Searching for Wisdom in the Creative Cacophony at Cannes by Renee Wilson

Guest blog post by Renee Wilson, Chief Client Officer, MSLGROUP & President of the PR Lions Jury 2014

I’ve been to Cannes a number of times as a juror and as a delegate, and I’ve always approached it as an inspiring creative journey and a momentous learning experience.  This time each year, I’m reminded why I chose to be a professional communicator.  I’m excited by the energy of Cannes and its awesome magnetism that attracts some of the most creative minds in the world to this town in the south of France.

In this whirlwind of Cannes, PR is just one part of a much larger whole.  And, the festival here gives us the best opportunity all year to perform a reality check on where we fit in the creative communications landscape and assess the overall health of our creative output.

This year, as President of the PR jury, I have the opportunity to gain clearer vision into this situation.  As the judging continues, my learning about this continues to grow.  At this time, what I can say is this:


  1.       There is tremendous creative work being done in the PR category that matches the level of creativity in any other section of the communications industry.
  2.       The best creative work doesn’t just come from America, or Europe or Asia.  It comes from everywhere–every culture and every region.  No one group or one geo has a stronger hold on creativity than any other.  Perhaps that’s because the best creative work cuts to the heart of the human condition and has a universal appeal.
  3.       More agencies, companies, brands and organizations than ever before want recognition for their creativity.  The PR category this year saw more than 1600 entries from around the world.  Numbers continue to go up each year.  The tremendous interest in the festival and the Lions and the efforts that many put behind winning continues to push the level of creative thinking higher and higher.  I think we may be in an age that we are seeing our evolution as creative beings happen before our eyes.  And, in this case, Cannes is the Galapagos of this creative evolution.

Agency sources for the entries are blind to the jurors, of course.  So, we won’t know until after we select the winners where that winning work comes from.  But it is fair to speculate about the key question – just where does this put PR agencies in this space?

The reality is that with the convergence of the industry across channels of communication, everyone is going at PR just like PR agencies are playing in and building out their advertising and digital capabilities.  Let’s not be offended by that.  But I think you get a different flavor of the capability when you buy it from a different kind of provider.  So, the issue is really about style and choice.

In the past, we’ve seen highly creative PR work from ad agencies at this festival.  This work is often supportive, or even central to an ad campaign.  Often, we see fantastic creative work built around tactics.  Sometimes the language used in describing the work – i.e., “we got some free PR” provides both a clue to a ‘non-pr agency’ source and an even bigger insight into the mindset of the creator.

In my opinion, PR agencies, while in a worthwhile quest to upgrade their creative product, still provide better strategic alignment of efforts to long-term company and brand strategies that sit above the campaign itself. And, PR from a PR specialist agency no doubt has very carefully thought-through business metrics built into campaign goals that are evaluated at the end of the effort. There is tremendous value in that.

Oh, it is so easy to be seduced by the creative sirens of Cannes.  Even Achilles wouldn’t be able to resist.  While our effort to learn from the creative zeit masters of the world and improve our creative product is admirable, it should be with a full embrace of who we are: trusted advisors.  The opportunity is to become more creative trusted advisors, of course.  And, in fact, I think we can celebrate a dramatic improvement in creative product from PR agencies over the course of the last few years.  But as we engage with the creative energy we find here at Cannes, we shouldn’t be tempted to disrespect our PR agency DNA.  There are businesses and brands who need this level of strategic thinking and advice just as they need strong creative ideas.  That’s what choice is about.  #PRagencyproud!



Renee Wilson is the Chief Client Officer of MSLGROUP.  She is responsible for the agency’s client service model, global client account planning, migration, quality assurance, tool and process development and relationship management.  She is a member of the global management board of MSLGROUP. 

Renee is the executive sponsor for P&G, responsible for the firm’s work across P&G’s diverse portfolio.  

She most recently was President, North America and oversaw its 14 operations throughout the continent.  Renee also previously served as the Managing Director of MSL New York where she oversaw the day-to-day operations of the firm’s flagship office.

Renee is also 2014 PR jury president for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in June.  A proponent of giving back to the community, Renee sits on the Advisory Board for the Young Women’s Leadership Schools of NYC.