Just a few weeks ago, I experienced one of the Oscar moments on the communications calendar in New York City by attending the annual PRWeek Awards dinner. In that same timeframe, I had the honor to judge four categories of the 2017 Holmes Report North America SABRE Awards. Through these combined efforts, I had one takeaway that was resoundingly clear: The creative bar for the work across public relations and the integrated communications industry has hit a new high, which makes the competition tough — and inspiring.
With the Holmes SABRE finalists released earlier this week (with WE named as a finalist in four categories), I compared the level of work also seen at the PRWeek Awards, across all categories and from large and small brands and agencies. For both awards, the best campaigns consistently stood out for three reasons.
- Relevant and Real-Time: 2016 was a good year for communications, and there was a lot to lean into culturally, politically, economically and socially. As our Brand Agility Index research found after the Super Bowl, brands that choose to enter the political arena must ensure they do so in an authentic, engaging way that makes sense for their product. From the economy to the Olympics and the U.S. elections, brands and their agencies succeeded by taking a stand, finding their purpose, connecting deeply with their audiences and integrating their communications messaging across owned, earned, and paid and social channels — especially when messaging centered on what was happening on the world or regional stage.
- Omni-channel campaigns: We know the lines between what is an ad and what is PR are blurring. Paid media campaigns connected to earned media programs were more popular and better executed than earned campaigns alone, and often also included publicity stunts, special events, social media, word of mouth and more. And often the very best did it all and did it well. The right use of a celebrity or spokesperson worked, especially when it extended beyond the ad to social and digital channels. And nearly every winner had strong video and content components. This approach reflects key learnings from our Stories in Motion research, which proved that earned media is still the most influential source of branded content, with 47 percent of people preferring it over owned, events, paid and social media — but earned cannot stand alone. A successful brand is one that builds positive awareness across the media ecosystem, amplifying its story through multiple and varied channels and sources, striving to reach its consumers on an emotional level. After the baseline information about product value, consumers say humor and entertainment are the next most effective ways to catch their attention. Brands that created standout campaigns, like Doritos Boldest Choice, General Mills Canada Bring Back the Bees and Volvo’s Selling the Idea of Luxury to Save a Brand from U.S. Extinction, made you want to read, watch the video, review the creative materials, and overall dig in and learn more.
- Results: This revelation is not a new one but is growing in importance, even to award judges. We have moved past placement of stories and impressions earned as proof of ROI. The best, and often the winners, are achieving brand awareness, store traffic, sales results and revenues, and some even show profit improvement and more. At WE, we know firsthand from working with leading innovative clients the power that communications can have in moving a brand forward. We help accelerate brand stories through the right combination of data and insights, married with creative, and an ability to nimbly navigate the many social channels, media platforms and new emerging technologies — all tuned to enabling our clients to reach their business goals.One great example in this year’s SABREs is WE’s work with Microsoft on the Windows 10 Winning an Uphill Battle campaign, which drove strong business results with 50 million downloads during the first phase of the campaign and 400 million to date.
After seeing all the work that attained finalist status, it’s clear that transformational communications is about the whole brand. In today’s media ecosystem, data and analytics are equal partners with creative, and brands and consumers have equal ownership of storytelling. The brands that can translate real-time audience insight into behavior-inspiring creative to deliver measureable impact will be able to propel themselves forward and win with customers. And those teams that can articulate how they achieved the big ideas for these brands in a crisp, compelling way will jump off the page or screen and demand to be seen, experienced and rewarded by consumers and by award-show judges.
Cheers to all of the incredible finalists! I’m looking forward to celebrating at the ceremony in May and raising a glass to the great work this industry continues to create.
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