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Do the opportunities for PR at Cannes now outweigh the obstacles?

Historically, Cannes has favoured ad and media agencies when it comes to dishing out awards. But is PR beginning to sluff off outdated misconceptions and get a firmer foothold in the creative spotlight?

Michael CeraVe - Ogilvy PR New York

PR has come out somewhat on top in 2024’s Cannes as Specsavers & Golin took home an idea generation Grand Prix award in the PR category, while Ogilvy PR New York’s ‘Michael CeraVe’ campaign won an idea creation Grand Prix in the social and influence category.

Matt Neale, CEO at PR agency Golin, told PRmoment: “I went to Cannes because many of our most significant clients were there. What did we get out of it? Two Grand Prixs and the confidence that advertising no longer dominates creativity on the world stage.”

“As to whether PR agencies are starting to own [earned] social — I’m not sure there is conclusive evidence. My experience is that the channel [social] is often a jump ball among IATs [integrated agency teams] with work being awarded to the agency with the best idea.”

Specsavers, The Misheard Version - Golin

The rise of recognition for PRs in a creative space has been slow going. Back in 2014 PRmoment questioned whether the jury and entry process at Cannes was set up to enable earned media to thrive, but it seems things may have changed.

Cannes PR jury president, founder and global CCO at PR agency One Green Bean, Kat Thomas says that in 2024, there were 1,528 entries into the PR Lions from 61 different countries. A total of 156 entries made the shortlist and 50 picked up an award. On average, less than 10% make the shortlist, less than 3% win a trophy and less than 1% take home a Grand Prix.

“I went to Cannes because many of our most significant clients were there. What did we get out of it? Two Grand Prixs and the confidence that advertising no longer dominates creativity on the world stage.” - Matt Neale, CEO at PR agency Golin

Barriers to attend

Thomas comments: “It was a standout year for PR this year and the positive momentum around Golin winning the Grand Prix has been lovely to see.

“I’m optimistic that it will encourage and motivate more PR agencies in the UK to enter. I saw very little British work during the judging process, especially from the independent agencies, some notable absences even. But based on the messages I’ve received over the last few days, I’m sensing a renewed enthusiasm from comms agencies to push harder to show up.

“The two barriers to entry for a lot of PR agencies are the craft and the cost. Case study films are hard to produce and expensive too, if this isn’t a skillset agencies have in-house. But PR agencies can absolutely stack up creatively, so I’d love to see even more wins for our industry in 2025.”

Cost and craft are fairly hefty barriers for hopeful Cannes goers, but as James Herring, co-founder of PR agency Taylor Herring, highlights: “If you win an award for a client [at Cannes], the kudos that you'll get with that client and the wider stakeholders is going to firm up your relationship and also potentially unlock bigger budgets for braver, more interesting creative work. 

"It's an investment piece. If you get recognised on a global stage for a creative piece of work, that is going to unlock the bravery for people [clients] to do more of that kind of [creative] work.”

Value for money

Angie Moxham, founder and CEO at PR agency The Fourth Angel says this year was “dominated” by AI tech, which meant a lot of the speaker sessions, focused on “big data, premium content and AI”, weren’t entirely relevant to PR professionals.

As a result, an “off-campus” cohort of PRs was unofficially created, and groups of people could attend gatherings through word of mouth. This resulted in relaxed networking events where professionals could come together outside of Cannes to discuss the major pain points of the industry.

Moxham caveats: “There are definitely connections being made, but people are doing talks around calls and having breakfast together [away from the main events]. It was a word of mouth thing and we didn’t have to have a lanyard, we would just chat through our thoughts on creativity and what the speakers were talking about. We took it off campus.

“I think there’s value [in attending]...and the networking is still really interesting because the big tech firms do invite interesting characters.”

Winds of change

So, should more PR firms face up to the financial implications of attending and entering Cannes Lions 2025 or will this year's recognition be short-lived?

Sophie Diner, managing partner at independent PR agency Ready10, says that a shift has already occurred with Cannes, and PR shouldn’t miss the boat: “PR definitely had a well-earned ‘moment’ at Cannes this year,” she says.

“It’s a thing of the past that big ideas can only come from ad-land, and, as an industry, we should all be giving a collective cheer to see this recognised.

“As someone from a smaller, independent agency, guess what? I’d like to see a bigger presence from smaller, independent agencies at Cannes. It does seem to be the preserve of the grown-ups and I don’t know why that is. Accessibility, perhaps, or maybe understanding the process, but it certainly isn’t because of a lack of good work.”

"It's an investment piece. If you get recognised on a global stage for a creative piece of work, that is going to unlock the bravery for people [clients] to do more of that kind of [creative] work.” - James Herring, co-founder of PR agency Taylor Herring

Mary Beth West, senior strategist at PR firm, Fletcher Marketing PR visited Cannes for the first time this year. She explains: “I think PR leaders and teams stand to gain a great deal of perspective by listening and learning from the key voices at Cannes, but vice versa as well.

“PR’s value in building measurable gains toward stakeholder trust involves a whole other set of muscles than what most Cannes categories value and measure as the award-winning ideal. It’s terrific to see a strong PR presence there to keep that dialogue going.” 

The event, albeit an enjoyable one for PRs able to spend the cash required to enjoy Cannes Lions to its fullest, the experience was richer this year for one simple reason: PRs were being properly acknowledged for their creativity.

"Based on the messages I’ve received over the last few days, I’m sensing a renewed enthusiasm from comms agencies to push harder to show up." - Kat Thomas, Cannes PR jury president, founder and global CCO at PR agency One Green Bean.

Cannes-do attitude

Herring adds: “This year, it's fantastic to see some standalone PR creators winning at Cannes. The PR categories have [previously] been plundered by ad agencies, and some of it is questionable whether it was an advert or an editorial first-level campaign.

“I think it has been great this year. It has been a breakthrough year for PR at Cannes. I suspect that will mean we will see a lot more UK agencies trying to scrape together the money to enter for next year, which has got to be a good thing.” 

The price tag is definitely going to be a barrier, says Adam Clyne, CEO at Coolr who attended Cannes for the 10th time this year after completing the full seven-day stint.

Clyne says the event was “dynamic and amazing”, but also “prohibitive” as a result of the cost.

“The ticket price to the event is so high that many just don't buy one, which means many miss out on lots of incredible content,” he says.

“Even the flights, accommodation and the inflated prices mean it isn’t an option for many, and that is a real shame when it is so full of inspiration and opportunity, but not everyone can access it.”

If PRs relative success at Cannes has whetted your appetite for how awards can help build the profile of the most outstanding work coming out of your agency, the good news is that there’s still time to get your Creative Moment Award entries in.

The deadline is Friday, June 28th. All the details you’ll need are here, including the all-important entry form.

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