THURSDAY 8 SEP 2022 3:27 PM


Verizon snapped up a gold award at Cannes Lions this year for an entry commemorating the stories of Verizon employees following the attacks of September 11th, 2001. Andrew McKechnie gives behind-the-scenes insight to their work.

This year’s Cannes Lions ‘PR Lions’ category has been described as ‘lacklustre’ in reviews, with some entries receiving the worst of PR criticism: being branded ‘publicity stunts’. The entry that won Gold, however, was some of the best storytelling at the festival, commemorating one of the most devastating events in living memory while instilling optimism in the present.

Verizon’s entry, ‘9/12: The Untold Story of Reconnecting New York’, was a one-day employee exclusive. The real-time, immersive MMS experience used AR, VR, audio and interactive media to tell the stories of employees who were at the Verizon headquarters on September 12th, 2001. The entry documents how employees worked tirelessly to reconnect communications between Lower Manhattan and Wall Street.

Verizon’s Chief Creative Officer, Andrew McKechnie, provides insight into the creative process behind their work.

“The devastating events of September 11th will forever mark our nation’s collective psyche, so we knew we needed to approach this campaign in a respectful yet innovative way. Our approach was to honour the employees of the past with the hope of impacting and connecting with today’s employees,” he says.

Back in June, ahead of the festival, PR Lions judge Judy John said entries would need “a unique and surprising insight, and a creative solution” to be successful. When pressed on what success at Cannes meant to her, John replied: “Optimism”.

Despite the solemn subject-matter, McKechnie says optimism is woven into the entry’s recounting of “American resilience and determination”. He elaborates: “All across the country, Verizon colleagues joined and shared in this uniquely personal and collective experience that essentially put a digital museum in the palms of their hands.”

Optimism was in abundance at Cannes this year, surprisingly so given the world was still teetering out from under lockdowns and into the clutches of financial crises. Yet it is perhaps for this reason that the post-lockdown fizz of enthusiasm, either for the unfolding Meta landscape or simply for being outdoors, makes sense.

Against a backdrop of idling super-yachts and sun-dappled terraces, it was easy to bask in the contagious excitement of NFT fanatics and catch yourself dreaming up the Adidas items your Metaverse alter-ego might treat themselves to. But while other PR Lions entries speculated what might lie behind the multiplex of doors technology is opening for us, Verizon chose to look backwards. 

“What happened on September 11th is forever etched into our collective memories. What is unknown to many, however, is what happened the following day, on the 12th of September, when thousands of Verizon employees risked their lives and ran toward a crisis to help reconnect New York,” McKechnie says.

“The reason we told this story 20 years later was to ensure that current Verizon employees knew and understood the stories of the thousands of technicians and engineers who worked tirelessly to reconnect communications in downtown Manhattan.

“The timing just felt right, especially as the nation came together in collective remembrance and reflection two decades after the tragic events of September 11th.”

Verizon decided to work with an entirely in-house agency for its Cannes Lions entry this year, which is unsurprising given Verizon’s agency ‘140’ is currently one of the strongest marketing groups and has won numerous awards this year.

“Our in-house agency model allows for deep internal collaboration, while also giving us the runway to recognise that there are times our external agency partners have expertise in areas where we may not,” McKechnie says about the decision to work in-house.

“It’s very much like a puzzle that we’re able to piece together, with the best parts at the most strategic times, to produce the most compelling results.”

With the other PR Lions entries receiving disparaging criticism, McKechnie explains what he thinks set Verizon apart from other entries.

“Ultimately, we told a story that’s never been told but needed to be shared, and we did it in a uniquely Verizon way by delivering a virtual experience and creating our own multimedia platform,’ he says.

“We created this multimedia platform out of existing phone applications, leveraging every tool within a text conversation. Eleven personal stories are told through MMS content, such as immersive phone calls that re-enact historical moments, 360º interactive maps of downtown Manhattan, and AR ‘before-and-after’ filters.

“It’s a nod to the basic tech of 2001, while featuring the modern mobile experiences of today: a story about the past, with a modern twist.”

The PR Lions Gold is Verizon’s first Gold Lion award. McKechnie describes how it feels to have Verizon’s creative efforts recognised by the festival, and what the atmosphere is like at the office now.

“This win has been an incredible experience and we couldn’t be prouder. To be recognized for a campaign that has meant so much to Verizon and our employees is the real achievement,” he says.

“Awards like this are a testament to the hard work and dedication of the countless Verizon employees and partners that strive to do more and go further every day. Wins like this definitely impact our culture; they are major motivators and push us to continue raising the bar on creativity, innovation, and most importantly, creating lasting connections.”

Verizon’s entry proves that optimism does not have to be derived, or mined, out of future projects, nor does it need to be preached by a glittering Paris Hilton. Recent history is packed with moments of global human resilience and resolve. Verizon’s campaign is a reminder that PR can look to past experience to pave the future. 

McKechnie reflects: “We started out with the intention of creating a campaign that would honour the actions of Verizon employees during one of the most difficult times in American history.

“What we accomplished was so much more thanks to the thoughtful connections and impactful stories we were able to tell.”