Cracking The Cannes Code

June 17, 2014


The French have a famous expression – “plus ça change plus c’est la même chose” – the more things change, the more they stay the same (no, it was not Bon Jovi who said it first). This year’s winning pattern at the Cannes PR Lions certainly follows a formula first established by FleishmanHillard when partnering with TBWA to land the first ever PR Grand Prix on the French Riviera five years ago.

Then, and now, the secret sauce is the collaboration between agencies rather than PR firms trying to go it alone. Creativity has much deeper roots in advertising and other ancillary disciplines, and this was borne out of the startling fact that of the 181 entries shortlisted this year, a mere 20 went to PR firms on a solo run.

What deserves to win at Cannes flames as much passion as penalty decisions at the World Cup. Everyone has their entrenched opinion. Is Cannes the ultimate PR challenge? Not by a long shot. But when it comes to a sheer competitive adrenalin rush in our industry – Cannes is peerless.

Awards are presented at the Grand Palais, which is packed to the rafters with no less than 3,000 nail-biting partisans – all part of a Festival that is now attracting no less than 14,000 marketing professionals from 100 countries.

Each year about 4,000 Cannes participants make their debut. This year for the first time, Cannes Lions introduced a clever “How to Cannes” programme, which was sponsored by FleishmanHillard and was designed to make debutants feel right at home on the Croisette from the get-go. This year, too, another innovation was a specially dedicated Cannes Lions Health programme, which I also attended and which is set to grow and grow in the years ahead. Creativity and healthcare communications are not mutually exclusive.

While the main programme continues for the rest of the week and The Mad Men (and Women) now take centre stage, the PR element winds down after last night’s awards gala.

So what makes Cannes Lions so special? Here’s my take:

  • Curiosity: There is so much going on. The array of seminars and fresh thinking is truly inspirational.
  • Cool: Cannes is authentic. Genius surrounds you. And there is nothing pretentious about it. Everyone has a voracious appetite for learning. Everyone knows success can be fleeting, and there is a relentless desire for knowledge and ways to stay on top.
  • Brilliantly Organized: Cannes CEO Phil Thomas and his talented team set the tone. No detail is spared at Cannes. As an event, it is without comparison anywhere in the world of marketing. Cannes Lions leads by example.
  • Impartial Awards: Ok, so I don’t always like the final jury decisions, but the foundation for Cannes is its utter integrity. The adjudication system is truly independent.
  • Global: Nowhere is it more challenging for Anglo-Saxons to come out on top. Ok, so USA topped the shortlist, but it is surely Brazilian agencies that are doing a PR samba today. South America is showing so much creativity and flair while Poland and Russia were others to come to the fore this year.

I recommend you take time out to look at all the winners online. As for my own favourite – it is awesome and took a bronze. Check out HSBC’s brave campaign that set out to challenge negative perceptions of the banking industry. HSBC engaged employees to discuss their private lives as a part of TV series HSBC Now. From drastic weight loss to mental illness, they held little back – and results weren’t just measured in millions of YouTube views, but in a significant surge of new applicants asking to work for the bank.

Photo: Cannes International Festival of Creativity

Photo: Cannes International Festival of Creativity