Team Indonesia Win Gold at Cannes Young PR Lions

Indonesia’s Randy Handoko and Joshua Tjandra, creatives at Leo Burnett Jakarta, are the winners of this year’s Cannes Young PR Lions competition. The team from Colombia, Rony Saavedra and Manuel Barbosa Granados won Silver, and from Germany, Alexander Walter and Katharina Kiriakou claimed Bronze.

At the global final, Randy and Joshua competed against 26 national winners to be crowned the world’s best young PR creatives. Teams had 24 hours to create a global campaign based on a detailed brief from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO).

The brief challenged competitors to create a campaign that would get the attention from youth around the world to help make a video combating racism. The winning campaign idea was a flight anti-racism video – a safety video created by youth around the world that protects travellers against racism.

Rob Morbin, ICCO Deputy Chief Executive, said:

“Congratulations Randy and Joshua, for developing a powerful campaign that I hope will come to life on every in-flight screen across the world. Their winning work sets the bar for the entire industry and is a celebration of creativity’s power to change the world for the better.”

Also, to our UK-based colleagues, on Wednesday, 29th June, the PRCA will be hosting a Cannes Debrief: Digital & Creative Groups (in-person networking) event for all interested to hear first-hand about what caught the judges’ attention this year.

Social & Influencer Lions Jury President, Caitlin Ryan – VP Creative Shop EMEA at Meta, in conversation with PRCA Digital Co-Chair, Candace Kuss, will show award-winning case studies, talk about inspiring work and emerging themes, and share top tips for 2023 submissions.

If you’d like to reserve a seat for this event, please register your interest here!

Knowledge is Power: Rewards and Awards

One of the many definitions for Public Relations is the practice of managing and disseminating information for an organisation to the public to affect their public perception. So far so good. Many of you reading this will probably be thinking ‘why am I being told what I already know?’.

Well, there is a reason and that is the word ‘information’. It’s the cornerstone to knowledge in all its many manifestations and can have a powerful effect on campaigns. So, we want to take this opportunity to highlight how information acquired through market research cannot only help you reap rewards, but perhaps even win you an award.

When examining some of the most successful campaigns of recent years, unsurprisingly they were all informed by insight. That is to say, the messaging behind a campaign is developed with the help of research that helps them strike the right tone.

This is not hearsay. There’s a veritable bounty of award-winning campaigns whose creative direction was sparked by insight.

Take for example Don’t Cry Wolf’s activism campaign for Tangle Teezer. To create a campaign that could address a sensitive issue and more importantly prompt real change, Don’t Cry Wolf leant on research. The result was 3 awards, 2 finalists and 1 nomination.

That return is nothing to sneer at. And this is just one example. A former judge at Cannes Lions revealed that the one of the best campaigns he’s seen was driven by insight. He cited the example of a campaign by REI that one 9 (yes 9!) Lions.

Using insight gained via market research, REI developed a Twitter campaign that pushed back against the Black Friday buying rampage as the research found that its audience actually preferred not to shop on Black Friday. Insight sparked the idea that led to a wildly successful Twitter campaign that sparked a movement and challenged long-held assumptions about consumers.

Knowing this is one thing, but how can it help you? Well, these case studies can help you formulate your own campaigns. This advice comes not from us, but from Susie Walker, VP, Awards & Insights at LIONS. She recommends that those aspiring to win a Lion should learn from Lion-winning work.

If you look at some of the most creative campaigns of recent years, what connects them all is how they embraced insight and used it in their campaigns. Rather than seeing insight as an obstacle to creative, they used their new-found knowledge to get the creative juices flowing.

Let’s end with a word from Heather Kernahan, the CEO of Hotwire Global Communications. Heather is an ICCO partner and has won many awards for her work. Now, she has some advice for those who are looking to catapult into the pantheon of award winners:

“Knowledge is a powerful tool so embrace knowledge in all its forms. It won’t stop the creatives among you from coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful ideas. Rather, it will give them a sense of structure and direction and help them to channel their efforts into the most productive avenues.”


