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Is Cannes working for PR?

Despite Edelman winning the PR Grand Prix, the majority of the winners in the Cannes Lions PR category were ad and media agencies.

There were 1,850 PR entries. Thirty seven per cent of the entries in the PR category were from PR agencies – this was up from 26% in 2013. The vast majority of the remaining 63% of this year’s PR entries were from advertising agencies.

By my quick analysis there were 17 PR agency winners from a total of 71 categories. So we have a PR awards category that advertising agencies are still, in the main, winning.

I'm very much of the view that PR as a sector has changed massively in the last 5 years. There is some great work going on. So the negativity and insecurity that Cannes seems to bring to PR is frustrating.

So as PR people – should we laugh? Cry? Shout? Or just pick up our bags and go home?

I suspect the PR sector won’t say a collective, “Cannes-  never again”, but surely the public relations industry needs to think very carefully about continuing to create an annual ‘Great Big Stick’ for the world's advertising agencies to bang them over the head with.

Here is why we continue to see relatively few PR agencies win at Cannes:

1. As one of our Indian readers said: “Creativity in advertising is rock and roll, creativity in PR is classical! It’s just not as sexy!”
Therefore in a jury scenario – the PR campaigns are just not able to compete with the attention grabbing advertising entries. It’s much easier to capture the imagination of a jury through a video about an integrated advertising campaign than it is to produce one for a PR campaign

2. In this integrated world, few campaigns are single channel, therefore cross sector work will continuingly win PR lions.
This is a good thing, but because the ad agency's work, such as a YouTube advert, an App, or a game, is a better attention grabber – in a jury environment the public relations element is often on the back foot.

3. The clue is in the name – this is the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.
This is not supposed to be the world’s best PR campaign – it is the world’s most creative PR campaign. And there is a difference. Some brilliant PR campaigns are not that creative. This doesn’t mean that they are unworthy – just that they shouldn’t enter Cannes.

4. PR is a massively broad discipline.
On the one hand PR can lead a patient engagement program for a new drug, or through a public affairs campaign it might help an organisation change the law, as well as from a consumer perspective, it might help an organisation sell stuff! To try and compare work across such a broad spectrum is difficult, and probably more difficult in PR than in advertising.

5. Ad agencies have been entering Cannes for a lot longer that PR agencies – and they are better at it.
They spend more money on the entry videos and more effort on lobbying the jury prior to the judging.

6. Are PR clients really influenced by a Cannes Lion?
If your customer is a Communications Director – I don’t see many Communication Directors at Cannes.

7. Every year the PR jury is full of senior PR professionals.
These people are diligent, intelligent and honest – but in my experience the PR profession can be overly self-critical. Can you imagine a room full of senior Ad agency folks awarding a PR agency the Advertising Lion? Not a chance!

8. 63% of the entries into the PR Lions are from Advertising Agencies.
Therefore the fact that Ad agencies won 77% of the categories are won by ad agencies should not be a huge surprise.

9. In large global integrated campaigns it's rare for the PR agency to be the lead agency.
As a result they don’t tend to be the lead agency on the Cannes Lions nomination. The PR agencies are, in the main, a partner agency.

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