Digital & Social Media

Don’t Be Satisfied Using Just Half of Your Brain

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The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity celebrates one fundamental truth about the communications business: At its heart, our industry is and must be about the creativity necessary to drive messages and strategies—whether you are coming at it from the public relations side or the marketing side. But what does it mean to be creative in communications?

As the expansion of online life and social media have reshaped the way we converse, the way we learn and the way we express ourselves, so too have those forces redefined creativity in communications. It’s not just about a spark of genius, but a spark so aware of its target that its heat can be sustained and shared over time and territory. It’s thinking outside of a box, the contents of which you fully and intimately understand.

While the digital existence has swept away the walls dividing advertising and PR, it also has forced both disciplines to think with both sides of their brains. It has meant the mixing of sophisticated data-driven analytics with the free spirit of intuition and the unconventional. The creation that results can be at once both the hottest PR campaign and the hottest marketing campaign. As McCann creative director John Mescall noted after sweeping the Cannes categories in 2013 with his irreverent, goofy blobs singing about the dangers of playing around railroad tracks, the formula for the success of “Dumb Ways to Die” didn’t exactly fit models in either PR or advertising, rather it drew from both. The totally content- and creativity-driven campaign refused to conform.

For PR, which has always relied on its linear, analytical left brain to develop campaigns, this whole brain approach to communications presents a challenge. FleishmanHillard’s response has been to transform the firm into a complete communications agency. We have brought in more classically schooled experts from marketing’s creative disciplines and fostered an atmosphere of creativity by encouraging our own PR-trained professionals to throw out the rulebooks when it comes to thinking about campaigns. We also have provided data-driven analytics to get to the insights needed to unleash bold decisions.

While it’s hard to simply tutor folks in right-brain functions like imagination, visualization or being intuitive, we all can live by Mescall’s insight: Don’t be limited by the conventions of your discipline. Do your own crowdsourcing and borrow inspiration and solutions from a variety. At the end of the day, every account executive must be willing to experiment and capable of producing campaigns that break the molds. PR is on a mission, and at FleishmanHillard we intend to be its advance guard.

In this spirit of exploration, FleishmanHillard has felt it essential to participate in the Cannes festival since 2009, when the Cannes Lions first opened its doors and competition to PR agencies. This June our agency is going beyond our usual level of contribution, which for the past five years has involved entering campaigns for award consideration and offering up our practitioners to serve on Cannes juries, including my own stint as PR jury president. In 2014 we are a sponsor, underwriting an initiative called “How to Cannes” that helps attendees get the most out of the festival. Our sponsorship also is supporting the launch of Cannes’ latest program addition, the Health Lions. We see it as part of our commitment to creativity and as an investment in the leading global competition that truly acknowledges the convergence of advertising and PR and honors the creative spark that we both seek to ignite.

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About the author

Dave Senay

Dave Senay has held a variety of key roles during his nearly 30 years with FleishmanHillard. He is an avowed globalist, having spent much of his tenure on the road, collaborating with colleagues around the world. Senay joined the firm in 1984 as an account executive, rising to become FleishmanHillard’s third CEO since its founding in 1946, a position he held until 2015. Along the way, he served as general manager of the St. Louis headquarters office and as regional president for the U.S. Midwest, for Canada, and for EMEA. A former PR jury president at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and chairman of the Council of Public Relations Firms, Senay is a relevant leader who continues to shape the industry in which he has spent his entire career. He currently serves as a special counsel to the firm.

A FleishmanHillard employee.