Blurred lines

22nd June 2016

This is the second in our series of daily posts from the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Blurred lines.

Not the after-effects of Provençal rosé…

It’s what I’m thinking about after seeing the winning work, and visiting the workshops and seminars at Cannes.

Blurred lines are the future of the communications industry.

Just look at the winners so far this year. They are all ideas that effortlessly straddle disciplines.

That’s why you’ll see the same ideas winning over and over again in multiple types of Lion too: PR, Direct, Promo, Branded Content. Different category, same work.

This breaking down of walls between the disciplines isn’t brand new. But this year, the lines are blurrier than I’ve ever seen them.

And this serves as a useful way to judge our work.

If you can look at an idea and say “that’s PR,” or “that’s Direct,” or “that’s content” then it’s probably not a big idea. It’s not an idea that has the potency to break free of its channel, ramping up the reach for our clients. And it’s not a Cannes Lion-winning idea.

Certainly what constitutes a great PR idea today can be anything that earns media coverage, be that a documentary series, a can of spray paint, a stage play, or a house designed by big data. And all those things are all far more likely to generate coverage and spread through social media exactly because they don’t look like PR at all. Just as great ads often don’t look like advertising.

To create original, explosive work now, PR has to fuse its expertise and heritage in earned media with other disciplines, specialisms and new ways of thinking. Blurring the lines wherever and whenever we can.

But isn’t it all going to get confusing? Which agency does what?

I went to a panel discussion this week about this very topic. Leading CMOs are becoming less bothered about which agency comes up with the idea. They’re busy breaking down guardrails between the disciplines to let the greatest idea win.

This is a fantastic development for everyone in PR. It means we’ll increasingly have every right to create the things that may have previously been within the remit of other agencies. Ideas we know will earn attention.

But it’s not just about blurring lines between agencies.

I went to another discussion about the age old tensions between planners and creatives. They had held a focus group exploring how the different specialists perceive each other. The results read like an extract from “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”. Clearly two very different types of brain, trying to collaborate.

They concluded with something our Head of Strategy Adam Mack and I have been trying to do with our teams since we first met: not thinking in such a traditional, linear, baton-passing way, but involving each other during the strategy phase and during the creative phase. Less of a handover, more of a crossover.

Again, while each other’s specialisms should be respected, it’s about blurring the lines, removing barriers that impede brilliant work. While we’re all incredibly busy, we need to make time to talk more, and understand each other’s skills better. Account leads need to be the conductors of an orchestra, helping everyone play harmoniously together. This is the approach that will result in breakthrough work.

I’ve done Cannes a fair few times now and I love it every time. It’s an injection of energy. A chance to step out of the busy day to day and think about the bigger picture, and the things that will make a difference to a client’s business and our reputation.

But you needn’t be a delegate to get some of the benefit. I urge everyone to check out the winners online. See the many shapes of idea that are winning. Because a creative singularity is coming, and the future of PR looks nothing like PR as we used to know it. Exciting times.