Two Edelman Hong Kong employees won the Bronze medal in the hotly contested Young Lions PR Competition at Cannes this year, the first Young Lions medal for Edelman and the first medal for a team representing Hong Kong.
Erica Stein, senior executive, and Darryl Soh, digital and creative senior manager, were picked to travel to Cannes to compete in the Young Lions after winning an initial challenge set up by the PRHK organisation in Hong Kong, for which they had to design a PR campaign for the mental health organisation Mind HK.
Here they share their diary from their hectic week at Cannes, and their takeaways for future competitors.
Sunday, 16 June
10am: Arrive in Cannes and pick up our passes. Repeat to ourselves “Is this real life?” as we wander among cobblestone roads and alongside docked yachts.
5pm: A chance to practice “compromise” between teammates. First, a gelato stop for Darryl. Second, a stop to watch the Women’s World Cup for Erica. Afterwards, satisfy a mutual craving for foie gras.
Monday, 17 June
9am-1:59pm: Attend as many talks as possible before the 2pm briefing.
2pm: Entering the Briefing Room, we learn that our client is the World Wildlife Fund. The challenge is to create a campaign to raise awareness about deforestation caused by the food industry. We know nothing about this issue, but plan to become experts in the next 24 hours.
3pm: Head back to begin working because time is of the essence.
3:08pm: Quick pit stop for Ladurée macaroons.
3:30pm: Actually start working. Research the issue, industry and World Wildlife Fund.
5pm: Break for Edelman welcome drinks.
6:30pm: Acquire frozen pizza because it feels symbolic of a late night. Set 9pm deadline to decide on direction.
9pm: Take turns reading our ideas. Common thread in our insight: millennials do not care about this issue because they cannot see the impact of the food industry on deforestation. Common theme in our creative ideas: food labeling. Agree on Darryl’s idea of transforming price tags from financial to environmental given the dual meaning of “cost”.
9-11:29pm: Erica has a Lizzo dance party while Darryl bobs his head. Begin writeup of our campaign.
11:30pm: Despite Darryl’s best encouragement to hang in there “just one more hour”, jetlag overcomes Erica and she goes to bed.
Tuesday, 18 June
6am: Refine writing and scribe work onto paper, given we aren’t allowed to use personal laptops in the competition.
8:30am: Arrive in Competition Arena with the first of four coffees. With one computer between us, start the written submission. Eventually, Darryl takes the reins to mock-up creative, while Erica outlines the presentation and writes copy. We tag-team as we hit sticking points or need breaks.
3:47pm: Decide on campaign name.
5:30pm: A nervous energy fills the room as the 7pm deadline approaches. Re-read brief to ensure we haven’t missed anything. Put final touches on our presentation including adding a timeline, wordsmithing strategy and designing more mock-ups.
6:28pm: Quadruple check work, then submit. High-fives and hugs all around.
6:29-10:30pm: Enjoy dinner with Edelman crew, then hunker down to figure out how to pitch a campaign in five minutes. We opt for adequate sleep.
Wednesday, 19 June
9-11:45am: Practice our presentation repeatedly, outside a café with cappuccinos and pain au chocolats in hand.
11:46am: Breathing exercises.
11:50am: Power posing.
12:00pm: Showtime. Nail our pitch and field questions from the jurors. Knowing we did the best we could have done, we spend the afternoon learning from Sheryl Sandberg, Katie Couric and John Legend at talks in the Palais.
7:30pm: Gather with the 31 teams at the Awards Hub. They announce we have won Bronze. Our jaws drop in disbelief and joy as we accept our medals on stage. The judges share that they liked how simple and clear our idea was; how strongly the insight, strategy and idea were linked; that we clearly answered the brief; and that our presentation set us apart from similar ideas.
7:50pm: Cheer on Finland and Japan for winning Silver and Gold, respectively. Share news with the outside world and fill with pride — something we would have felt regardless, but made even more meaningful by a medal.
8pm: Time to celebrate.
Our key takeaways from the Cannes Young Lions PR Competition
1. Keep it simple
Simple ideas are the best ideas. Can a headline and a single visual clearly illustrate your idea? Then it is probably a good one. Strip away the unnecessary layers, less is more. Trust your creativity to bring a simple idea to life in a comprehensive and impactful way.
2. Tell a clear story
Make sure the link between your insight, strategy and idea are as clear as day. Each one should flow into the next. Ensure your words reflect that and are woven throughout your presentation. This set us apart both in the Hong Kong competition and again in Cannes.
3. Practice your pitch
Your pitch can make or break things for you. Tell a story that connects with your audience. Practice and then practice some more. Drill each other with questions. The morning of our pitch, we could repeat it flawlessly even with the buzz of scooters in our ears, the noise of pedestrians passing by and while dodging crowds walking to the Palais. Power pose before walking into the room. In the end, that made the medal-winning difference.
4. Doublecheck the brief
Make sure you check all of the boxes and know how you’re being scored. We almost didn’t include a timeline until the last hour, which was a clear ask in the brief. When writing and pitching, use the language that the client uses so that they know you’re listening to them.
5. Trust each other
Trust your team and learn when to let go, but stick to your gut if you feel that something needs to change. Creating a campaign in 24 hours is intense. At some point, you have to pick an idea and run with it. We would be lying if we said there weren’t moments of tension as we debated the idea, the structure of our submission and even the words we used. Over the course of the competition, we learned the balance of trusting each other, both in what we brought to the table and when one of us knew we needed to make an adjustment.