Kelly Bennett on what sort of work might win at Cannes

One of the many high-profile keynote speakers at Cannes this year, Sir John Hegarty, has a personal mantra that goes “if you do interesting things, then interesting things can happen”.

Notably, in 2015 over half of the total number of entries came from PR and non-ad agencies – up from approximately 30 percent in 2013, and 40 percent in 2014. Of the 79 winners (across the Gold, Bronze and Silver categories), 43 were PR-led, or featured PR agencies in integrated teams.

The much sought-after PR Grand Prix went to a Procter & Gamble campaign: ‘Always #LikeAGirl: turning an insight Into a confidence moment.’

That work was the collaborative effort of our affiliate agency, MSLGroup, and Leo Burnett, the agency that originally came up with the idea. It was a simple, emotional campaign that struck a chord with the Cannes PR jury and public alike.

The campaign focused on turning the phrase “like a girl” from an insult, to a term of empowerment. It kicked off with a powerful video, asking people to demonstrate what it meant to run, throw and fight “like a girl” – illustrating the strength of the stereotype, and the damage it can do to the confidence of adolescent girls.

Then, it turned the idea around, asking women to share the clip on social media with the hashtag #LikeAGirl to challenge the meaning of the phrase entirely. And the last time I checked, the campaign had generated more than 60 million views on YouTube alone.

So, what might happen this year, and what sort of work could win?

Throughout the preliminary judging process I recognised work from some of New Zealand’s larger advertising agencies – but generally speaking it’s hard to discern who’s responsible for the submissions.

One thing’s for sure, and it’s that they all, by and large, follow the same sort of process – invariably involving insight, idea, strategy and execution (which make sense, given the judging criteria).

But, when you have to judge more than 350 campaigns, and most of which stick to that formula, anything that doesn’t look too structured and formulaic immediately stands out, because it feels fresh and vibrant.

By the end of a full seven-day week reviewing work (which is about the length of time that’s required for the preliminary process), it gets pretty tedious hearing phrases like “that’s why we created the world’s first…”, or “so we developed an integrated, multi-layered campaign”.

And despite the fact that every major PR organisation around the world renounces advertising value equivalency, many agencies are clearly still serving up an outdated measurement as proof of efficacy. I’ve heard the term “resulting in earned media advertising value totalling over US$5 million” – or something similar, more than I care to mention.

Given how long that debate has been playing out, both domestically, and off-shore – evidence of which can be found here – we should be well beyond that by now.

Another observation I’d make is that some of the social media impressions are so big, (we’re talking in the billions) it’s hard to put them in perspective, and they become more of a hindrance than a help.

Rather than counting and trying to prove the number of people potentially reached, I’d suggest a more important metric, although undoubtedly more challenging, would be to demonstrate how well campaigns reached the people that actually count.

Having said that, where PR starts and ends can sometimes be difficult to define, and therefore measure. For the purposes of Cannes Lions, that definition is the creative use of reputation management through building and maintaining trust and understanding, between individuals, businesses or organisations, and their public/audiences.

Accordingly, a 30-second television commercial, which would traditionally be considered outside the bounds of PR, could (if it served to build or preserve trust and understanding) be eligible for the PR category. So the boundaries are continuing to get more blurred between content creation, idea generation, and amplification.

That’s where it gets tricky, and I’m looking forward to the prospect of discussing and debating this at length when I get there with my 20 fellow jurors from around the world. My sense is that work with social change at its core, real scale, and a singularity of purpose, will triumph.

Regardless of who wins, and with a nod to Mr Hegarty, I’m sure it’ll be interesting. 

  • Kelly Bennett is the founder and managing director of corporate communications consultancy One Plus One.

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