Lessons from Cannes (and other awards) on what makes for great PR campaigns

There’s an art to creating great communications campaigns (image source: Cannes Lions)

I’ve just finished judging hundreds of entries for the Cannes Lions. The experience has been overwhelming, not just due to the amount of work submitted but also due to the work’s quality. I’ve judged for years, and there are few competitions that come close to the overall level of excellence (I’d say the Effies, the IABC Gold Quills, and the Holmes Report’s Sabres).

Throughout all of my judging experiences, there’s a couple of simple lessons that communication professionals need to bear in mind. These four steps will help create powerful campaigns that should be worthy of putting into any top-tier awards competition.

1. The Why – Is What you Want to Say Powerful Enough?

First of all, why do you want to communicate. Are you launching a new product, or do you want to improve your company’s reputation. The clearer you are on why you want to engage, the simpler it will be to come up with a narrative that your audience will understand. There’s got to be a strong purpose to your communications, which then links into the second step.

2. The Insight – Listen to your Audience

You know why you want to communicate, but how does your narrative tie into the interests of your audience? Far too often communicators don’t take the time to listen and observe their publics, and simply go out, all guns blazing, with messages that don’t resonate. Powerful insights connect your audience with your narrative in a way that engages them and makes them want to listen to you. If you don’t do this well, your campaign won’t cut through the thousands of messages that we process on a daily basis, and you’ll have made no impact whatsoever. Take your time, do your research, and get out of the office (and off the Powerpoint presentations) to understand what your audience cares about and how you can tap into those emotions. In other words, bring the outside in.

Bold communicators are also ready to tie in their narrative with social issues. This isn’t always easy, and can alienate certain groups if your target audience is the public. However, as business becomes more politicized, I expect communicators (and organizational leaders) to realize that companies can’t shy away from taking a stand on issues that matter both to them and their stakeholders.

3. The Strategy & Execution – Go Personal or Go Mass, Blend Online with Offline

Now we get to the fun part, which can make or break a campaign. No matter now good your planning and research is, all your audience will see is the execution of your strategy. Effectively, what do you want your communications to achieve and how are you bringing it to life?

There’s a couple of themes I’ve noticed of late. Either campaigns go as big as possible during their execution, and include as many people from the target audience as possibly during the execution itself (this is different from sharing the campaign’s content). Or, they execute an execution with a handful of people, and use that content to tell a person narrative. Both can work very well if tied in well enough with the brand/product narrative and with the audience insight.

What’s also not surprising is how the best campaigns are using both online and offline mediums to amplify the narrative. Print, radio and television plays a role in engaging an audience, whilst digital keeps the engagement alive and allows for dialogue. Some of the most recent campaigns I’ve seen also use dark social; one smart team were creating content solely to be shared on WhatsApp. I expect this trend to gather pace as communicators realize the power of one-to-one or one-to-a-few messaging platforms.

Another noticeable trend is the use of paid media to boost the reach of content. The social media platforms have become masterful at ensuring we have to spend money to reach our audience, no matter how good the content. Influencers help to mitigate the anti-viral nature of social media platforms. Either way, it’s going to cost more to reach your target audience today online than it would have done a couple of years ago. At the very least, creating content has never been easier (or cheaper).

4. The Measurement – Use Indicators that Align with the Business (not AVEs)

Finally, how do you prove your success? The most common measurement was AVEs or advertising value equivalency. Communicators are dropping this measure, but at a rate which is slower than I’d like. Most of the work I’ve judged this year uses AVEs. Another common measure is impressions, basically the number of people exposed to the message.

Smart communicators are shifting to more meaningful indicators. A simple one which does crop up more frequently is sentiment, either in traditional media or online. Communicators are also borrowing from their marketing colleagues, and are using some digital metrics (engagement, CTRs etc), as well as brand measurements focusing on reach and response Brand measurement helps us understand if the campaign has won viewers’ selective attention and leave a brand-associated impression and if the campaign has triggered a change in behavior or attitudes favorable to the brand.

The ultimate measures are those which are tangible. Has the campaign helped sales, has it raised more money? Has the campaign resulted in a behavioral shift, has it resulted in new regulations? Some communicators are capturing and sharing this, but it’s still only a small percentage (I’d say single digits). This needs to change, especially if communications is to be seen as a strategic function within organizations.

Here’s my four pointers to what makes for an award-winning campaign. As always, I look forward to hearing your inputs. Please do share your thoughts with me.

And best wishes for all those who have entered this year’s Cannes Lions! There’s some outstanding work.

Research: Online Influencers in the UAE widespread, but measurement & transparency still lagging

InfluencerMarketingResearchBPG

The latest research by BPG, Cohn & Wolfe and YouGov underlines how mainstream online influencer marketing has become. It also highlights areas for improvement in areas such as measurement and transparency

If you needed any more evidence that online influencer marketing is here to stay, then continue reading. The latest research by BPG Cohn & Wolfe and YouGov answers a host of questions as to what is happening on social media channels, and raises even more on areas such as measurement and transparency.

Sampling over 100 in-house marketing and communication experts and brand managers across a diverse range of industries in the UAE, the results show that influencer marketing is very much mainstream:

  • 94% of polled marketeers say engaging with social media influencers benefits their brand
  • 49% currently work with social media influencers in the region
  • 43% spend up to US$10,000 per social media influencer campaign

That’s the good news (especially if you’re an ‘influencer’). The reasons behind using influencer marketing and engagement are a little more varied, as you can see below. The top three reasons for using influencers are 1) to reach various groups and demographics, 2) boost a brand’s presence online, and 3) a complement to traditional advertising. As for what influencers will be doing, they’re most likely to be 1) mentioning brands, 2) providing event coverage, and 3) reviewing products.

The Value of Influencer Marketing

There are of course challenges. Firstly, there’s not a big pool of influencers, and those who are in the market focus on specific areas (fashion, food, cars… repeat). Over half (55%) of those polled said the biggest challenge they face is finding relevant influencers. Putting two and two together, this challenge may partly be of our own doing; it seems that rather than working with those who could be defined as micro-influencers, marketers and communicators want influencers who have a large audience. The second most common challenge (41%) is negotiating terms and conditions, which would suggest that most influencers are working freelance. This has to change next year – the introduction of VAT should mean that those influencers who are paid financially will have to register their own company or work through an agency.

most successful influencers

And then there’s the issues of money and measurement. While budgets would seem to be growing in this area – most budgets are now between 1,000 to 10,000 US dollars – social media influencers are most likely to charge per post or video (47%) or by an exchange of free products and experiences (47%), closely followed by cost per engagement (41%). There’s less of a focus on cost per click or cost per acquisition engagement, suggesting that whoever is negotiating isn’t familiar with digital advertising (both these models are the most commonly used sales models in digital advertising).

social media charging

And then there’s outcome measurement and transparency, two areas that show some concerning results. Just over a third of respondents (37%) said they’re measuring the ROI of their spend on sales and business results (I’d have hoped for a higher number, especially on the consumer side), followed by engagement (29%), and traffic to websites (18%). When it comes to disclosure, of influencers having to write that content is sponsored (which is a legal requirement in some markets such as the US and the UK, and is legally required of firms who are publicly listed in those countries), we must do better. Just under two-thirds (63%) sometimes request influencers to publish a disclaimer. Almost a quarter (24%) never influencers to publish a disclaimer. This isn’t my idea of transparency, and this will have to change if we’re to gain the trust of the people we want to engage with (it may also change next year when new legislation comes in).

measurement & transparency

So there you have it. If you’d like to see the survey summary then please do visit the MEPRA website. I’m also including a link to the Influencer Marketing Survey raw data here.

If you work with influencers, or are defined as one, then what do you think about these results. Do they bear out to what you see, especially in terms of platforms being used (Snapchat at 2%, and Twitter at 10%) and how influencers are engaging online? And how would you like the industry to evolve? As always, do drop me a line. I’d love to hear from you.

What makes an award-winning communications campaign?

There's nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you're focusing on these three key points.

There’s nothing better than being recognized for your communications work. Just make sure you’re focusing on these three key points.

I’m fortunate to have been asked to judge many communications campaigns, for the likes of the Middle East Public Relations Association Awards, the Holmes Report’s SABRES, the International Association of Business Communicators’ Quills, and the Global Alliance Comm Prix Awards. That’s many hours spent pouring over communications campaigns.

As a judge, what do I look for? What is, to me, an award-winning campaign? There are three basic points:

  • The reason why: Firstly, what is the logic behind the campaign? What is the organization trying to achieve? And is the why supported by research or insights derived from the stakeholders the organization is looking to engage with and influence. This could be as simple as focus groups, one-to-one interviews, or information derived from surveys. Too many campaigns aren’t supported by research, and as such there’s no logic or a clear, evidence-based objective underpinning the campaign.
  • What was done: We now come to the activation piece, both the strategy and the tactics. How innovative was the overall strategy in terms of its budgeting and composition. How effective were the tactics re stakeholder targeting and engagement. Were the tactics used suitable for the audience, and is there a strong enough idea at the heart of the strategy? How well has the strategy blended together different channels?
  • Where are the results: A well-executed strategy will show not only strong outputs but also clear outcomes and, ideally, business impact. An award-winning campaign will clearly demonstrate the impact their work has had on the organization and stakeholders. And here I’m not referring to AVEs (Advertising Value Equivalencies), but rather other measures such as sentiment analysis, awareness, recognition and credibility. If you want more information on what measurement means, have a look at this white paper by Ketchum’s David Rockland.

If you can get each of these elements right, you’ll stand a good chance at winning an award, no matter the competition. So go and do your good work, and be recognized for it. Good luck, bon chance and bil-tawfiq, especially to all those entering into the MEPRA Awards today and over the past couple of days.