If we Cannes then we should

The PR industry could lead the Cannes Lions agenda. And it has nothing to do with creativity.

There are a few things that irritate me

  1. Cold Maccy Ds. There’s no excuse for it.
  2. Baseless and laughable virtue signalling
  3. Paying €22 for a cold Maccy Ds at a virtue signalling festival

My complaint with McDonald’s is a matter for my legal team and not for this blog.

However, the virtue signalling or ‘woke washing’ (to steal a phrase from Alan Jope) I have to address.

Firstly, let’s talk about the PR industry’s presence at Cannes. PR finally managed to grab a gong or two.
And, yes, this time, the PR agency was at the forefront of the recognition. Golin and co deserve praise.

Usually, PR tends to follow an ad agency on stage, much like a page boy that neither the bride nor the groom wanted,
but the family insisted on having. It’s a step in the right direction that PR was recognised for the strategy and
creative as well as the mouthpiece. 

And yet, the industry’s presence was still very much on the periphery. 

The networked agencies had routes in and money to burn, but the conversation was bland and I fear the impact minimal. Little independent PR shops like mine find it almost impossible to have a voice.  Perhaps I should have listened to warnings from some Cannes veterans and stayed away. But my optimism (and ego) got the better of me.

You have to be in it to win it, right?

Well, apparently not. 

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Hot air

One message from Cannes was loud and clear. You can talk a great game and get away with doing sod all about it.

One of my favourite brain farts: Tobacco giant, Phillip Morris occupying a keynote spot on the ‘Good’ track. Lovely.

We can dismiss these as amusing hiccups in an agenda that was crammed full of weird cameos and collaborations.

But it was the more sinister, off stage, conversations that were genuinely alarming.
We’re riding the wave of purpose-driven creative without any real purpose to change business as usual. 

There was no one agonising over how they are switching from a shareholder model to a triple bottom line business.
Despite sharing beautiful case studies about eco-friendly shoes, creatives and business leaders struggled to identify their own ecological footprint. 

No real measures or checks and balances were in place to understand what the impact this purpose-driven creativity was having, beyond, of course, sales and views and likes.

I wasn’t expecting real business change overnight. But I did expect the individuals to give a shit.
I had thought that the discussion would go more in-depth than ‘we saw that young people like trees so we did something about the environment.’

The little man can lead the way

This is where I think the PR industry opportunity to dominate Cannes lies, and I think it’s up to the independents to lead the way. 

It’s clear it wasn’t just me that felt that Cannes was not taking seriously the sentiment behind the awards they were dishing out. 

So imagine if the PR industry took the bull by the horns and used Cannes as a platform to present back to the world how it was making a positive impact on people, planet and profit?

Imagine, if we could showcase three clear metrics:

  1. The number of PR consultancies who have switched to a triple bottom line business model
  2. A third party verified report on the impact PR consultancies are having on planet and people – alongside an indication as to its value to brands and as an industry
  3. A roadmap for continued improvement with key milestones for the next Cannes Lions

Wouldn’t it be wonderful that as PR increased its footprint on the awards stage, it was able to back up its campaigns with some real change as an industry?

Sure, the larger consultancies will need a runway for this, but the smaller more nimble organisations can pave the way. I am convinced that a collective of brave pioneers in the PR space could set the tone for the industry and, of course, we’d all benefit from the heavyweights stepping and showcasing genuine change.

The three criteria I am outlining might not necessarily be the right ones, but they’re a start and they provide some credibility to an industry that talks a great purpose game but is seemingly unwilling to change.

I would work with any PR agency, competitor or not, on developing this idea further and, wouldn’t it be nice that for a change, we had the ad agencies knock on our door to join the party?

We can do this. And we should.

Final thought

Don’t eat at a McDonald’s in Cannes. 

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