The PR President’s plan – Cannes Lions

This year’s PR Jury President Karen van Bergen talks about her plans for the PR Lion

Karen van Bergen is CEO of Omnicom Public Relations Group. In leading that group, she oversees 11 agencies, including three of the top global PR firms in the world: FleishmanHillard, Ketchum and Porter Novelli. She has been at the helm for a year, before which time she served as CEO of Porter Novelli, where she led a significant turnaround over the course of three years. Like all Cannes Lions Jury Presidents, Karen is a true power player and international leader in the communications industry. Her 30-year career working both agency and client-side has brought her into contact with some of the world’s most well-known brands, including McDonald’s, The Coca-Cola Company and Philips.

Cannes Lions caught up with Karen to have a chat about her hopes and expectations for this year’s PR Lion…

CANNES LIONS: What are your expectations for PR Lions 2017, are there any key industry trends that you are expecting to see?
KAREN VAN BERGEN: “I expect to see some great work! I’m so excited to meet my fellow jurors and start to dig into the entries that have been submitted. I’m always inspired by the work that comes out of Cannes, and I look forward to bringing visibility to those organizations, companies and individuals who had a hand in creating this year’s powerful work.
“When it comes to trends and what I expect to see this year, data is a massive trend, and I hope – and expect – to see data become more central to the campaigns submitted, whether it is helping to drive the strategy, inform how audiences are targeted or contribute to improved measurement.
“I expect that “purpose” will continue to be an important element in the work. However, what we need to see is more strategic, data-driven and organic links between the organization and the purpose or cause.
“I look forward to seeing emerging technologies such as VR, AR and AI take a role in campaigns, and I expect that immersive experiences overall will play a greater role. I can’t wait to see how these tools bring the work to life in new and exciting ways. I also expect to see the post-truth era take a role in a particular segment of the work that is submitted.”
CL: How will you approach judging in Cannes? What will you be looking to see in a strong entry?
KB: “As Jury President, there are several things I want to ensure are thoughtfully considered as we undertake this massive task and embrace the responsibility it entails.
“One of those is strong, meaningful measurement. This has been a theme in past years, of course. But I’d like to make 2017 the year we unflinchingly commit to measurement – however un-sexy – with no compromises. Measurement is not about likes and shares or meaningless circulation numbers. It should be about metrics and tangible business results. This is absolutely critical to a winning campaign – no matter how innovative or “cool” it may be.
Along the same lines, I will be looking to see data play a greater role in the work – both in terms of insights to inform the work, as well as outcomes and results. Campaigns should always be grounded in solid research and data that drive the strategy. I have no interest in PR stunts – we are looking for meaty, substantial work that has a purpose.
“Finally, authenticity is something I will be driving the jury to look at critically. It’s an essential element of a powerful public relations campaign, and without it, even the most well-intentioned work can fall flat. Are the campaign messages authentic to the brand and do they resonate with the brand’s key stakeholders? We should have no tolerance for work that is “created for Cannes” and does not ring true to the brand. Work that is truly authentic brings a power that is otherwise unattainable, and delivers a message that resonates and has real, long-term impact.
“Too often in the past, PR has handed off “creativity” to ad agencies. Not anymore. We’ve always had the chops – we just didn’t have the confidence or the swagger we needed to own it.”

Karen van Bergen


CL: How do you define creativity in PR and how has this changed during your time in the industry?
KB:“Creativity in PR is no different than creativity across any of the Cannes Lions categories. And I should add that creativity, regardless of the discipline, should always be informed by and grounded in insights – creativity for creativity’s sake is nice, but won’t lead to meaningful results.
“Too often in the past, PR has handed off “creativity” to ad agencies. Not anymore. We’ve always had the chops – we just didn’t have the confidence or the swagger we needed to own it. In the past several years, this has changed. Creativity has taken a more prominent role in the industry and is something that clients and brands have come to expect from their PR counselors. We’ve seen increased demand for creative directors and agency creative departments are growing dramatically in size. More and more clients are asking for a dedicated creative director on their business – and agencies are insisting on the need for it, given the benefits it provides for the work. I’m heartened to see this, and expect that this will only continue to grow as we see the results that come from a more integrated, cross-disciplined approach.”