|From left: Chris Perry, Ami Anderson, Gaston Legorburu, Steve Barrett, Torrence Boone, Christine Cea, and Joe Sinclair
A broad group of agency and in-house marketing leaders joined PRWeek
editor-in-chief Steve Barrett at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in a Weber Shandwick-sponsored roundtable to survey the present and future of the PR campaign.
Ami Anderson, director of marketing excellence, General Mills
Torrence Boone, MD, agency business development - The Americas, Google
Christine Cea, senior director of marketing communications, Unilever
Gaston Legorburu, global chief creative officer, SapientNitro
Ellen Ryan Mardiks, vice chair, GolinHarris
Mari Kim Novak, senior director of global marketing, Microsoft Advertising
Chris Perry, president, digital, Weber Shandwick
Joe Sinclair, UK creative director, Burson-Marsteller and Cannes PR Lions judge
Is the campaign dead?
Steve Barrett (PRWeek): Most of the work that won Cannes PR Lions this year was tactical, short-term activity, so is the campaign dead?
Christine Cea (Unilever): Not necessarily. We saw a brilliant idea and execution, but not necessarily the whole context for it. That's an important starting point for campaigns. What is the context? Where does it start? Where does it end? What exists alongside it?
If the campaign has shifted, changed, or reinvented itself, what do we call it? If we have “always on,” is campaign a finite or an extension? We might have to define what we are talking about to determine if it is alive, dead, or on life support.
Ami Anderson (General Mills): The campaign can never die. We still need to communicate with people. The campaign has evolved. In the past, it's been more about advertising, about fireworks. Now, it's not about fireworks – it's also bonfires. It's about starting that fire and relationship with consumers. And you need to have both of them, not just the campaign. You need PR to keep the message going, which gets you into the paid or earned world.
Joe Sinclair (Burson-Marsteller): As a [PR Lions] judge, you prioritize the idea. Gone are the days where you just slap on this much coverage or this many retweets. We're looking for things that change people's behaviors. To me, that's what a campaign is.
Chris Perry (Weber Shandwick): It's all about the clients. I can't think of one that doesn't require a creative solution to their business problems. How are we going to market in an interesting way? But it's also about how you put your pieces together in order to make that happen.
We think about the business need and how we approach it from a brief standpoint. Then, what are some unique combinations we can bring to the table that may involve different folks in our practice areas, but also different partners you typically wouldn't see a PR agency bring on board.
Torrence Boone (Google): Campaigns have atomized. You have to think of “small” as the new “big” in a lot of ways. And smaller campaign ideas can grow into something bigger and become that bonfire Ami mentioned. But it doesn't have to be epic and precious. The agency and client don't have to go into a corner for months to ideate and figure out that big idea.
Today – and Silicon Valley has informed this – there's more focus on being prolific, fast, hitting the market quickly, prototyping, and not being afraid to fail and recover. That's the model that defines how entrepreneurs are funded in the Valley. Players such as Google and Facebook have pushed that into the marketing ecosystem. We call it “agile creativity” - the agility to be prolific and get to that breakthrough idea and insight.
Mari Kim Novak (Microsoft Advertising): Technology is the reason for a lot of the change and simplification. The campaign is smaller because it's more relevant. You don't have to go so big to hit a few people. The campaign is more targeted and effective than ever because you are speaking to the person you want.
Technology has also allowed consumers to be storytellers. Now you have the brand telling its story and – through social media – the ability for a two-way conversation.
The campaign will never die. We've just seen an evolution because technology advancements give us an external relationship with our consumer.
Ellen Ryan Mardiks (GolinHarris): The campaign isn't dead or dying. It's just changed. Definitions don't apply how they used to. I liked this best: “A connected series of operations designed to bring about a particular result.”
The idea of connectivity is so right. What has changed is this notion of who is engaged in this effort, this campaign. It's not just the brand. It's certainly not just all of us supporting the brand. It's people. You might want to call them “consumers,” but I just call them people for whom that brand is designed or targeted. We're going to be talking more about the idea than the campaign.
Gaston Legorburu (SapientNitro): One of the challenges with the definition of a campaign is it infers it has a beginning, middle, and end, but really you are always building on something. There is no end.
Mardiks (GolinHarris): Let's look at one of the [Cannes PR Lions] awards winners, American Express' Small Business Saturday. Very good idea, designed for a particular purpose and audience – small business owners. And it involved every element of the mix. I would describe that as a campaign, something specific, with a beginning, middle, and end, but who knows where that end is going to be because it's a long-term thing.
