What Young Lions Can Teach Us Old Cats

Guest blog post by David Gallagher, ICCO President & CEO EMEA, Ketchum

Earlier this year, ICCO helped launch a new feature of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, the Young PR Lions – a global competition of 28-and-under talent drawn from the world’s leading agencies to solve a pressing communications problem, in real time.

This was a calculated risk, but with huge upside. Showcasing the power of PR with our best and brightest stars on a global stage is a statement of confidence about how far PR has come, and how promising the future is for those who do it right – with the passion and expertise fostered by ICCO and its members associations around the world.

Still, someone had to light the way, so hats off to the ICCO Board for supporting the idea and to our agency supporters, H+K Strategies, GolinHarris, Ogilvy PRand my own team at Ketchum for seeing the opportunity and walking the talk of commitment with financial support.

I have now how had the opportunity to interact with many of these young lions in three countries (as a juror in the UK completion, as a coach for the German team, and as a colleague of the Austrian team, drawn from our agency in Vienna), and I can safely say that PR is a great investment with pros like this rising through the ranks.

At the final round of competition at Cannes, a panel of industry veterans will decide who takes home a trophy, but in the meantime I have been struck by several lessons the young lions can teach old PR cats like you and me:

  • To rise, you have to shine – and vice versa.  The first thing that has struck me about these professionals? Their willingness to rise up to a challenge, risk disappointment, and show what they can do.  To stand out, you have step up.  These guys are fearless.
  • We are defined by what we bring.  Today. Experience is priceless, but often we use it as an excuse (‘tried it – won’t work’) to avoid new ideas or big thinking, rather than as a guide to keep innovation on track. In these competitions, with just a few hours to propose solutions, the teams are unfettered by decades of experience; they just let the biggest ideas break through. In the real world of course, experience can be a great filter, but it should never drown out creativity.
  • Social is the new traditional media.  Strange how often I hear experienced PR advisors still talking about social versus traditional media. Not one young lion draws such an artificial distinction; they are much more likely to discuss content or channels in term of earned, owned, shared or paid.
  • Problems are solved with changes in attitude or behaviour. Not with ‘coverage.’ One of my happiest discoveries: how many of their programs / campaigns focused on what would change minds in order to deliver objectives, rather than what would generate ‘media interest.’

Don’t get me wrong.  We old cats still have a few tricks to teach. For example, ‘creating buzz’ is not really a meaningful goal.  What’s cool or trending is not always an insight in itself. And budgets are quite important in the real world.

But if these young lions are at all representative of the wider agencies we’re leading, we have a lot to look forward to.


As a Senior Partner and CEO of Ketchum’s European operations and chairman of the UK agency, David Gallagher brings more than 20 years of public relations experience, both as a client and as a senior agency adviser, to some of the world’s leading brands and companies.

David Gallagher oversees Ketchum’s nine European agencies and their specialist services, which include consumer public relations, healthcare communications, corporate affairs and social responsibility, public affairs, change management, and clinical trial recruitment.

He is president of the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO), the global umbrella network of 30 national PR agency trade associations, and a fellow and past chairman of the UK Public Relations Consultants Association.  He chairs the World Economic Forum’s global agenda council on the future of media, and was the 2014 PR jury president for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.