the 60th Cannes Lions Festival. I can hear some of my colleagues in the industry arguing that, once again, our category has been hijacked by advertisers. It’s not my view. I believe that we have what we deserve. Should we present more and better projects, we would easily make the difference. In Cannes like in everyday business, our future is in our hands and nobody else’s.
So let’s celebrate empowered PR in Cannes, whoever has led them.
What’s left, after many days reviewing and judging hundreds of projects coming from all over the world? (These are my personal views, not the jury’s).
Of course the most awarded projects are clearly built on a great idea, grounded in relevant research and insights, turned into a strong story, and a well told one, thus creating a strong engagement through an emotional connection with the audience. Whatever the topic, the sector, the category, the discipline, it’s all about creatively engaging with people and communities through a well told story, one which matters and moves consciences and hearts, sometimes changes attitudes, and even behaviours.
But beyond what is now the obvious, I felt impressed by what I personally consider a genuine evolution of PR from a secondary discipline to a central piece of the communications’ equation in the 'conversation age'. It looks like PR have new powers these days, among which the following look particularly important to me.
(Caution: the links below are for youtube videos, not for the video actually submitted for the PR Lions: they usually are a central piece of the entry, but they don’t necessarily show neither the strategy/idea nor the variety of PR tactics and results)
- The power of empowering people:
Part of our business is - and will remain - to influence influencers on behalf of our clients. Silently, softly, behind the scenes. But in PR like everywhere, disintermediation is rapidly and profoundly changing the rules of the game. Gatekeepers and barriers are vanishing, while people use the boundless power of social media to raise their voice and be heard by decision-makers, whether politicians or business executives. Several case studies showed how the CEO of a company or a government are directly put under people’s heavy pressure and, within days, sometimes hours, cancel an initiative, abandon a controversial project or, on the contrary, set up a new public policy to answer citizens’ demands. The more it goes, the more the power of the many can challenge many of the established powers, and public affairs become 'people’s affairs.'
(No Means No, Amnesty International Norway http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zQE2tbch8eA,
Make the Politicians Work, URA.RU City, Russia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=48WoNWYUy7g),
Metropole Tweetphony, Metropole Orkest, NL http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrwFJmTN-BA)
- The power of leveraging innovation:
Big ideas, when inspired by great insights and research, are much more powerful than déjà-vu copy-strategy angles. Many of them are tech-based, utilizing the unlimited power of PR’s favourite battlefield: earned media. By amplifying the immense resonance of Twitter, Facebook and other social media, they become massive weapons. Developing apps is also a mandatory PR ability today, whether for bringing a powerful crowdfunding component to the campaign or exploiting the great resources of social gaming for instance. Sometimes, the innovation is more modest: just an ordinary object, which fast becomes a star, and a must-have.
(Samsung We are David Bailey, UK http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nLVnNOpzcvo,
Intel/Toshiba The Beauty Inside http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-7bG5wo95jI
Mondelez International, Axe Morning After Pillow, Puerto Rico http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nj_Q5ySp5_U,
Warburtons, Toastie Knife, UK http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9E_DDsZ8bEM,
C.S. Hammam-Lif, Mobilizing the 12th Man, Tunisia Football Club http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7I19UQP-26Q)
- The power of crowdsourcing content
A fair amount of the best projects were based on people’s insights, ideas and self-generated content: words, stories, pictures, videos, recipes and much more. It’s a people’s world, after all. Whether fans or just engaged folks, people are co-generating the story, spreading it widely through their networks. They are the story, actually. And a “People inside” good story, developed on social media, creates deeper emotional connections than anything else: firstly with many other people, and ultimately between people and corporations or brands.
Village Voice Newspaper, 8 million protagonists, USA, http://www.8millionprotagonists.com/)
The Enemies of Despair, The Swedish Social Insurance Company)
- The power of integrating disciplines:
The use of social media is central, massive, dominant, cornerstone to most if not all great projects. It’s not about eventually cascading a big idea on social media, beyond classical ads or PR techniques. It’s all the way round nowadays: it’s about developing the big idea from, for and in social media. The latter are the message (an old story reinvented, right?) but firstly the amniotic liquid where the idea is born and raised: the very source of the idea.
In other words, the ecosystem and the chronology are very different from what they used to be couple of years ago: now it’s the online source first, then the online flow and lastly the delta: once the magic has worked, mainstream media then pick up the batten and share the story further.
- The power of moving people:
Events and experiential PR were king this year. The real and the virtual come along: the “physical” event comes first, bringing people together, people who are emotionally united by something, somewhere, now. What they see, what they hear, what they feel is immediately shared with the people around them, and with many more people around the globe. In many ways, PR create the conditions for a perfect balance between the power of a live experience here and now, and its social amplification. This is rich content: the story you tell about something you just experienced “live” is a good and lively one, enriched by images, sounds…and one day scents. It’s a powerful snowball effect.
- The power of engaging with the Millenials:
We all know it’s not an easy game to play… but it’s a fundamental one. Beyond being a nice claim, the art and science of conversation is what makes the difference when it comes to engaging with a generation of social savvy, skilled, scrutinizing and demanding young people. Great examples of successful campaigns were awarded, in various areas: whether for recruitment, issue management, safety in transports, cause marketing, it makes no difference: it has to be sharp, true, creative, larger than life, relevant to their expectations. And meaningful.
It’s a purpose-led world: more and more projects from big corporations and brands are embracing a bigger something than USP or even old style social responsibility. We know that engagement is increasingly being ignited by a shared purpose and a sense of citizenship. We know that there’s an urgent need for organizations to collaboratively redefine what they stand for, and design purpose-inspired projects, campaigns, platforms and programs. And we know that, for the GenY and soon GenZ, this is not an option.
- The power of creating conversations that matter:
What’s the story? Again, whatever the content, the topic, the culture, having a good story to tell, and telling it well, is what makes the difference. All areas, categories, disciplines, practices are concerned: consumer goods, technology, leisure and travel, public affairs, cause campaigns…a strong narrative architecture is needed.
(Dumb Ways to Die, Metro Trains, Australia http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FceKlVbL2wY)
So what will the Festival look like in five years from now, for its 65th anniversary? Big question… All frontiers are blurring this year, not only between PR and other communications’ disciplines, but also between PR practices and specialties. A new ecosystem is emerging, which will be people and brand-centric, not discipline-centric. There’s a true need for reinvention, here too. As an industry, we also need to raise our voice, concerning our remuneration model: it should be based on the fair valuation of ideas, if not IP, as paid media declines while earned media remains free.
The future is bright, the future is PR, but still uncertain… It’s in our hands, actually.
Pascal Beucler is SVP and chief strategy officer at MSLGroup, and a juror on the 2013 Cannes Lions PR Jury.