Edelman Has a Message for Cannes Lions This Year: We Do Creative Work, Too

World's largest PR firm puts reputation on the line

The new campaign looks to sell clients on the value of acting "with certainty."

For more than 65 years, some of the world’s largest and most influential businesses, personalities and governments have turned to Edelman to help shape public opinion in times of crisis and celebration alike.

Now, the company looks to change the way people see a very different kind of client: itself.

You might be justifiably skeptical. But a firm famous for drafting statements by Fortune 500 CEOs and helping brands navigate reputational minefields like Starbucks’ recent brush with racial inequality will use this year’s Cannes Lions Festival to let attendees know it can also serve their creative needs. President and CEO Richard Edelman told Adweek that his firm sees new opportunities at the intersection of earned media, social media and paid media—or, as industry stalwarts might call it, advertising.

Earning more paid media work

“There’s a different kind of idea that is important at this moment: an idea that is earned at the core and social by design,” said Edelman in a recent interview.

Now, consumers identify with “a company taking action” in ways often tied to social issues or corporate policies, like whether Starbucks allows only paying customers to sit in its stores.

Edelman argued that brand creative and corporate reputation are now “inextricably linked” in a not-so-new practice he classifies as communications marketing. In an ideal scenario, he said, CTOs would collaborate with CMOs on campaigns stretching across Edelman’s four quadrants: earned, owned, shared and paid media.

“We’ve restructured and reimagined ourselves for what we believe is a fundamental shift in marketing context, said Edelman, who doesn’t “want to reinvent an ad agency” but does arrive at Cannes this year armed with a virtual suitcase full of case studies to help sell that proposition.

The Edelman creative team summarized its own rebranding effort in the hero video below.

Titled “Act With Certainty,” the larger campaign highlights recent Edelman-led efforts like REI’s Cannes-winning “Opt Outside,” CVS’s anti-tobacco turn and Dove’s decision to hire more female directors for its “Real Beauty” series. In an appropriate twist, the firm placed its own print spots in trade publications like this one.

“We are a very different company in last three to four years than we have been,” said Mark Renshaw, the global chair of Edelman’s brand practice who arrived in 2016 after nearly two decades at Leo Burnett.

He cited a range of creative talents who have joined the firm, including Edelman D.C. svp, head of planning Jennifer Small (formerly with Innocean and McDonald’s), New York executive creative director Megan Skelly (ex-R/GA and 360i) and Singapore-based chief strategy officer Ranjit Jathanna (MullenLowe).

Beyond the new creative work, Edelman will also use its decades of experience in communications to launch a new consultancy practice led by Richard Wergan, former evp, global head of brand, communications, digital, events and sponsorships at tech giant Royal Phillips. But this won’t be the same sort of service provided by the Accentures and Deloittes of the world, Wergan said.

There’s an intrinsic need for senior comms advisory to CEOs and C-suites,” he told Adweek in explaining how the consultancy came about. “Communications is no longer just the responsibility of the comms team or the CMO; it’s omnipresent.” 

According to Wergan, Edelman’s offering will differ from traditional management consultancies in that its members “have not only held positions within client organizations, but have been in the theater of action,” handling issues like mergers and acquisitions and regulation compliance.

This new consulting division will “provide enterprise-wide core communications strategy,” he said, while helping the firm’s creative product “cut through consumer [and] audience indifference.”

The biggest global challenger brand

Richard Edelman told Adweek that “experiential, digital, entertainment and paid” now accounts for somewhere between 22 and 25 percent of his company in terms of both headcount and revenue.

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