Jane Hales who will be at Cannes Lions this year is the co-founder of the award-winning Sapio Research. Sapio Research is a full-service market research company supporting Agencies and Brands to make confident decisions or achieve extraordinary headlines. The team does this through their ABC process: Audience, Brand and Content Research.

Cannes Young Lions PR Competitions to begin in March

The Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) has opened three prestigious Cannes Young Lions PR Competitions managed by PRCA UK, PRCA MENA, and PRCA APAC, respectively.

Sponsored by the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) and in partnership with PRovoke Media, the Cannes Young Lions PR competition celebrates outstanding creativity and recognises excellence among up-and-coming public relations and communications professionals.

Competing teams from across the world enter a pre-selection process in their own country established by their local Cannes Lions representatives. PRCA UK, PRCA MENA, and PRCA APAC will join other associations around the world in hosting regional competitions before the world’s very best young professionals compete for the coveted global prize.

Key registration dates and information can be found on the respective PRCA websites.

– PRCA UK page
– PRCA MENA page
– PRCA APAC page

ICCO will host ‘Cannes Uncovered’ on 8th February to discuss all things Cannes Lions, including tips for this year’s Young Lions entrants, register here.

How does the competition work?
Briefed by a charity or NGO, teams of two – aged 31 years old or younger – will have just 24 hours to shape a PR strategy that demonstrates creative process, connects with the organisation’s brand values, engages with the public, and builds relations with relevant stakeholders. The campaigns will be judged by a selection of local industry experts with the winner of each region awarded the opportunity to compete digitally for the global crown at the Young Lions Marketers Competition 2022. The crowned winner will then have the option of attending the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2022.

PRCA Director General Francis Ingham MPRCA said:

“This is the most prestigious competition for any young person in our industry. My advice to anyone thinking of entering? Be fearless and authentic. This is a wonderful opportunity for a young team to shine on a global stage. Best of luck to all our entrants – the PR world will be watching.”

Visit here for more information about Cannes Lions.

Crystal Balling the Cannes Festival of Creativity by Karen Strauss

Article by Karen Strauss, Partner, Chief Creative & Strategy Officer at Ketchum. 


When the wise people at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity put together 8 days of inspiring content for the international creative elite, they are curating workshops and sessions to hit the big issues keeping creative leaders up at night.

This year’s line-up looks provocative, marked by a whiff of alarm around how truly difficult it’s become to cut through all the content pollution.  After poring over hundreds and hundreds of seminar titles and descriptions, here’s what I expect will be the buzz on the Riviera.

STANDING OUT HAS NEVER BEEN HARDER – The boldface speakers in Cannes will be cajoling marketing communicators to invent new ways of telling stories.  Innovator Anna Wintour will urge the industry to steal a page from “Hamilton,” which literally invented a new genre of musical theatre storytelling; Academy Award-winning director Alejandro Inarritu will advocate the kind of mould-breaking that produced “The Revenant” and “Birdman,” and Barton F. Graf founder Gerry Graf will rail against groupthink and insist that finding one original-thinking creative partner is the only path to elusive breakthroughs.

A great rallying cry for novelty.

IS VIRTUAL REALITY AND 360 VIDEO THE ANSWER? – Nobody will leave Cannes without Virtual Reality and 360 experiences, yet given the ubiquity of these technologies, one has to wonder if they’ll be stand-out strategies or instantly too commonplace.  Google is promising immersive experiences that enhance storytelling; Samsung’s VR and 360 showcase will demonstrate how to “engage culture and experience compassion”; and MOFILM will share “View From Above,” (, its incredible aerial film project that used drones to film 18 destinations where Emirates flies, allowing travellers to experience each city with remarkable perspective.

Trailblazing immersive experiences.

IS SEX THE ANSWER? – Better connections with consumers may be as primal as plumbing their sexual desires, and this year in Cannes, sex is on stage.  My friends at Flamingo believe a generation’s sexuality is a key indicator of its drivers and values and that each generation’s approach to sex is different.  They’ll argue that recognizing sexual attitudes are a path to connecting with broader hopes and dreams.  Another panel with sex therapist Esther Perel will draw connections between online dating and brand promiscuity today, providing tips for cultivating desire in all kinds of relationships.

Sex plays to our primitive instincts.

IS HUMOUR THE ANSWER? – In winning over audiences, comedy has long been king – and thankfully in Cannes, “queen.” The female SNL trio of Cecily Strong, Aidy Bryant and Vanessa Bayer will make the case for women’s humour; Rashida Jones, a comedy writer and star of “Parks & Recreation” will reveal how humour can shine a light on important issues; and Mike McAvoy, the CEO of The Onion, will caution that “if you’re not having any fun with your brand, you’re doing it wrong.”

Laughter IS the shortest distance between two people.

DURATION & EPHEMERA MATTER – Beyond the topics, tone and technology, the length of content – and whether it’s ephemeral or not – takes on added importance in Cannes.  The Ephemeral Web is how people consume content every day, so how can brands create lasting messages when they self-destruct?  Embracing ephemerality to ignite creativity will be a hot topic.  In one session, we’ll consider whether long-form branded video content is the answer to shorter attention spans, based on new research around social media viewing habits.

Size matters, just what size is the question.

HAS CONTENT KILLED ADVERTISING? – And the mother lode – can advertising be saved?  One CCO wishes it weren’t such a dirty word, and urges her industry to not let words like content and storytelling replace “traditional” advertising in constructing brand purpose.  Conversely, a pair of advertising strategy officers will start a movement to stop advertising to save the industry. At the heart of the debate is ad blocking, and whether creativity and technology can come together to deliver digital experiences that consumers love rather than block.   Seems advertising is fighting for its life in Cannes.

Will it survive the week?

Karen is leading a panel this year titled “Content for the Ages, All of Them” that will examine age-agnostic marketing.  It is scheduled for Wednesday, June 22 at 14:30 in The Forum.

For full schedule see ICCO Guide to Cannes Lions:


Raise Your Hand! PR at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity

Written by Renee Wilson, President, PR Council


The marketplace is quickly transforming. That is evident. The older, more traditional forms of communications are no longer moving the needle as they once did. However, one thing is clear:  the methods, strategies and activity that have PR-thinking at the core are where the action is. It is my prediction that this year at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, we will see the majority of winners from a host of categories have PR-thinking at the core of the idea. And when attendees ask why the program was so successful, raise your hand and proudly say it was “PR-thinking that powered the strategy and the creative idea.”

This will be my sixth year going to the Festival, and I’m just as excited as ever. Nowhere else in the world can you have a professional experience that is so awe-inspiring, educational and enjoyable all in one place. I’ve had the good fortune of serving on two PR juries, once as the PR jury chair, and this year, along with two of my PR Council Members, I’ll be serving as a PR Mentor in the Cannes Young Lions Marketers Academy, along with A.G. Bevilaqua of M Booth and Ron D’Innocenzo of Golin. It’s a great opportunity to help teach and inspire about the power of PR-thinking as it’s important to help marketers of all ages understand more about the types of work we do. It’s not PR versus advertising. It’s PR and advertising, and media, and in-store, online etc.

What do I mean when I say PR-thinking? It’s strategies and ideas that involve working with influencers, third parties, experiential, content and stakeholder relationships for starters. You will find it in the winning Cannes entries.

However, if you are still on the fence as to whether or not to attend the Festival, or more importantly to care, here are three reasons:

1. Cannes Festival showcases creativity at its best. There is no other festival that brings together the greatest creative minds in the global marketing communications industry and gives you access to the best and brightest in integrated communications. Think of it like the Olympics of Marketing. We can all learn from the powerful work.

2. Young Lions Competition. For only the third time, PR is included as a category in this competition. We are proudly sending Team USA and I’m sure other regions are putting forth their bright young talent too. These future leaders definitely have a thing or two to teach us about the industry.

