PR at Cannes

Karen Strauss

Partner, Chief Strategy and Creativity Officer, 50+ Lead

Ask people to pronounce Cannes and you get answers ranging from "can" as in soda can, "con" as in con artist, and "Cannes" as in the properly accented way that French natives pronounce it. Such is the controversy that dogs the Cannes International Festival of Creativity, especially among PR professionals who are frustrated that none of the prizes handed out in the PR Lions category went to a PR company or team. Some whisper that it reflects poorly on the competition itself; others worry it puts PR firms in a bad light. The Ketchum Cannes delegation takes a more sanguine view: The competition is new for us, and we'll get better at entering and winning.

The bigger story of Cannes is not that PR has to become more like advertising or creative agencies; it is that those agencies are becoming more like us. The winners in categories from Cyber and Promo to Direct and Design looked a lot like what we've been doing exceptionally well for decades. The winning campaigns often had purpose  they appealed to the issues, causes, and values of their audiences. Most of them focused on forging stronger relationships with consumers. And the very best enabled true two-way dialogue between brands and individuals, with the overwhelming majority earning attention rather than paying for it  using humor, shock, and beauty to captivate.

Some in our business may still see this as a challenge or something threatening  ad agencies infringing on PR territory. We see it as a good thing  a coming together of the wider communications industry to play a more sustainable and higher-level role in business and society. Tackling gender inequality in the Middle East; facilitating blood donations between Israelis and Palestinians; fighting hunger, economic malaise, and unemployment  these were the ambitions of the work that impressed the Cannes juries.

We see the blurring of marketing lines as an opportunity for purpose-driven collaboration. Cannes keynote speaker Bill Clinton implored us to use our talents for good. Imagine what we can do together when we combine the "wow" and "why" of effective communications to help brands thrive and create real value for their owners and for society more widely.

This issue of Perspectives is dedicated to what we learned in Cannes. Said "can," "con," or "Cannes," it was a week well spent.

Karen Strauss is Partner and Chief Innovation Officer of Ketchum.