Cannes Lions insights: six trends from the top global PR campaigns

Cannes Lions PR judge and Red Havas managing director Rachael Sansom highlights trends she has observed in the PR entries to this year’s Festival of Creativity.

Cannes Lions insights: six trends from the top global PR campaigns

You can imagine my joy in January 2020 when it was proposed that I may be a Cannes Lions judge. Having trodden the festival many times previously, with my then-“partner in creative crime” Mark Parkins (now CD at Cow), the prospect of a week at the festival with the added kick of actually being a judge was one to tick off on the bucket list. 

And yet, here we are in June 2021 – no sun, sea or rosé in my hand, but nonetheless, I’m still feeling privileged to be on the Cannes Lions PR Awarding Jury, led by our fearless and brilliant madam chair, as she has become affectionately known – Gail Heimann.

I write this before the shortlist of awards is announced and am not able to name any of the campaigns or those involved, but will fill you in on some of the key trends we are seeing across work for the two years that we are judging: 2020 and 2021.

Pandemic – what pandemic?

While, of course, we have seen work directly linked to the pandemic, and obviously created and conceptualised as a result of it, the majority of entries were not a reaction to it. Having said this, I do think that due to the pandemic there was increased sensitivity in much of the work submitted this year, in terms of how it was executed or the way it talked about the issue it was dealing with. This heightened sensibility gave much of the work more empathy – something to be lauded and encouraged.

The never-ending march of technology

Next, a theme we see at Cannes every year; but once again, some of the best work has cleverly used tech innovation. Deepfakes have been used in multiple campaigns; in the best cases, as a genuine creative force for good, and at its worst as an attention-grabbing stunt. We, as an industry, will have to grapple with how best we use this technology, especially in the context of much of the “fakery” the industry already has to deal with in terms of fake news and fake influencers. 

Purpose rules

As you would expect, the number of cases without a purpose-led core could probably be counted on one hand. What was encouraging was the lack of ‘purpose-washing’ in the entries we saw. Brands, in particular, seem to have finally realised that unless you are walking the walk, don’t talk the talk. 

Channel innovation shines

Forget earned, owned and paid; some of the best work used gaming and sports as the medium rather than just the message. Open world gaming platforms, in particular, have provided a backdrop for innovative and exciting work – not just in the brand space, but for NGOs, which have brought some really important issues creatively to the table by using this highly impactful channel without paid spend.

Equality matters

Given world events of the past 18 months, again, it was very encouraging to see issues about equality in all its forms at the centre of campaigns. It was clearly high on the creative agenda and generally executed in a way that really brought equality issues to the fore with maximum impact and minimum trivialisation. 

Metrics and measurement need our attention

My last observation is the perennial 'watch out': while every case in the PR category has professionally communicated the results and impact, the age-old problem of the lack of a universally adopted language for earned work is clear. A consistent statement of metrics, and therefore impact, has always been our industry’s greatest challenge and continues to be so. Solving this measurement problem would only help elevate the performance of our industry’s best work.

Rachael Sansom is the managing director of Red Havas and a Cannes Lions judge

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