Give the people an idea to buy into

A key learning from the Cannes Lions is to re-imagine the PR plan - from the goal to the results. To ask: What is the galvanizing idea? Is the program predominantly a collection of tactics?

As the predominantly advertising creatives congregate on the Croisette, having jetted in from one of the tech-y coasts – Silicon Valley or Alley or their European and Asian equivalents – the predominantly male attendees don a uniform of T-shirt or shirt-tails, rolled-up skinny jeans or shorts with skip sneakers, Toms or desert boots.

The look is recognizable to this New Yorker as Brooklyn hipster gone global. And as they parade up to capture Gold Lion awards unfurling their country flags and football/soccer scarves for the clicking cameras, their comfort in their own skin is palpable as is their conviction – conviction of their ideas, that they're the best of the best, that what they do is cool.

They know it. Everybody knows it. Just being in Cannes confirms it. Winning in Cannes provides even greater bragging rights.

Elsewhere, I catch a final couple of sessions. A panel of advertising legends discuss their legendary, hall-of-advertising-fame campaigns – We Try Harder for Avis and I Can't Believe I Ate the Whole Thing for Alka Seltzer among them – for a Re:Brief project with Google,  for which they re-imagined their iconic campaigns in a world where the media, tech and social landscape has exponentially shape-shifted.

What remains fundamentally the same is what Marc Mathieu, SVP marketing, says in presenting Unilever's approach in the following session, Crafting Brands for Life: that we need to give people (emphasis on people, not consumers) an idea to buy into.

What I've come away from Cannes with as a rallying cry is “what is the galvanizing idea?” Stock in trade for advertisers is a 30-second commercial, a disruptive banner or one-page print ad that visually and immediately telegraphs an idea. A way of communicating that is especially critical given the demands on our diminishing collective attention span.

As PR people, we pride ourselves – and rightly so – on being strategists, arriving at insights through the rigor of research to develop a strategic platform and creative ideas a.k.a. tactics. We pride ourselves – and rightly so – on being storytellers in an age of constant and concomitant storytelling. We pride ourselves (and rightly so…or maybe not) in elevating ourselves above stunts. Yet, stunts are memorable, sharable and talkable - all desirable outcomes for any earned media program.

A key learning from the Cannes Lions is to re-imagine the PR plan – from the goal to the results. To ask: What is the galvanizing idea? Is the program predominantly a collection of tactics? What would we recommend if we completely disregarded impressions or even coverage for that matter (even if momentarily) and focused solely on what will have the greatest impact?

The successful results of this approach were abundantly in evidence with the virtual sweep by ad agencies of the PR Gold Lions.

But if the idea is truly great the coverage and conversation will come – along with the bragging rights.

Christine Cea is senior director of marketing communications for Unilever.

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