PJ Pereira Explains What Brands and Agencies Need to Know About Branded Entertainment With This New Book

First book by a Cannes Lions jury

The first book by a Cannes Lions jury will debut at the festival later this month.
The Art of Branded Entertainment

Given the breakneck pace of judging at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, it seems impossible for a jury to do anything other than, well, judge the mountain of work in front of them. That was certainly true for the 2017 Lions Entertainment jury.

But a few months later, long after the festival ended, the group found that the nuanced discussions they had had about branded entertainment weren’t reflected out in the world, making it a fruitful area to dig into. That’s why, under the leadership of jury president, Pereira & O’Dell co-founder and CCO PJ Pereira, much of the jury got back together to get those discussions going again and write a book, The Art of Branded Entertainment.

At this year’s festival the group will debut the book, which is the first to be published by a Cannes Jury, with a book party on June 19 and a panel discussion at the Palais on the 20th. It is being published by Peter Owen Publishers in London and will be available worldwide as a special digital pre-release and in paperback on select bookshelves in the U.K. on June 14, 2018. It will be available at retailers worldwide on Oct. 4, 2018.)

Adweek caught up with Pereira to learn how they put together a book, what brands and agencies should know and why they are bringing it to Cannes Lions this year.

Adweek: How did the idea for the book come about?
PJ Pereira: One of the traditions at Cannes is that the president addresses the jury to share his or her perspective on the days ahead. My request was that they left their understanding of what branded entertainment was outside the room. We were not there to teach the world what we thought the discipline was, but to learn on behalf of the industry what it is becoming.

We all took that idea very seriously and the winners we picked reflect that. A few months later, though, we looked back and realized how a lot of the nuances behind our choices were lost if you just look at the winners list alone. So we decided to write about it so more people could have access to everything we learned on that journey.

Why do a book about branded content?
The ad industry is full of smart people. We always knew that given the choice, a lot of people would rather not have ads interrupting their shows. But we got lazy and tried to stretch the format for as long as possible. We waited so much that it opened the flanks for barbarians from tech, entertainment and independent creators who are destroying the model that keeps advertising alive. Now we have to rush, because the only answer we have is a discipline we still know very little about.

Being realistic, ads will always exist, but they will decrease in importance, which will force us to find other ways and opportunities to talk to consumers. We believe this opportunity lies on being the content consumers will seek, instead of interrupting it. Competing and partnering with the shows, movies, songs and other forms of entertainment that already have their attention.

But that requires an adjustment on the entire ecosystem—media, PR and creative agencies, talent management, Hollywood producers, video game creators, brands … Since our jury already had that kind of composition, we had the rare opportunity to discuss the theme with a wide perspective that doesn’t happen often. That only increased our sense of responsibility and the need to write about our debate.

What are the biggest takeaways from the book? What are the top lessons about branded content that agency folks and brand marketers need to know?
1. That brands and agencies need to work as hard to make sure ideas are a good use of consumers’ time as they fight to make sure they are worth the brands’ money.
2. That we have a unique opportunity to redesign the roles and interactions between marketing (both agencies and marketers) and entertainment (content creators, talent, channels).

What was the process of putting the book together like?
It was chaotic and confusing at first, illuminating at the end. A single, integrated idea co-authored by 15 people isn’t something easy to achieve, especially since we are all so different in our personalities, experiences and locations. But we have discussed these ideas so much that we all developed a deep sense of respect for each others perspectives, which helped a lot.

So the way we did it was I proposed the top level themes so we covered the main themes we had to cover, and distributed that among each one of us so everyone could stay focused. Then I worked with each author to make sure they were not repeating each other. When we assembled the whole thing, it could have still turned out like a Frankenstein of a text. But it made total sense.

Is this associated with Cannes Lions? Are they publishing it?
No. We wrote and found the publisher, but as a sign of respect we reached out to them to make sure they were OK with it, since it would be hard to do it without mentioning their brand prominently. Since the very first conversation, they have been incredibly supportive and Phil Thomas even wrote a nice endorsement for our cover.

So you’re on a jury and you guys decided to put together a book. What were those conversations like? How did you get to where you guys are now? Do you think other Cannes Juries should do this?
We all had the lingering feeling some of the ideas we discussed were getting lost. It happens that, on the side of my advertising career, I am a novelist, so I asked them if they would be interested on doing that. Out of 20 judges, 15 said yes and we went straight into it. All I had to do was give a little guidance to avoid repetition and to make sure we were covering the entire debate, and then they all wrote their own chapters.

Are you excited to bring it to Cannes?
Super. We could have released it before, but we all felt there was a symbolic element on releasing it the day before the announcement of the next winners in the category. But also, because we know how Cannes has its yearly and its timeless stories, we made sure we took the discussions we had in 2017 and applied them to work from many different years, so it could serve as a framework to understand this discipline regardless of the year.

Do you plan to hand the book to potential clients at Cannes and say, hey read this and hire me? Are you going to use the book as a calling card of sorts?
That has never been the plan. In fact it is almost the opposite. We could have kept these ideas just for ourselves and used them to bring more clients. But we decided to open the kimono instead, share the thoughts with anyone that wants to hear. Besides, this is a book by 15 authors and celebrating the work from agencies from all over the world. No single one of us can claim to own or know it all.

Anything else we should know?
Judging is tough. Everyone thinks different, especially when you’re talking about a group of alfa-bosses in their own worlds. So eventually we got used to disagreeing and respecting dissonant opinions. One of my favorite parts of this process though was a discussion we had not about the work or the ideas, but the money.

Because we are so many, and all thankfully well employed, someone eventually raised the idea that instead of collecting the rights ourselves, we all donate it to an organization that would use the money to make the industry better. It was our first and only unanimity. That’s how we ended up partnering with the 4A’s Foundation that will use the money to educate and support kids from underprivileged communities.