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Is Cannes changing enough to be worthwhile for PR?

24th April 2013

Since it was founded in 1954, Cannes Lions Awards has been the go-to event for media professionals, and is of increasing interest to the PR industry after 2009 when it introduced PR awards. However, following the Cannes Lions awards last year, there was angry debate when PR agencies failed to win many PR Lions . Some PROs question whether it is worth entering these awards, when the event seems more geared up to showcase glitzy advertising campaigns.

Amanda Benfell, head of press and PR at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and Lions Festivals, says that is not true that Cannes Lions is too focused on traditional advertising: “When Cannes Lions first started, cinema advertising was the only category, so of course there is a long history with ‘traditional’ forms of advertising. But the communication silos are collapsing, the industry is changing, and all those involved are having to change and adapt too, so we are seeing agencies change their offerings to supply their clients with communications that their consumer wants. The one element, however, that makes a communication piece stand out – whether it be a TV commercial, a billboard, a digital tool or a PR campaign – is the creative element. And that is what is celebrated and awarded in Cannes. In 2011 we changed our strapline from ‘International Advertising Festival’ to ‘International Festival of Creativity’ to reflect this.”

Benfell also refutes that the awards fail to appreciate how PR works, as she says the entry criteria have shifted to better evaluate PR campaigns: “We have consulted extensively with the industry and have made numerous changes for 2013, most notably in the results section of the PR entry form where entrant companies are now required to demonstrate at least two tiers of evaluation/results reporting.”

Discussing the difficulty of PR firms having to produce a film to enter the awards, Benfell says this is only recommended, it is not compulsory. “Let’s not forget that the PR jury is made up of top PR practitioners from around the world. They know what an award-winning entry looks like, whether there is a support video or not.”

Despite all these changes, not everyone in PR is convinced. Jim Hawker, co-founder of PR agency Threepipe concludes: “It's great that the PR category now has a recognisable and influential person like David Gallagher [from PR firm Ketchum] in charge. This is a big step forward, but I wish they had asked someone who wasn't from a large network which contains both PR and advertising agencies within its structure. Perhaps next year they will get it completely right in the way they approach this category."

Are you going to Cannes this year?

Why we are not going by Zoe Butt, account director, at PR agency Broadgate Mainland:

“If you can’t get hold of an advertising executive between 16 and 22 June this year, it may be because they are all attending the Cannes Lions Festival. Every year over 10,000 ‘creative types’ from all over the world go along to be ‘inspired‘. What you won’t find at Cannes Lions is many PR agencies, certainly not financial ones or many which are not part of an international network. PR people tend to be practical and are looking for real-life solutions and not ephemeral concepts that help create the big creative picture. Our clients buy strategic communications, delivery and practical creativity within a tight budget. Photo shoots in the Caribbean because the light is better doesn’t even reach the dream level.

“Last year, after advertising agencies scooped most of the prizes in the PR award category, the PR industry was criticised by the Cannes Lions judges for being too tactical and lacking the ‘big idea’. A fair criticism, but only for the biggest brands are PR budgets available to spend on one ‘big idea’. We need to come up with lots of big ideas to keep the client in the news month after month. Bob Greenberg, chairman of the Lions cyber judging panel, said: ‘We need to face an uncomfortable truth: much of what we produce has no relevance to people.’ Sadly Bob that’s why I shall be in my, or my client’s office in June and not at Cannes.”

Why we are going by Katie Brafman, new business, marketing and global network manager at agency Talk PR:

“One of the most dramatic shifts in the PR industry over the last year has to be the continuing convergence of marketing and PR, a development fuelled by the rapid emergence of social media. As PROs are increasingly leading social media strategies and offering exceptional creativity that’s igniting these conversations and altering consumer experiences, we feel like it’s the right time for us to go. We haven’t entered the Cannes Lion Awards before, but we feel that there’s a real place for a boutique international agency – so our managing director Tanya Hughes and the head of our Brazilian partner agency are going along this year to meet with international clients and colleagues.’’

Written by Daney Parker

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