Legorburu (SapientNitro): That's the beauty of it. You understand the essence, the purpose behind American Express. When you look at the point-in-time problem or opportunity the agency and/or client have to go after, they solved it in a very clever way, but always serving that organizing purpose or idea. That's what's important – when you drive that connection and recognize you may be dealing with an individual chapter.
We talk about nonlinear storytelling, which PR is more comfortable with than an advertising agency. It's like the Bible. Few people read it from page one, but you might drop in and have one story, which serves a purpose but also the bigger story.
Barrett (PRWeek): The AmEx campaign won two Grand Prix – in Direct and Promo. It also won a bronze in PR. Are these categories dead? Are they all going to merge into one?
Cea (Unilever): Maybe the PR campaign is dead. I say that because the way we build PR campaigns is a series or a collection of a media strategy. This is what the release or the angle is going to be, so rather than thinking about it as a campaign and saying, “Here's the idea. Now where do we take that idea?” That's where the atoms come in. You start with that basic building block of matter.
Perry (Weber): We've seen some success from thinking like programmers versus campaign-builders. When you move from an episodic to a more sustained way of communicating, you have to put your media hat on and think about what are the bigger events or campaign moments that are naturally going to be a part of what you do.
But how do you fill in those gaps with the lighter-weight executions, smaller-scale content, and social media things we do? You're really delivering an “always-on” premise that, for some folks, is a pretty big shift. Just tweaking the language, the mindset, and the manner in which people approach problems in a fresh way.
Anderson (General Mills): There are so many different categories and they're all blended together. At the end of the day it's about ideas, not touch points, and how it comes to life. The idea drives the strategy and that idea can live forever.
One of our brands is Cheerios. It is finger food and heart-healthy. We've had this heart-healthy idea for about 12 years and we're not done talking about it because it's still news. It's brought to life in several different ways, through PR, digital, some other things, but the old way we used to talk about PR is a big stunt. It is like, “We're all going to do something. We are all going to show up. It's going to be great.”
That's not the way it is now because, if you look at the AmEx program, that was one day. But now you opened up my eyes to, “I need to start paying more attention to these small businesses in my neighborhood.”
They talked about it for one day but it was part of a movement. That's the world of PR. It's the continuous relationship, then what you do to follow up.
Cea (Unilever): The thought “That's a stunt” crossed my mind several times watching the awards. And some were incredibly effective stunts, so I admired them. We shouldn't necessarily view “stunt” in a derivative way, except when PR gets relegated in people's minds to being the “stunt.”
A stunt can be celebrated for the impact it can make. When we talk about ideas, we also want to have that impact, but a lot of what we're trying to do in driving conversation is to drive talkability.
Anderson (General Mills): Sometimes it might be a stunt, but it lives on in the industry. Look at the hug machine from Coke. It's something they do as a stunt then put on the blogosphere and people pick it up, put it on YouTube, and share it.
It was one PR event, but it goes on. “Did you see the hug thing Coke did?” It starts the conversation because that's what people love. They want stories. It's still about storytelling, whether it's PR or advertising.
Legorburu (SapientNitro): We need to celebrate craft. Malcolm Gladwell said, “You need 10,000 hours to be great at anything,” but we want to do things that have never been done before on time, on budget, and at a high level of quality. Those things are at odds.
Look at the category concept. If an idea fits in multiple categories, it's probably an organizing idea. Then look at the individual tactics within those categories to say, “It's showing a deep level of craft within that particular bit.” If you have a set reference to the bigger organizing idea and you see craft, that's a winning piece of work.
Sinclair (Burson): I wonder if PR practitioners are changing rapidly enough. Why did so many advertising agencies win Cannes PR Lions? They're really specialized, whereas PR isn't. A PR person who has the idea is often the person who calls up the client to chase the invoice.
Perhaps there's something to learn from the way ad agencies structure themselves? Do we need to have creative departments in PR? Do we need strategy departments? A lot of agencies are moving toward that model.
Perry (Weber): What can we learn from the Microsofts and the Googles of the world, too? It's not just looking at other agencies' disciplines, but thinking in a more technology- or startup-based mindset might be a good way of evolving our business.
Boone (Google): Some of the leading digital and innovative agencies across the board are reexamining the creative team and collaboration process. Creative teams are being reduced to the entity that creates the seed idea or spark. Where it was art directors and copywriters, now you see art directors and technologists.
