PR is not enough: we must all become polymaths to thrive

Agencies must follow in the footsteps of da Vinci and become 'creative engineers' to keep pace with our diversifying industry.

We are no longer mainly in the business of creating campaigns, says Adam Mack
We are no longer mainly in the business of creating campaigns, says Adam Mack

There were many debates, discussions and celebrations at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity last month and there will be many things written about it. For me, though, there was one transformational and agenda-setting theme that flowed through the week. And it wasn’t the famous rosé.

Creativity is defined as ‘the use of imagination or original ideas to create something’. While our industry (and by that I mean marketing services in all its glory) exudes imagination and originality in the way it creates its products, these products have rarely changed format. Stories, films, pictures, experiences – these are the products we create for our clients.

This year at Cannes, though, the game changed. We are no longer mainly in the business of creating campaigns, films, pictures and stories. Our business has diversified to include tangible products. From the orchestra that created a ‘sound shirt’ so the deaf could experience classical music to the brewery that created edible six-pack rings so fewer fish die or the agency that created a VR bus that took schoolkids on a field trip to Mars, the best campaigns were a result of feats of engineering as much as creativity. We are becoming creative eng­ineers. And the brands we work for are reaping the rewards.

Just as a campaign for a Swedish property website has opened up a £167m house-building revenue stream for the brand, so the brewer that developed edible six-pack rings is considering the £3bn market for its product. Our industry is increasingly combining its long-held creative strategy smarts with the nous of management consultants and the pragmatism of creative technologists to deliver business transformation. It sometimes even felt like the campaigns that accompanied these initiatives were just a ‘nice to have’ – the real results were achieved at a much higher, commercial level.

Underpinning all of this at Cannes was the perennial constant of data and the increasing sophistication of AI. While data is being used for anything from forecasting Stockholm commuter train departures to producing the first Rembrandt in 400 years, the real emphasis was on how the human touch must not be lost in this quest for the next tech innovation. As Google DeepMind beats the world champion of Go (the world’s most complex game), ‘gut’, intuition and the ability to interpret data in a human way are cherished commodities. Like Leonardo Da Vinci, agencies must be both engineer and artist.

All of these ideas, concepts, prototypes and genuine articles can come from anywhere. They are discipline agnostic and ign­ore the traditional boundaries that silo marketing services.

If Cannes 2016 has shown us anything, it is that now is the time for all marketing disciplines to shed their blinkers. Time for agencies to become creative engineers. Time for all of us to become polymaths – with data in our brains, technology in our veins and creativity in our souls – capable of stretching beyond marketing, comms and PR to a more ambitious (and lucrative) future for ourselves and the brands we support.

Adam Mack is chief strategy officer, EMEA, at Weber Shandwick

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