Cannes Lions

The Land of Free Press



1 Silver
6 Shortlisted
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Case Film






Helsingin Sanomat is the largest newspaper in the Nordics and the epitome of quality journalism in its home country, Finland. The last few years have been a time of transformation for the paper in renewing its subscription base with a younger, under 40-year-old audience. To achieve this objective, the paper focuses on communicating its relevance and purpose in society through value-driven actions.

One of these values is press freedom – a cornerstone of the brand. That, however, is globally at risk at the moment, not least because of the actions of presidents Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. In June 2018, the two presidents announced they would hold their first official summit in Helsinki, Finland, opening an opportunity for Helsingin Sanomat to act on behalf of press freedom. The objective was to gain global attention to the cause of protecting press freedom, while communicating what the brand stands for.


Presidents Putin and Trump are known for their critical stance towards the free press. While Putin’s grip on the free media is on its own tyrannical and totalitarian level, Trump’s assumed status as the leader of the free world makes his aggression towards the press all the more worrisome. Tapping into the high-level summit, the news event of the day, offered a unique opportunity to highlight the importance of press freedom.

In the World Press Freedom Index, Russia ranks 148th out of 180 and the United States hold the 45th place. Finland, on the other hand, has consistently ranked in the top 5. Hence, the paper decided to show the presidents the meaning of press freedom by welcoming them to the Land of Free Press and calling them out on their attacks against the media in an outdoor campaign placed directly on their route from the airport to the summit.


The PR strategy relied on topicality, timing, and importance of communication. Press freedom is a powerful matter and its dire state made the message even more pressing. Timing the campaign on the president’s arrival gave it additional weight, especially since Trump and Putin both have been such powerful enemies to the free press lately. Directing the campaign straight at the presidents gave the campaign its final spin.

The key insight for the campaign was the discrepancy between the state of press freedom in Finland and in the home countries of the visiting presidents, making possible the tagline: Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press. The campaign’s key message was that freedom of the press should be protected from the tyranny of regimes, as it is the last stronghold of democracy. The paper’s Senior Editor-in-Chief was selected as the spokesman of the campaign to grant it its journalistic tone.


Helsingin Sanomat created an outdoor campaign that targeted the two presidents directly as they drove from the airport to the summit. They were escorted to the summit by 300 billboards and posters containing the newspaper’s actual headlines that dealt with both presidents’ relationship with the free media. There is no better way to celebrate press freedom than to show what has already been published. These headlines were accompanied by the tagline “Mr. President, welcome to the land of free press.”

The media execution was integral to the campaign. There are a number of routes the presidents could have taken, but for security reasons the actual route was not disclosed. The various routes were analyzed based on their viability and the number of alternatives was brought down to three. A total of 20 different creative assets were manually assigned to every available billboard along the three routes.


The campaign sparked an international discussion on the state of press freedom, generating more than 1,25 billion earned impressions through 1 million social interactions and 2600 news articles in 55 countries, totaling 12 million euros in earned media value. It ignited a global movement to protect press freedom with media outlets publishing studies on press freedom, and hundreds of papers releasing editorials on its defence, lead by the initiative of the Boston Globe. In addition, Finland’s ranking rose from 4th to 2nd in the World Press Freedom Index. The campaign was specifically listed as a key contributor in the report.

There was a 33 % lift on the paper’s brand image as measured by YouGov brand index. Fueled by the positive image, B2B-sales surpassed set targets by 10 %. The paper reached a 19 % year-on-year growth in new subscriptions in the following month without other differentiating activities.

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