Fresh from judging Cannes PR Lions event in France last week has left me with some very strong impressions about the state of creativity in public relations and the very real threat the advertising and digital agencies present.
The Cannes PR Lions is only in its second year and while still the smallest category there, it saw a 32% increase in the number of entries to nearly 600. The final result: one Grand Prix for Replay by Gatorade, 11 golds and 32 silvers with silver awards being given for the first time. Most creative countries are Sweden with seven, then the US with six, UK with five, Germany with four, Spain and Brazil with three, Japan, Australia, Belgium and Italy with two and Thailand, Finland, Switzerland, Poland, Korea, Portugal, Costa Rica, The Netherlands, Romania and India all with one each. However, these facts mask a very clear trend in the awards that saw advertising and digital agencies drive most of the growth in the category. The PR creativity at the awards was outstanding but so was that from the digital and advertising agencies. As a result, public relations agencies won only 15 of the 44 awards despite the jury being composed exclusively of very senior PR people. It is very clear with the rise of the power of social media that marketers are moving both emphasis and budget to pr centric campaigns that can generate authentic conversations. While many in the world of PR still feel that that is the preserve of the public relations firms, the advertising agencies feel no such limitations.
There is also an ambivalence in the public relations industry that the Cannes Lion is an appropriate award forum and this is not helped by the name of the awards. While the organizers will clearly need to do a better job in making this category relevant, the fact that nearly 400 senior marketing clients, especially in the packaged goods and technology areas were present, suggests that it is essential for our industry to be present and participate. That the CEO and CMO of P&G, the world’s largest marketer, were actively involved throughout the week, should send a wake-up call to those in the PR industry.
Independent of the source of work, there was a clear advantage that ad agencies had – their ability to package and present their work. Video is essential and it needs to tell a story – results needed to be much more than clips, creativity needed to be built on a strategic insight and the creativity had to be instinctive and compelling. So, perhaps it’s time for the public relations industry to stand up and be counted at the Cannes Lions.