Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, answers questions about the PR category of the awards

In an interview with PRmoment editor, Daney Parker, Cannes Lions' Phillip Thomas tells PR why it needs to embrace Cannes.

Are you pleased with the number of entries you are getting for the PR category?

We launched in the teeth of the recession so were quite happy with the number we had for year one, in 2009, which was 431. In 2010 it increased to 571, so we’re going in the right direction, and that’s quite a jump. I have no doubt that in a few years it will reach 1,500 or 2,000 entries, the same as we get in our media or direct marketing categories for the festival.

And how about the quality of the entries?

In terms of quality, I leave that to the jury, led by Hill and Knowlton’s CEO Paul Taaffe, whose jury wished to extend the Lions to include silver awards for the first time, as well as gold. That says to me that the quality was pretty good. If you look at the winners, I think most people would agree there are some world-class ideas in there.

How can PR agencies be encouraged to enter, and why should they bother?

What really needs to happen is that PR agencies need to become aware of the Lions, that’s the first job. The festival is 58 years old in 2011, but PR will have been involved for just three years, so it is not surprising that PR agencies perhaps are wary, or just don’t know about the festival. However, the Lions are the world’s most prestigious award in creative communications, and the truth is that advertising agencies are winning the PR Lions. That’s great for them, as they morph into full-service providers, but not so good for PR agencies, who are in danger of falling behind. The fact is that winning a Lion gets new business, and attracts talent. Ad agencies are using their success in the PR Lions to offer PR as a service, why wouldn’t they? The question is, what do the PR specialists want to do about it? They can compete on the world stage, or they can give it up to others in the communications mix.

Many on the shortlist for the PR Awards are more traditional advertising-type agencies (TBWA, DDB, Ogilvy) rather than the big PR firms (apart from Weber Shandwick and Fleishman-Hillard). Is this because advertising agencies are entering more than PR agencies? Or are they just better?

It’s a bit of both I suspect, and when I say better I mean better at entering. Put it this way, if you don’t enter, you can’t win, so with about 25 per cent of entries coming from PR agencies, the numbers are against them straight away. Then there is the knowledge of how to enter, to create a great entry video, to enter the right categories, that kind of thing. This only comes with experience, and by viewing the work that did win. The ad agencies have had 57 years to get it right – quite a head start. In terms of whether ad agencies are better at PR than PR agencies, well I would say that’s highly unlikely to be the case.

Is it hard comparing the work from such different countries when it comes to PR? Do you think PR is more adapted to local cultures than other types of marketing?

Our juries are multi-geographical, they come from 50 countries. I think it can be difficult sometimes when cultural nuances are critical, but it’s no more problematic in PR than it is in any other category.

Do you think it is more difficult to judge PR, as you could argue it is less visual than other types of marketing?

No, it’s just the same as media, direct marketing, promotions and activation – hardly any different at all. The key for entrants is to make that entry video as compelling as possible, that’s what gets the jury excited.

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