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PR postcard from Dubai

Recently, I had the great privilege of serving on the PR Jury for the Dubai Lynx International Festival of Creativity. It was an intense task that began with a massive (and very rare) series of rainstorms. These deluges left Dubai’s streets flooded and created an aura of utter chaos in the otherwise orderly and gleaming city. I couldn’t help but wonder if they were a sign of the week to come.

 I’ve judged many awards competitions over the years in the US and the UK, but have to say that this experience was totally different for several reasons.

 Firstly (and very obviously) the MENA (Middle East Northern Africa) region is so dissimilar to the West. Culturally, societally, economically; the range of issues and concerns is so vast, so enormous, that the task at hand for communications is challenging on virtually every front. Political unrest, the ongoing refugee crisis and issues related to gender parity made the work we saw feel raw and important. In some instances and in some countries, censorship and rule of law further underscored the power of communications. 

 Secondly, pinpointing what exactly constituted the PR element of many of the shortlisted campaigns was almost impossible. In the end, this blurring of activity meant the “PR-y-ness” of each campaign wasn’t such a big deal. Instead, the highest ranking campaigns were those that possessed a brilliant, brave and creative idea at their core. 

 It’s hard to put your finger on why some campaigns are special – how work (sometimes so simple) just seems to have that magical x-factor. Perhaps it’s enough to say that our winners were the ones that left us a little breathless, a little envious that we hadn’t created this campaign ourselves, and at the end of the day a little humbled. I went back through the entries as I was writing this post and there are some common themes I want to share:

  1.  The winning campaigns developed ideas that addressed specific issues, some social and some very commercial – but all the winning work had clear and ambitious targets.
  2. Winning work looked well outside the “traditional” PR tactics to solve problems. Some employed creative technologies, one used a billboard that could be used as a bed and our Grand Prix Winner created a currency to help Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
  3. All of the campaigns that received an award had very clear results that demonstrated a genuine impact – be that on behaviours, sales or society.  Entries that just counted coverage and impressions did not make it to the shortlist. 

I came back to London feeling inspired by the work that our industry is producing, especially in a region of the world that is under such extraordinary stress and pressure. PR has evolved dramatically over the last few years, but telling a great story and thinking creativity remain at the heart of our profession.

 The rainstorms that marked the beginning of my week, and the clear skies that followed, were perhaps the perfect backdrop to a passionate debate on the flux and change our industry has been through and what now lies ahead.

Article written by Denise Kaufman, CEO of  Ketchum London

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