Michelle Hutton, Edelman MD for global clients and Cannes Lions PR jury president, speaks to LBB’s Alex Reeves
Truly great integrated campaigns that win at festivals like Cannes Lions very often have a sturdy spine of earned media at their core. And that is why the PR Lions are such an interesting category to scrutinise. So it’s a good job that Michelle Hutton, managing director of global clients at Edelman, is presiding over the jury this year. LBB’s Alex Reeves picked her brains about the state of the category in 2019 and themes that are worth considering.
LBB> What were your initial thoughts when you heard about and were invited to preside over the PR jury?
Michelle> I feel very privileged to lead this year’s PR Lions Jury and to represent the industry at this year’s event. It’s always an honour to judge at a creative festival, and having been a jury member in Cannes and the PR President at Eurobest, when I was asked to preside over this year’s PR Jury, I jumped at the chance. PR is a craft and not a channel, and one that increasingly matters – to businesses, brands and society at large. The marketing world knows that our craft matters now more than ever, because earning attention is now essential. We see this play out in the Cannes jury rooms, where ideas with an earned mindset always win big across multiple categories.
LBB> In your president’s message you used the phrase, "the lines between a corporate brand, its reputation, and its consumer facing brands are blurring" – in what ways do you see that change manifesting?
Michelle> In an always-on world, business now recognises that brand and corporate reputation are intrinsically linked; protecting a brand is now as important as promoting it. The craft of PR can accomplish both. And importantly, belief-driven buying is now mainstream. Customers are turning to businesses and brands as their champions – to join them in taking a stand on the issues that matter in their lives. Whether it’s operating with purpose, connecting with a relevant moment in culture or taking a leap into activism, resolute brands that make a stand have never been more necessary. Consumers are willing to spend more for brands owned by businesses who do good and take action on important societal issues. Employees, stakeholders, consumers and activists, all have a voice, and one that matters. Successful brands today know that and use a communications-first approach to building brands.
LBB> What are you hoping to see from the entries this year? How has the pre-judging been going so far?
Michelle> The pre-judging is done and we’re excited about the work we’ve seen from all parts of the globe. We’re searching for creative brilliance in the category with three clear criteria:
1. We want to award work that is designed with PR input, not just output. We want to celebrate the craft of PR by finding ideas that are intentionally designed to earn media, attention and influence.
2. Campaigns we celebrate will also be grounded in research, insights and data that inform the work and drive the strategy.
3. We want to find work that has a real and measurable impact, not just an impressive output of impressions, likes or views.
LBB> The Grand Prix in PR went to Trash Isles last year. What is it about that campaign that you'll be looking for in work this year?
Michelle> Trash Isles is a brilliant example of earned creative. It’s an idea that merges art and research science with optimal earned story potential. It’s rooted deeply in popular culture. And it’s purposely built to harness the power of influence and navigate and travel the media ecosystem, starting in owned with LadBible.
LBB> Is there one piece of work that you can see being the big winner this year across categories? If so, what is it and why?
Michelle> Yes, you’re right, there’s often a big winner that does well across multiple categories. And if you look at the type of work that tends to show up well across categories, more times than not, it’s an earned-centric idea. I’m confident that I’ve seen a number of strong contenders for a converted prize – but you’ll have to wait and see on who that may be!
LBB> What do you think are going to be the biggest talking points of Cannes this year?
Michelle> Everyone is back this year. I think this will spark a conversation again about disruption and convergence across brands, technology, and craft, and who does and should do what. We will hear a lot about three important topics: Trust; Influencers; and the importance of diversity in business, creativity and thinking.
LBB> Almost every campaign has some kind of PR aspect to it now. What do you think will be the hardest part of judging the entries?
Michelle> PR is a craft and not a channel. The PR jury is not looking for campaigns with good amplification of a paid ad. We are digging deep to find work which is ‘earned-by-design’, rather than amplified by PR.
LBB> How will you be spending the rest of your time in Cannes? Are there any events or talks you’re eager to attend?
Michelle> I’ve always said we [the communications industry] must use Cannes as a platform. It is our opportunity to showcase and celebrate the impact of our craft. That’s why you’ll find me looking at as much work as I can. I love to find new examples of work that disrupts. I’m exceptionally proud when I see examples of the communications world capitalising on this opportunity and standing loud and proud.
Unfortunately, I won’t get to spend as much time watching the programme content in the Palais this year, however it’d be remiss of me not to also mention that Edelman’s president and CEO, Richard Edelman, will be speaking with Thomas Heatherwick – the world’s leading designer. For those who attend, you’ll gain a unique insight into the creative genius whose work led to the captivating Vessel in New York and the Cauldron at London’s 2012 Olympics.