Looking ahead to 2016: Reflections on Cannes Lions Festival
As we hurtle towards the finish line in 2015, let’s take a moment to reflect on the lessons we’ve learned this year that we can apply to deliver work in 2016 that packs even more punch.
Returning from my second trip to the Cannes Lions Festival earlier this year, it would have been easy to get caught up in the ever-looping conversation around how the jury should define PR in this integrated marketing communications world or to weigh-in on the merits of the debate that PR consultancies will never dominate its own category until we learn to take more risks and package our work effectively. I could spend the rest of this post talking about the need for consultancies to invest more in creative talent to get to a point where we’re creating great ideas and not just amplifying them. But I won’t.
Instead, I offer this. Stop talking and start doing. Grow in the areas you believe are lacking and bring your unique skill-set to the table. And stop thinking in silos. There are very few marketing campaigns these days that are the work of a single discipline. And that’s a great thing!
So to get us into the right frame of mind, here are a few reflections with practical application from the nine-day festival:
- Don’t wait for the brief. The next big idea is already in front of us waiting for the right dots to be connected – and not just when we’ve been briefed. The news agenda is our daily bread and keeping our finger on the pulse of what’s trending is second nature. But perhaps we restrict ourselves by only applying the expected filters: identifying story ideas, tracking industry specific themes and managing the reputation of our clients?
Let’s adjust our vantage point to observe and interpret the underlying public hot buttons driving those conversations. It may not be the explicit angle of the story or the overt point being made in a social post, but look beyond that and you’ll find the emotional triggers bubbling just under the surface. And that’s where you’ll find the opportunities screaming to be translated into the powerful insight for your next campaign.
Case in point at Cannes was the power of mothers to take control of a situation. We all remember the video of the mother who confronted her son on the streets during the Baltimore riots that spread from Facebook to CNN, right? That same insight showed up in Cannes in very effective campaigns for everything from putting a stop to violence at the football stadium in Brazil to challenging a firearm policy at a grocery store chain in the US.
- Keep it simple, stupid. Life is complicated enough, but winning ideas shouldn’t be. The best campaigns have always been single minded. And that shouldn’t change in this age of integration. If you can’t explain it in 140 characters, quite simply: it’s not an idea. The opportunity to explode an idea across mediums is not an opportunity for each discipline to take the insight and recreate a version of the idea in their channel. There should still only be one story being told, packaged in the most effective way for each channel.
On that note, it should only be told in the channels that make sense. Don’t try to force a ‘viral video’ or scrape the bottom of the barrel to find a news hook that just isn’t there. If the idea calls for a paid-for media approach, do that. If influencer relations will make the idea stronger, go with that. Here’s a general guide: if you need to over-explain the execution, you’re doing it wrong. Of course, the best way to get this right is to have it all baked in from concept instead of bolted on further down the line.
- Disruption is the new black. Embrace it! We live in an increasingly cluttered world and our attention is being pulled in a million different directions at any given point in time. As a result, attention spans are now sitting at around eight seconds and you have roughly three seconds to stop a thumb from swiping – while competing with the latest video of T-Rex pole dancing and teenage YouTubers with bigger reach than some of the top media titles. Becoming wallpaper is easy. Getting people to sit up and take notice is not. Unless you manage to jar them by doing the awesomely unexpected or showing up where nobody expects to find you.
- Find interesting ways to use (seemingly) traditional mediums. Do we spend as much time and effort exploring different ways to use existing mediums as we do rushing off to find ways to incorporate newly launched channels and platforms into the mix? A couple of Lion winners showed us that just because we’re used to doing YouTube videos or online subscription forms in a particular way, that doesn’t mean it’s the only way it could (or should) be done.
- We don’t always have to take ourselves so seriously. With our innate news nose and roots in reputation management, we sometimes have a tendency to opt for the cautious approach. Particularly when it comes to issues management or potential reputational risk. And although this may often be the right approach, sometimes we need to put the legal team on hold and throw protocol to the wind. Take Scoot Airlines’ very clever tongue-in-cheek reaction to a competitor imitating its marketing approach as the precedent to help sell it to the C-Suite when the opportunity next presents itself. Or look to Exit Germany to show you how to take on a serious issue around the persisting neo-Nazi movement in a very different way.
- Solve real-world problems. The focus on campaigns for good was a continued trend this year. And if you quickly sidestep the scam work backlash, you’ll find a huge source of inspiration. The convergence of technology, innovation and imagination is an incredibly exciting place. There were examples of ideas that worked to tackle everything from medical challenges to domestic violence to road safety. The opportunities are endless. There is a profoundly powerful role for creativity to play in enabling us to leave this world in a better place than when we found it. And that gives me hope for the future.
And with that, I look to 2016 with great enthusiasm. I look forward to the opportunities waiting to be unlocked and the problems waiting to be solved. I look forward to working with like-minded people ready to push beyond what’s expected. A team of dynamic, multi-skilled individuals who come together with an unshakable determination to produce work that truly matters, because that’s when magic happens.
If you remember nothing else from this post, remember this: Do it with passion or not at all. And don’t forget to have fun!