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Rosé Schmosé: The PR Industry at Cannes

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A version of this post initially appeared on SixtySecondView.

My social feed is already jammed with pictures and links to the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity and I am more than a little envious of those there and cursing a travel and budget schedule that keeps me away.

My colleagues, led by Global Creative Director Jackie Cooper, are showing up big again this year, bringing A-lister Will Smith, and educator and all-time-most-viewed “TED talker” Ken Robinson for their take on creativity, and of course we are hopeful of bringing home more metal than we did last year.

North America Creative Director John Clinton is chairing the PR Jury, and many PR company competitors and trade media are there. Once debutants at marketing’s pre-eminent event, the PR industry is now a main stay.

But you only have to remember the number of times PR firms have won even the PR grand prix prize (twice, with Edelman being the first) to realize that there is a way to go yet. But this won’t be my usual rant on PR firms and their lack of true creativity or award-entry smarts.

Instead, a new one driven by some candidate interviewing I have done lately. Why is it that PR people (even experienced consumer PR people) have so very little understanding of brand theory and almost zero understanding of the underlying marketing discipline? Is it because in the past, we were mostly only brought in to amplify someone else’s brand idea or campaign, or manage a crisis or sometimes give a dubious social or environmental claim some real substance?

In Asia Pacific, the addressable fee market of the “creative agencies” is between 10 to 20 times the comparable PR fee market. Some of that will be devoted to work we are not best suited to do (like TV ads), but most of it is digital, social, content, experiential, search, smart paid and media relations, and many of us can do all of that now. But until we can talk sensibly with the CMO about sales and channel and relative merits of loyalty versus the arguments of reach and penetration, we will be stuck in a tactical rut.

I hope the PR industry visitors to Cannes spend as much time in the planning, analytics and marketing sessions as they do watching the creative reels. We still have a long way to go in the marketing world.

Yeah ok… this because I have “rosé-on-the-beach” envy. Bah Humbug!

David Brain is president and CEO of Edelman Asia Pacific, Middle East & Africa.

Image by Jameson Fink.
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