He Who Roars Last Roars Best

A week at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has provoked the full range of emotions within me, from utter frustration and disappointment on Tuesday evening when only a handful of PR firms won in the PR category, to a hands in the air shout of triumph on Saturday night when Edelman, along with Venables and Starcom, won the Titanium Award for REI’s #OptOutside. Watch a behind-the-scenes look with REI’s Alex Thompson.

Edelman curated a program of activity across the week for our clients and prospects. Jackie Cooper hosted superstar Will Smith on the Lumiere stage, to discuss purpose in marketing and the need for connection to consumers based on tangible actions. I was on a panel with Unilever marketing executive Aline Santos and Sir Ken Robinson, a global expert in education, to release our second Earned Brand Report. We held a dinner on the impact of populism on brands, featuring our vice chairman of public affairs, Steve Schmidt, who ran the McCain campaign in 2008. Finally, we partnered with the Wall Street Journal to host a breakfast on Brexit on the Friday morning after the vote, which was interrupted by the resignation of UK Prime Minister Cameron. I attended public sessions, engaged with dozens of marketers and media company executives, and went to a few parties (highlight was definitely Gwen Stefani performing live in a castle outside of Cannes at the Viacom event).

Here are some observations on the past seven days:

  1. Will Smith — “That smoke and mirrors in marketing is over. It’s really over. People are going to know really quickly, and they’re going to know globally, whether your product is keeping its promises,” he said. “The power has gone away from the marketers. I consider myself a marketer. My career has been strictly about being able to sell my products globally. But the power has gone away. The power is now in the hands of the audience, in the hands of the fans. The only choice I have is to be in tune with their needs, not try to trick them into going to see Wild Wild West.”
  2. Wendy Clark of DDB Advertising — “We are starting a concept called DDB Flex. We have to think horizontally. We will offer the best talent across our 14 North American offices… Clients need agencies to work together well. I don’t care whether they are Omnicom agencies or not… We are now embedding media company partners such as YouTube and Facebook in our creative process. We do the same with marketing partners such as the NFL and Spotify… how we recruit people is to show that we are evolving our industry.”
  3. Keith Weed, Unilever CMO and Aline Santos of Unilever on Stereotyping of Women in Advertising — “The more progressive ads have more impact and engagement. We can no longer have cliché advertising with old style domestic roles… Millennials do not want to be defined by gender… 40 percent of women do not recognize themselves in present advertising… only 3 percent of present ads portray clever women…. the new Mattel campaign for Barbie, “You Can Be Anything” where girls imaging being a professor or top executive is the future of the genre… but you also have to change the product so that the new Barbie’s have broader shapes and different hair colors and skin tones.” I also saw a short film on women in ad agencies that you can find #women not objects from a firm called Badger that is deadly effective on gender issues.
  4. Marc Mathieu, Samsung CMO on Virtual Reality — “We are only at the beginning. This is a major opportunity for marketers given that there is ad blocking and cord cutting… it will re-invent the in-store experience to depict supply chain or usage experience.” The most stomach churning part of the week was the Samsung exhibit on VR outside of the Festival hall which was a roller coaster experience.
  5. Mark Thompson, NY Times CEO — “We are going to offer consumers a choice. You can have our high quality news without advertising but it will cost you more. Or you can opt for the present mix of news with some advertising at a lower price.” I did learn this week that one major film studio has reduced its newspaper advertising to 5 percent of former levels, in favor of search, YouTube and social, while maintaining heavy spending on national TV.
  6. John Clinton, Edelman North America creative leader and chairman of the Cannes Lions PR jury — “We had no idea of the kind of agency presenting the work in the PR category. It turns out that two thirds of the entries are from ad agencies. There were several deeply effective campaigns including one for accepting refugees in Germany, which showed pictures of the new citizens with keys in their hands because they are determined to go back home one day. I also loved the “Man Boobs” campaign for breast cancer showing a man palpating his breasts because it is not acceptable to have bare female breasts on TV. The best campaigns in PR had a visual symbol, such as the bullet pen that was used to sign the first peace treaty in 50 years in Colombia. I also loved the “Edible Six Pack Rings” campaign because it solved a serious pollution issue.”
  7. Steve Schmidt, Edelman vice chairman public affairs, on Brexit and Populism — “There will be a natural reaction from elites to this vote that attempts to delegitimize the outcome by saying that voters are low information or ignorant or crazy. However there are legitimate reasons why voters are feeling angry and disenfranchised. It is easier to call them crazy than to look in the mirror. This is a rebellion against supranational organizations and the idea that globalization that seeks to erase national identity is a good thing. This vote has come about because of the chasm between elites and average opinion. Elites seem incapable of understanding the degree to which they have lost credibility on the issue of performance.”

The PR industry has to keep raising its game if we are to keep our share of spend, much less take increased share of the marketing budget. We should not whine about the outcome of the judging in the PR category; we should accept the jury verdict and consider it a large piece of cactus under our respective rear ends. We have to make sure that our CCO clients are moving along with us in the revolution as we seek to attract budget from the CMO. We must make data and insight core to our process, not to measure media output but to demonstrate tangible business results. We should learn from the ad agencies on the supply chain of creative, to have people senior enough and skilled in presenting breakthrough creative that takes a risk. We must continue to enter more categories, from Promotion to Digital; why limit ourselves when our new competitors are entering our territory. We need many more entries in crisis management and corporate reputation, which are the center of the plate for PR.

#OptOutside for REI, a retail chain carrying gear, apparel and footwear for a wide range of outdoor & fitness activities, proves that this kind of big idea thinking can come from PR heritage. The idea to shut down came from within the business, and #OptOutside as an engagement strategy was the brainchild of REI Chief Creative Officer, Ben Steele, and Vice President of Communications and Public Affairs Alex Thompson, an Edelman alumnus. It was a tangible action; the closure of all REI stores on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, in order to have customers and employees to have the day for hiking or canoeing or other activities. It stimulated 1.4 million pledges by consumers to do just that, to live the ethos of the brand. Edelman is so proud to have been part of this, enabling a dynamic social community which captured the best of customer experiences outdoors, announcing the effort through a collaborative journalism initiative on Medium, then ensuring strong earned media, then ensuring strong earned media that resulted in 33 days of sustained coverage and landing the story in virtually every major outlet.

We are also very proud to have won an Entertainment Lion with our client Activision for “Use of Brand/Product Integration into an Existing Brand Experience”. Our “Hack in Black” program was an incredibly innovative idea that was one of the first to leverage Snapchat and YouTube influencers to drive over a billion impressions. It was shortlisted in six categories and won a Bronze Lion. Our Samsung Mobile team also won two Bronze Lions in the Cyber category – which are in addition to a number of winning campaigns entered by partner agencies.

From our seven #TicketToCannes winners, who gained their passage with a winning idea, to our award winning creatives, planners and executives, we leave Cannes inspired by the work, determined to share our learnings and raise our game with our clients – who deserve the cutting edge of creative strategy to support and grow their businesses.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO.