How Comms Reaches Audiences in a Chaotic World
The PR industry has the deep infrastructure needed to develop innovative campaigns that meet the most urgent needs of our time
Over the past several years, we have seen a significant shift at Cannes, as purpose-driven campaigns take center stage. Specifically, purpose-driven PR campaigns are winning the most awards. It makes sense. The world’s urgent needs surround us. For individuals, organizations and, yes, brands, operating with purpose is a necessity for survival. Now we arrive at Cannes in person for the first time in two years seeking inspiration and hope — with our world still reeling disproportionately from the ongoing challenges of the pandemic, the reckoning of racial, gender, identity and economic inequality, and the ever-pressing climate crisis. And all of this is happening under the shadow of war.
Our audiences are living this reality with us. People need solutions and ways to make life easier and more accessible that are real and actionable, and that’s where communications plays the key role. By igniting imaginations and sharing what’s possible, we can collectively create positive change. That’s the story the world craves right now, yet only with innovation and creativity will that story land in measurable ways. And that’s our collective superpower as comms industry professionals. Comms has the power to meet this moment.
We are dealing with serious issues, and they require deep and intensive understanding of how to communicate about the challenges we face. We must deliver messages that people will hear and be inspired to act on. Yes, that requires creativity, but that creativity must be built on a solid foundation that includes rigorous research, cutting-edge data analytics, and an infrastructure that enables deep listening to a wide variety of stakeholders. These are all the functions that the communications sector has always delivered, and it’s why communications is well poised to meet the urgent needs of our time.
This toolkit enables comms to deliver strong, purpose-focused campaigns that work to drive deep, positive change. Purpose campaigns work because they lend themselves to highly emotional storytelling. People love stories, and when you are showing people examples of how brands are driving positive change in the world, they listen. A story of a community cleaning up a waterway or an innovative education effort will naturally generate interest.
Of course, you can’t just rest on the sympathy that a good cause will gain. To cut through the noise, purpose-based initiatives need a lot of innovation and creativity — especially when the issues at hand are so grave.
Consider the climate crisis. The communications sector has an important role to play in driving the conversation toward positive change. Earlier this year for WE Communications’ 2022 Brands in Motion global report, Making Net Zero Net Positive for Everyone, WE surveyed executives and managers who have knowledge of or influence over their organizations’ ESG function. They reported that the No. 1 misconception they face is the idea that climate and sustainability targets are too expensive.
Communications professionals know how to identify such gaps in understanding and create effective campaigns that tackle them head on. Comms has the infrastructure to do the deep listening required — first by identifying the information gap, and then by talking to a wide variety of stakeholders about the business case for sustainability and climate action.
WE’s 2022 Brands in Motion research also found that brands need to expand their sustainability story. They must discuss not only what happens in their own operations but their entire supply chain. They must explain how their work benefits all stakeholders — employees, customers, shareholders, and the communities most impacted by climate change. In our research, 69% of respondents said brands should invest in projects to protect jobs and livelihoods in the communities most impacted by climate change. That is a lot of people to talk to! And comms knows how to reach them.
For example, comms professionals are helping show how sustainability efforts help everyone, as Godrej recently did with its Magical Mangroves campaign. Working in partnership with WWF-India, they are encouraging citizens to join the conservation effort to protect the wetlands in the heart of the city.
Communications is also very adept at addressing misinformation — whether it’s about climate change, COVID-19 or the war in Ukraine. In my role as the president of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), we have formed the Ukrainian Communication Support Network. It is a worldwide group of volunteer communications professionals working to tackle the misinformation coming out of Russia. In most of our member countries — predominately in Europe and Asia — communications professionals work with local media and, in some cases, consulates, to identify misinformation and amplify accurate, fact-checked information so people can get a clear and accurate account of what is happening.
Again, this work might not sound like it has a strong relationship to creativity, but creativity must be built on a solid foundation — one that starts with good data. And the spark for all meaningful creative pursuits is truth. We must always start at the start, at what we know to be true, to upend, expand and deliver truly creative ideas. Data is our starting place. It provides quantifiable facts so, as communicators, we can add context and find innovative ways to tell the stories this information represents.
In recent years, we’ve all had much better access to data. Targeted analytics now enable us to uncover deeper insights and create more innovative campaigns. Of course, analyzing data is nothing new in the communications industry. It’s what we’ve always done: gather information, find out what people are thinking and determine how to best communicate with them. In the past, we used to look at data from a rear-view perspective. What happened and why? Now we have predictive analytics that take us to a front-view or side-view perspective. Instead of telling people what happened, we can tell people what’s coming, build deep trust, and create a better world for brands, consumers and all of us.
As the world becomes more and more complex, this predictive capability will be even more essential — as will the many other sophisticated functions that the comms industry is adept at delivering. Cannes is a great place to share both ideas and processes that will enable us to meet these challenging times.
I believe purpose-driven campaigns will continue to dominate at Cannes, and we will continue to see an exciting and diverse showcase of the comms industry’s best, most meaningful and most effective creative work. For the world we share, there is no going back to normal, and maybe that’s a sign of progress. Still, when it comes to seeing the power and possibility of what creativity can DO to make change real, Cannes is the place to experience this to the fullest. I’m grateful to be here, to gather in person, and to find new inspiration. It’s so very good to be back.
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