As always around Cannes, the value of creativity to businesses is the hot topic of the day.

At all the seminars, events, awards and boat parties ad land will be back-slappingly agreeing that creativity is alive and well. But there isn’t necessarily consensus on that outside the South of France.

An Ad Contrarian blog this month tries to answer why “it is widely believed that advertising itself isn’t as creative as it once was.”

Bob Hoffman argues that a combination of things is responsible: the ubiquity of online display; the agency model’s long table of mediocrity; short-termism around results and a litany of false goals around engagement, conversations, journeys, and storytelling.

No doubt Hoffman is right. More than ever the weakness of an idea can be hidden in the minutiae of the medium.

But there is one other change in the industry which adds to the perceived lack of creativity – some of the best ideas are coming from a fundamentally different mentality; one that is earned-media first and issues-led.

Campaign ideas that come from an earned-first mentality are inherently newsworthy, shareable and relevant. They overcome people’s indifference to a brand in a way that traditional ad ideas can’t.

The most memorable campaigns from the past few years have all come from an earned-first mentality – think Optus’ Clever BuoySaltwater’s edible six pack rings or Hyundai’s Assurance Program, for example.

It is the exact combination of factors Hoffman alights on that has allowed the PR agencies and issues-minded creatives to step in and fill the void of ideas left by an ad agency world shifted towards the medium over the message.

The PR agency isn’t bound by its business model. We don’t have to sell ads as the solution. We can focus our efforts on coming up with ideas that respond to audience needs or social issues, enable the business to take a strong position on that need or issue and follow through with action that has a commercial edge.

It’s that action which is then communicated through-the-line; channel-neutral and measured on business impact, not the ‘false goals of engagement, conversations, journeys and storytelling’.

It will still be mostly ad agencies picking up the PR category gongs at Cannes this year, but that says more about the nature of that event than anything else.

What the industry thinks of itself is irrelevant. The more CMOs are measured on commercial growth the more they will need earned-first, issues-led campaigns that deliver commercial outcomes.

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