Rei Inamoto [global creative director] of AKQA talks about art and code instead of art and copy. That unit is changing and connecting to a broader array of specializations and bringing those in at critical points.
There's a fundamental reexamination of the way that team is structured. How people organize in terms of collaboration is enabling a more rapid-fire cauldron of back and forth around ideas. At Google, we have this notion of “fail fast.” Our engineers are in very small teams. It's all about this rapid iteration that is infusing itself in the way creative is done.
Novak (Microsoft): We're pulling back and reexamining. When you look at the new Windows platform, you see screens disappearing. You can now take your phone and look at your Xbox and they're talking to each other.
Creative has to look at this in a new way and say, “This is all branding.” The brand just continues from eyeball to eyeball. It never leaves. It's all about the consumer experience. We're breaking that down to reeducate ourselves and looking at that creative community to give it this new canvas.
This has to be completely collective now. We must work in partnership to allow that creative advancement. The creative community is really open to it. They love the ability to have new canvases to work on and be asked to contribute. The relationship technology has with the creative community is stronger than it's ever been.
|Barrett, Boone, and Anderson (l-r) engage in conversation on creativity
Boone (Google): It used to be that technology was behind creativity. Five years ago, there were all these things we wanted to do, but technology didn't enable it. It's totally the reverse now. Technology is ahead of creativity. The more we can connect as far upstream with that ideation process, the more you get breakthrough things you would have never imagined.
Anderson (General Mills): Back in the day, we would sit in the conference room and figure out who likes the idea best. You would then look at the most senior person and whatever they like is what you
Now we're testing ideas on the Internet and seeing what consumers like because they are, at the end of the day, the boss. We can put out a couple of ideas, see which one gets the most traction, and guess what? That's our big idea. Technology does that. But again, it's leveraging technology that aligns with your idea and your brand.
The benefits of failing
Barrett (PRWeek): Unilever's marketing director has given you permission to fail and take a few risks. How is that changing what you do? Is there a tendency to overanalyze data, squeeze all the creativity out of it, and miss a groundbreaking idea?
Cea (Unilever): You're right. It came from our chief marcomms officer Keith Weed and Marc Mathieu, our SVP of marketing. But it's also been adopted in the States by our president who says, “If you fail once, I'll give you a bottle of wine. Just don't collect a whole cellar.” It's finding the balance. How do you fail – big or small? Do you fail in a public way? It's a tall order to be given that permission to fail.
We give our agencies permission to be the thinkers for us, not so much to fail, more to say no. The permission to say, “You know what? You want to go that way, but it might not be right.” And permission to be a true partner.
Perry (Weber): There is still the expectation that you're going to refine anything new you do. As much as we want to put the perfect plan in place, once it gets to market you know there are going to be some unexpected twists and turns.
If you throw new ideas to the market and shut it down at the first sign of going off track, that's a waste. But if you put stuff out and learn and refine, you actually get far more value than you initially thought.
We've had success with a number of partners, but it required the faith and trust of a great client to give us breathing room to see the campaigns play out in the real world.
Mardiks (Golin): Data is misused. It's becoming a safety zone for people because it's complex. Data is information and information is power, but information without instinct is dangerous. We now have so much data we must decide, “Is this in fact information?” They may not be quite the same. Reusable information, I guess we should say. Applicable information.
But within all that, as marketers and creative people we have to respect gut and instinct. We should do research and analyze data. And this is why technology and creativity should coexist beautifully.
Sinclair (Burson): Gone are the days when clients asked us to get live pieces of national coverage. That is not data. We're getting back to that big idea of changing perceptions, actions. And that comes from understanding the situation and bringing as much research to bear pre-, during, and post-campaign.
I still believe campaigns exist. I'm using that to assess the success of the campaign. Coverage doesn't matter anymore. As we reach this convergence where more and more disciplines are eating PR's lunch, we need to get better at finding new ways to talk about our success. That boils down to behavioral change.
Boone (Google): Obviously, we live and breathe data, but we see clients running away from data, ad agencies running away from data. We're always trying to push the envelope, “Here's what this data can show you and how it can help drive your business more effectively.” We find clients and agencies intimidated and actually resistant.
Even at Google, we haven't done the best job packaging that in a way that leads to marketing-driven insights that allow you to go and do better work. It's something we're working on, but collectively we all need to step up and carve out that difference between the two because when we don't, when we blur it, we get into trouble.
Novak (Microsoft): Actionable data is the Holy Grail. That can lead to the insight.