Francis Ingham reflects on the value of the Cannes Lions Festival for the PR industry and discusses how the festival is changing for the better
I’d say that the overall sentiment is one of relief – 2016 was most definitely not a good experience for the PR industry in Cannes, and while this year was by no means outstanding, it was certainly better. PR agencies walked away with more Lions than ever before, and the vibe I picked up from those present was that the Cannes’ organisers had listened to the criticism made of the event’s criteria, heard the message and acted upon it.
The event is certainly evolving. The heart of it is still, of course, creativity, and it always will be. But this year, I was struck by how measurement and evaluation is creeping up the agenda. Agencies increasingly are proving not just that their ideas are original, but also that they have impact. That can only be good for our industry. Happily, AMEC was present formally for the first time, with a place in our ICCO House Of PR – a development which I am confident will continue in future years as our industry embraces our joint message of effective evaluation.
Two other elements struck me as noteworthy.
The first is that our disciplines truly are merging. We recorded dozens of interviews with agency heads and other industry leaders. Pretty much all of them mentioned the transformation of our industry over recent years, as boundaries continue to blur. And they also spoke of how this blurring is working in our favour. The ad guys aren’t eating our lunch, we are eating theirs.
The second is the focus on diversity. And in particular on removing the (I would say unintentional) barriers that still stand in the way of so many talented women within our industry. I’m not just referring to Fearless Girl of course. Though the triumph of that campaign did seem heartily appropriate!
There was much else besides. I had the pleasure of moderating Global Women In PR’s first ever Cannes event. It considered the challenge of flexibility in the workplace, an issue that doesn’t affect just women of course, but which nonetheless is of acute importance to them. The contributions of powerful women from Prime, Airbnb, and HP were thought-provoking and challenging. They also secured pretty much unanimous agreement from the attendees. Great progress has been made within our industry, but there is much that remains to be achieved.
No summary of Cannes 2017 would be complete without some reference to the Publicis and WPP comments on its cost. Yes, Cannes is expensive. That’s simply undeniable. And that expense discourages some within our industry from engaging with it, and from entering the awards.
And yet, thousands of people from our industry descend upon it every year. And they do so because it remains the pinnacle of creativity within PR and communications. The work that is showcased is truly outstanding. And there is, quite frankly, no better networking opportunity in the calendar.
We have worked hard with Cannes over the years to make the festival more relevant to the PR community. And Cannes has been eager to make that happen. More and more PR agencies are entering their work, as they realise that you don’t have to spend vast amounts of money on glitzy collateral to win.
Agencies have also realised that they can use ICCO and our House Of PR – present in Cannes for its fourth year – as a way of meeting their peers, and of doing so in a cost effective way.
My plea to the industry would be this: the future of PR and communications lies in the blending of marketing disciplines. Our trade relies on two things – creativity and evaluation. If we are serious about that future, then we need to continue to be at Cannes. Yes, you can spend ridiculous amounts of money if you want to. But you don’t have to.
Let’s not run away from Cannes. Instead, let’s get stuck in even deeper. After all, we wouldn’t want the ad guys to have it all to themselves, now would we? They’d spend their time eating our lunch again.
Francis Ingham is the chief executive of ICCO and the director general of the PRCA.