Four PR Lessons from the 2021 Cannes Lions Festival

The Cannes Lions Festival sets the stage for creative and communications trends, and this year’s event was no exception. In recent memory, no year has ever driven as much rapid change as 2020 – from changing the way we act as consumers to the expectation of brands to drive change – and the “new normal” drove much of the conversation at this year’s event.

We recently had the opportunity to sit in on this year’s event and glean some of the outstanding insights shared from the best of the best in communications. So as we come away from the Cannes Lions this year, which lessons are most important for PR pros to remember? These top four lessons from this year’s Cannes Lions Festival will help you ensure that your strategy is cutting-edge and award worthy.

Lesson 1: The best messaging reflects and adapts to the culture it’s a part of.

No matter what the message is, your communications strategy needs to become a part of the world in which it exists. If 2020 taught us anything, it’s that the messages PR pros send need to be relevant as ever to their audiences. At Cannes this year, Spotify – winner of a 2021 Bronze Lion for Use of Music Technology – brought this lesson to life as they discussed the effect the pandemic had on their platform. When live concerts were closed due to the pandemic, music fans around the world looked for context – and music podcasts exploded as fans clamored to connect with artists. 

The bottom line: Finding new ways to get your message in front of your audience that reflect the world we live in, day by day, will help drive successful strategies.

Lesson 2: Data-driven communications are now a necessity – intelligent creative is next.

With the rise in focus on online privacy, the industry must now find ways to adapt to less audience data. Concurrently, data-driven communications are now the expectation in the industry. What’s next? Intelligent creative. Intelligent creative is being billed as “digital advertising’s final frontier,” which uses data to determine messages and content. MIT professor Sinan Aral and VidMob founder/CEO Alex Collmer joined Cannes this year to host a break-out session on how this data is changing how we conceive of communications work. Take a lesson from Cadbury, who won the Bronze Lion in Creative Data this year for #NotJustACadburyAd by using their advertising budget to promote thousands of small businesses that carried their products – Cadbury used location and retailer data to inform and adapt the creative and target local consumers.

The bottom line: The next era of communications will involve data in the driver’s seat at every step of the way.

Lesson 3: The new consumer is not prepared for change – because change has already happened.

One thing that comms professionals need to know about their audience is how drastically they’ve changed throughout the events of the past year. Consumers are not coming into a post-COVID world prepared for change because they are looking for ways to preserve what’s already occurred, such as working from home and more flexibility in schedules. Pinterest came to the table and presented how consumers are looking for more freedom and adaptability from the world – just as they had to adapt to it. The returning “work from home versus office” debate will likely go on for the next year as most employees want to retain these positive changes.

Nothing illustrates this point better than the Gold Lion in Consumer Services, which went to Mastercard for hijacking the traffic app, Waze, and turning it into an eCommerce platform for roadside produce stands. This innovation met customers where they were – on domestic road trips – and adapted to their changed behavior.

Lesson 4: There’s more expectation for brands to problem-solve for their communities and remain active in the face of injustices.

The communications industry has never shied away from championing change across all verticals – but what do you do when that becomes the expectation? As creatives approach everything from public health initiatives to sharing messages of support and aide to marginalized communities, this is something consumers expect from communicators. The Grand Prix winner of Glass: The Lion for Change went to Starbucks’ “I Am” campaign, which supported the trans community and pledged to help anyone who wanted to legally change their name.Brands that promote social justice are being rewarded – by festival judges and consumers alike.

The bottom line: As communications strategies are enacted and adapted moving forward, the focus on stepping into a place of leadership and enacting change will remain relevant.

If you’re ready to take your strategy to the next level, talk with an expert today on how Cision can complement your upgraded comms strategy. 

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About Molly Tullis

Molly Tullis is a Marketing Campaign Architect who specializes in developing content and messaging that breaks the internet (or an inbox). She has a sixth sense for social media and merges data with creativity, and turned off her iPhone screen time alerts a long time ago. Prior to joining Cision, Molly was nominated for the PRWeek Awards and has worked at both Ogivy and Ketchum.

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