How the PR industry rediscovered its Cannes mojo

Francis Ingham, Chief Executive, ICCO

The year 2019 may well be remembered as the one when PR rediscovered its Cannes mojo.

Let’s be candid. The last few years have been years of disappointment for the PR industry at Cannes. The number of wins has been low. The ratio of PR firms entering compared with advertising ones has been going the wrong direction. And some judging decisions (e.g. the one last year to not award a Bronze in the Young Lions competition) have been puzzling and unhelpful.

All of which has led to a significant segment of the PR industry losing faith and losing interest in the Festival.

But… this year seems different. And hopefully we will be able to look back on it as an inflexion point for the industry’s relationship with Cannes.

PR agency heads will be leaving Nice airport with quite the haul of victorious trophies in their luggage, and with a fresh confidence that Cannes really isn’t all about advertising firms outgunning them.

Why does that matter?

It matters because Cannes remains the ultimate showcase of creative work, and the ultimate battleground of creative ideas. For a certain size and type of agency, winning or losing at Cannes is a defining part of their year; one of the key tests by which CEOs judge themselves and judge their teams. And, as marketing disciplines continue to blend, competing against firms that specialise in other forms of work isn’t an aberration -it’s increasingly a daily event.

The Cannes Lions Festival is by no means for everyone. But to some it most certainly is. To the future of our industry, it absolutely is. And that makes it highly relevant to us all.

To say that things are improving after some years of decline is not to say that everything is perfect, however.

Small agencies are still put off, thinking it is the preserve of much larger agencies. It is not, and we need to keep on saying so.

It is still too expensive, and Cannes would do well to lower prices – they might well find that their income rose if they did so. But there are ways of engaging in a cost-efficient way, not least by basing yourself at the ICCO House of PR, now in its seventh year.

And perhaps most crucially, our industry too often fails to showcase the stunning work it delivers because we are not quite strong enough with video content. Heavier investment here would not only help us win more Lions, it would also, and much more importantly, help us deliver even better work for clients – at a time when the marketing disciplines are blending in our favour, mastery of video storytelling is vital.

And so to conclude. Cannes 2019 was good for PR. But Cannes 2020 could, should, and I’m sure will be, better. We’ll be back next year, representing the industry, and helping its best work be showcased via our engagement with the Festival. And in the meantime, we’ll continue working hard to help our industry shine in the sun of Cannes, and roar on its award evening.