Ideas that excite: What to expect from PR at Cannes Lions

This article was originally published by global creative magazine Shots

The sun is shining, Pharrell’s Happy stalks every speaker you pass on La Croisette and England are still in the World Cup. This time last year was truly a frenzy of hopeful expectation – and that was just those awaiting judgement on their Cannes entries (before we found out who we should be paying homage to and those just merely lip service).

Like Dumb Ways to Die the year before, Chipotle’s Scarecrow campaign [below] was on everyone’s lips last summer and for the second year on the trot, the PR Award was won by…wait for it… a PR agency [Edelman].

The power of advertising is well documented, but what of its less limelight-grabbing sister PR? Business guru Warren Buffet once remarked, “it takes 20 years to build reputation and five minutes to ruin it”. Which highlights why the subtle art of protecting one’s public image is one of the fastest-growing professions worldwide.

But why would an award dedicated to earned media so often be coveted and awarded to those in the paid arena? The answer lies in the essence of what makes a good PR campaign.

Warren Buffet once remarked, “it takes 20 years to build reputation and five minutes to ruin it”

For those of us more comfortable behind the scenes, we work through influencers to create and pique that initial interest/awareness in a campaign. To take home a Lion, organisers maintain that high level engagement and strategy with business results are needed. And don’t get me wrong, they’re very neat and quantifiable aims. But for me it could be simpler: Is yours the campaign that has everyone talking?

Whether they’re quaffing rosé at the Carlton, drinking from their jamjars in Shoreditch or supping a real ale pint on the Yorkshire moors – are you the topic of general public conversation? Then, and only then, have you tapped into the mainstream consciousness and achieved the hierarchical pinnacle of PR coverage needs.

The Sun parodying Mother’s campaign idea – PR gold

When, for instance, you have the front page of a country’s best selling newspaper parodying your campaign with a senior politician, I think it’s safe to say you’ve cracked it – a feat that Mother achieved when The Sun illustrated chancellor George Osborne giving his best Epic Strut prior to the election [above].

Talkability is high on any client’s checklist when casting an evaluative eye over the success of a campaign and will no doubt be front and centre of judges’ minds. Especially when they look at potential entries like United Nations 805 Million Names by Forsman & Bodenfors, a campaign which drove the undeniably important message of starvation.

Zlatan uses his body as a canvas in a way only he can – Credit: AFP PHOTO / TRIBOUILLARDKENZO /AFP/Getty Images

In February we saw just how large a campaign can grow when a personality as well-known as £520,000-a-week Zlatan Ibrahimović [above] offered his body as a canvas to tattoo 50 of the 805m names…albeit only temporarily. The result though was impressive with stories everywhere from Fast Company to the Mail Online.

Another campaign which has been building a lot of momentum in the lead up to Cannes comes from Leo Burnett. Now this started as a P&G ad campaign but I’d argue that it has PR at its heart in sparking debate within the media through to classrooms across the globe. #LikeAGirl [below] cleverly inverts the meaning of a phrase through the lens of a 10-year-old girl, changing something previously derogatory to an affirming badge to proudly display. It is the kind of insight which juggernauts a campaign into the stratospheric realms of worldwide support.

When we think of what does well within the prism of Cannes Lions, let’s not forget that a good idea is exactly that. It should identify an insight and then place that at the nucleus of any campaign. It won’t necessarily guarantee headlines but it will definitely give you a better chance of tapping into the zeitgeist.

Good ideas should translate into any brand’s language. So as author Simon Sinek suggests, let’s start with why, and worry about the whens and wheres of the channel later. Paid, owned or earned, the best ideas are the ones that initiate debate and encourage collaboration behind an overarching objective.