Why Cannes Is More Relevant Than Ever by Charlie Coney

Guest blog post by Charlie Coney, Head of Creative, EMEA, Golin

As the entire marketing world descends on Cannes for its annual bout of back-slapping and mutual admiration, it’s interesting to think about how the PR industry – as the relative newcomer to the party – has fared over the past few years.

After the debacle of 2012, when PR agencies (Prime excluded) failed to pick up any Lions, 2013 saw the discipline fighting back, with PR agencies picking up 17 Lions.  This was down to a number of reasons I think, including:

  • Client-led demand to produce work that was creatively brave, innovative and purpose-driven
  • The increased number of PR agencies with dedicated creative teams – or a specific focus on creativity
  • The industry-wide love-in with the word “storytelling”

Eavesdropping conversations on the terrace of the Carlton Hotel is always interesting – with many folks insisting the industry has moved away from simply shouting messages at people to a place where we tell them stories.

The issue is the majority of these stories are still “one-way” and, when we’re shifting from a broadcast world to one where we seek one-to-one dialogue, we must challenge ourselves to shift our thinking further. Storytelling as it currently stands is, more often than not, simply old-school advertising dressed up in fancier clothing.

Now a world where marketers and brands control both the message and the channel is effective at building brand equity – it’s good when we just want to ‘say stuff’ to people.

But, with the rise of new media formats and increased interactivity between brands and fans, we need to encourage our clients, to move away from just saying something to actually doing something.

And, as the discipline which has always striven to craft and create ‘stories’, PR is perhaps in a better place than our ATL-focused competitors to spark genuine conversations and dialogue with the people we’re trying to reach.

That’s when you start to become more relevant, to build social currency, running programmes that people care about, engage with, and want to share with their friends.  These are the campaigns which have been successful over the past few years – work embedded with social purpose and cultural relevance.

I hope this trend continues, with this year’s winners consisting of creative, brilliant campaigns which are specifically relevant to the audience they’re targeted at.

The subject of relevance is one that’s close to our hearts – and is also the subject of the festival’s opening seminar, the first time a PR agency has been invited to take this prestigious slot.

You see, with millions of messages and images competing for our attention, we have become experts at screening out what is irrelevant to us. Why do some ideas penetrate? Why do some brands and celebrities endure the fickleness of time, while others fade into obscurity?  Why do some campaigns have longevity and resonance, while others become proverbial chip paper?

In our opening seminar, we will conduct a pioneering, live experiment on stage with legendary icon, David Hasselhoff. With our command of the science of relevance and the power of social media, Cannes attendees will be invited to create and share Hoff-based content around the world.

Can we build his brand in real time – can we tap into something culturally relevant, make him more relevant, to more people – can we create a story which resonates and endures?

And, while that’s the challenge facing Golin on Sunday at 10am, it’s also the challenge facing most other people at Cannes – to create relevant campaigns that inform, educate and entertain – work that matters.

Whether you’re presenting, judging, nervously waiting to hear from the panel or simply hoping to be inspire by what you see, let’s hope that PR continues its upward trend, that we continue to do things that make a difference, rather than just talking about making a difference.



Charlie Coney is the Head of Creative, EMEA, at Golin