3 takeaways from Cannes Lions any PR or marketing pro can apply

If you think the festival that celebrated the best in creative advertising and marketing can’t carry insights for your position, think again.

Cannes Lions lessons for PR pros

Winners and presentations from Cannes Lions continue to make headlines as brand managers continue to sift through lessons learned.

Here are three insights from the festival that any communicator can implement, regardless of organization’s size, budget or industry:

1. Diversity and inclusion efforts aren’t engagement or sales tricks.

There’s no shortage of diversity lessons from missteps: Following backlash, Dolce & Gabbana, Prada and other fashion designers were forced to pull ads and merchandise that many called racist. Ancestry apologized following an ad that social media users said romanticized slavery.

On the opposite spectrum, Nike stoked debate and garnered applause for its campaign featuring Colin Kaepernick.

Diversity and inclusion are becoming crucial considerations for PR and marketing success, but unless you want to become an organization given the side-eye from consumers (such as those taking part in Pride Month), don’t include them in your communications strategies only as ways to reach your sales and engagement goals.

Adweek reported:

Customers and potential customers will see right through phony messaging. At Cannes, Unilever CEO Alan Jope warned against “woke-washing,” which is when brands run purpose-driven campaigns but don’t take real action. “It threatens to further destroy trust in our industry when it’s already in short supply,” Jope said.

That’s not to say diversity and inclusion successes—along with other social good campaigns—won’t boost your bottom line. You’ll probably have to present the business case to gain executive buy-in, too.

AdNews reported:

“The social good bandwagon is something that not only agencies and judges are now jumping on, brands are clearly demanding it too,” [said The Brand Agency’s executive creative director in Perth, Marcus Tesoriero.]

“And it’s for totally selfish reasons. Brands that aren’t standing for something bigger are getting left behind – especially by the up and coming generations of younger people who refuse to associate with them.

“Great news I say. Whatever the reason, brands now have an unavoidable business motive for social good. And that only makes the hard work we put into creative projects more satisfying.”

2. Put your community first.

Wendy’s had been a favorite among consumers and a great example to PR and marketing pros of how to win on social media. A large reason for its success is that the fast-food company and its agency regularly listens and engages with members of its community.

Wendy’s Cannes Lion win showcased its understanding and focus on targeted consumers:

You don’t have to be as snarky as Wendy’s or understand Fortnite to put your audience first. Instead, the focus in your PR and marketing messages should be the stakeholders you want to reach. Consider their needs before your pitch, including how they want content served and what they care about the most.

For example, several organizations won awards for focusing on marginalized members of their communities, specifically those with disabilities.

AdAge reported:

… [A]ccessibility was a big theme among the winners. Google took the Design Grand Prix for an open-source platform that made creative tools for people with a wide range of disabilities, and the Grand Prix in Health went to Ikea’s “ThisAbles” campaign from McCann Tel Aviv—accessibility add-ons customers can 3D-print for themselves. Meanwhile, Xbox’s accessible gaming controller took the top prize in Brand Experience and Activation.

Don’t forget that your community also includes your employees. Taking their behaviors and desires into consideration can also help you better drive diversity within your workforce, which can enable you to better understand and reach external members of your community.

Forbes reported the following quotation from the festival:

Coined by Nina Bibby, CMO of O2, from a Ted Talk: “’Diversity is being invited to the party, and inclusivity is being asked to dance.’ For me that is so important, because diversity means we’ll get the balance right, and that’s important…. But then it’s how do we ensure that women and BAME (a U.K. term used to refer to black, Asian and minority ethnic people) colleagues feel empowered to have equal say and feel confident, and I think that’s the next step.”

3. Invite debate, not controversy.

The Cannes Lions made headlines for the backlash it received after inviting Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, to speak about ethics and data.

Mediatel Newsline reported:

Nix was due to appear on a five-person panel discussing, among other things, morality and data. His fellow panellists included Professor Steven Pinker, Unilever’s Susan Ren and an ex-Amazon exec now with Wunderman.

Tom Denford of ID Comms offered one of the milder criticisms. “I find it appalling that the organisers were giving him [Nix] a stage and a spotlight intended to for celebrating the best of the industry, and that as a result, the assembled audience would be unintentionally applauding him on to that stage for the outside world to see.” You can read Denford’s comments in full at the bottom of this piece.

Nix eventually pulled out, but not after inciting anger and racking up negative sentiment for the festival.

Hollywood Reporter wrote:

… Nix dropped out of his speaker slot following an onslaught of Twitter outrage over his invitation. Filmmakers Karim Amer and Jehane Noujaim scheduled a special screening of their Netflix film The Great Hack, about the role Cambridge Analytica played in the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the allegations that the company acquired the Facebook data of millions of users without their consent.  “I think it’s silly to give him a podium at a conference like this,” said one upset attendee who works in data analysis. The festival, which had supported the invitation to increase debate, accepted his withdrawal.

If you think a move or message might be too edgy or controversial for your organization, that’s a good indication that you should reconsider.

This lesson can be applied to a discussion to which you want to include a balanced viewpoint or a political or social stand you want to make.

Don’t shy away from debate or making your standards and priorities known. However, don’t invite unnecessary controversy by muddling your mission or not considering your audience when delivering it.

What are you taking from this year’s Cannes Lions Festival?

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