For me, a first time participant to the festival it was both about learning and taking in the environment at the same time. So whilst I absorbed the sessions, I also took time to experience the Cannes Riviera a bit by finding some nice cafes for lunch and dinner.
Cannes is an out an out tourist town with plenty of shopping, eating and drinking opportunities! Nothing less than Channel, Dior, Louis Vitton, Prada, Fendi and so forth will do. The Marina is lined with plenty of luxury brands stores, chic eateries and bars and beach inviting with the heady mixture of the sun, sand and cocktails! The old part of town has quaint cobbled narrow pathways lined with eateries, somewhat like the Chandini Chowk of the old Delhi but a lot more sophisticated. We have to hand it to the French. A perfect place for the hedonistic in you. No wonder it is a playground of the rich and the famous!
Having got in a day earlier, I was able to settle in and check out the local scenery and was bright and early on Sunday morning as the festival kicked off in right earnest. The overarching theme of the festival seems to be digital is everything and everywhere. The festival has over 50 seminars packed in to the week. Most are about engaging the consumers of the digital age. It has some star attractions like Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General on climate change, Biz Stone, co-founder, Twitter, Steve Ballmer, CEO, Microsoft, Eric Schmidt, CEO Google, Sir Martin Sorell, Group Chief Executive WPP and of course of special interest to me the first ever PR Lions, the 11th award category to be introduced this year. www.canneslions.com
It seems to me that the advertising fraternity is taking to the digital marketing imperative with a vengeance and with the stakes being high - it is several billion dollar opportunity and growing exponentially each year. Everyone wants a piece of the action, be it the the new age mediums - google, yahoo, Live, facebook, twitter, etc. etc. etc and more etc. or the analogue advertising firm along with their media investment cousins! Certainly not the PR guys! So, if this be the truth - what will be the future communication firm look like? If the campaigns were to be integrated would there be 11 awards categories in Cannes eventually? These are searching questions that need to be answered and a fellow member of the fraternity said, "I don't think we will come up with an answer but I am sure a 20 something is going to crack it very soon." Hurrah to youth power!
The opening day sessions or seminars were all about the digital age - the future of TV, engaging the digital age consumers, the new creative reality in the digital world, using social networks for business and a very interesting, the new age interactive platforms for OOH. The quote of the day "If you have something interesting to say, then do something interesting." Advertising will have to move from just selling the proposition to helping consumers understand and experience the proposition. As a postscript it was added that adding social equity to a brand helps! From CSR being owned by the 'corporate communication' function to brands integrating the social equity proposition into their mainstream brand engagement. I could now see shades of PR creeping into all pervasive brand communication.
Lesson: It's no longer about linear and analogue communication but about engaging the consumer across channels - offline and online.
I am part excited and part frightened. The pace at which this change is happening is not only exciting but overwhelming. It makes you wonder whether you will be able to keep up. Evolution of business is a dynamic process but this almost seems like a revolution. I am reminded of the quote of Michael Dell, "There are only two kinds of companies. The QUICK and the DEAD." I wonder how many will survive the DIGITAL TSUNAMI?
Tomorrow is the first PR Lions and I am looking forward to seeing the shortlisted work at the venue. Watch the space for more.
[Ashwani Singla is the Chief Executive, Genesis Burson-Marsteller. He blogs at www.reputare.in ]