3. ICCO House of PR. For the second year in a row, ICCO will be hosting the House of PR. This is a great meeting place for PR professionals to gather to glean insights from the juries, points of view from thought leaders, and network with colleagues from different agencies and companies from around the world. It can’t be missed!

I hope to see you at the Cannes festival, where we can push forward the power of PR-thinking from around the world, inspire others, and be inspired!


For more information about the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity visit:

Winning at Cannes – an Interview with Tom Beckman, Prime PR

Swedish agency Prime has received more Cannes Lions awards than any PR agency since the creation of PR Lions in 2009. Cannes Lions interviews Tom Beckman, Executive Creative Director and Senior Partner of Prime PR, about what it’s like to win and the affect on the agency.

Tell us about the foundations of Prime; where do the agency’s roots lie?

Our origin traces back to American political campaigning in the 90’s. That was probably the real birth of the channel agnostic approach – long before social media or even the internet. To build and activate a universe of communication assets under one common frame story is still a valid principle for us.

What is the philosophy of the agency?

Communications should have a value in itself beyond the product, idea or message its promotion. We try to create value that generates awareness – not create awareness that generates value.

How did you first learn about the Cannes Lions Festival?

The founder of legendary ad agency Forsman Bodenfors took us there. He introduced us to the festival and how to use the insights from the festival to grow our business. And we’ve been there ever since. For our delegates it’s all work and (almost) no play – see all the seminars, look at all the case reels, and bring home the insights.

When did you know you were ready to enter?

We started to compare our work with the best work out there from all agencies, not just PR agencies. And the only way to do that is start building your own case videos. We didn’t know if we were ready when we entered the first time – I guess you must just start somewhere and build from your experiences and learnings.

Tell us about the experience of winning your first Lion.

A shortlist is really a remarkable achievement. In fact – the way I evaluate our performance is the number of shortlists divided by the number of different campaigns entered (not multiple entries of the same campaign). That gives you a good idea of the strength of your agency. To win a Gold – that’s special of course. People don’t realize how big the audience actually is on that stage – it’s insane.

How do you choose the work to enter into Cannes?

Sometimes the clients take the initiative, sometimes it’s the team. Regardless we make sure that the work can represent us and our clients. Entering in the right category is important of course. The fact that a good case fits in a lot of categories proves how integrated the industry is today.

Since first entering in 2010 Prime has been awarded 14 PR Lions alone – what impact has this had on your business?

It has given us access to pitches we didn’t get have before. And going head to head with ad agencies forced us to up our game even more. It has led to more CMO budgets and to a ticket to play on an international arena.

How did winning influence the culture of your team?

It has changed the way clients look at us obviously. But more importantly it has created an internal culture of living up to our own requirements and expectations. We now benchmark with the best – and that’s a painful but rewarding relationship to your own work. It has helped us break free from limiting industry definitions.

What advice would you give PR agencies looking to enter work into PR Lions?

Cannes Lions is about ideas. Make sure your unique idea comes through. And then validate the relevance of that idea through engagement from stakeholders and media. Getting a lot of clippings is not enough – all decent campaigns in Cannes have that. Instead make sure to focus on the problem and the solution – what did you solve and why was it important? And show how the idea came to life and became a part of society or discussion.


Young PR Stars Compete for Chance to Represent their Country at Cannes Lions

The hottest competition for PR’s young talent has kick-started across the globe, with teams competing for the chance to represent their country at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Over 22 local Young Lions PR Competitions are underway in countries including Brazil, China, Russia, Italy, Turkey and the USA.

Last week the UK competition was won by Matt Watson and Paul Stollery of Hotwire, who were up against 40 teams around the UK. The French Young Lions place was won by the Havas Worldwide Paris team of Daniel Saltsman and Fabien Aufrechter. The winners of other local competitions will be announced over the next two months.

The winning pairs will be sent to Cannes, France in June to compete at the international PR competition, which is part of the world’s largest advertising and communications event Cannes Lions.

To take part in the challenge, entrants must be 30 years of age or younger, and be working in the PR industry. Teams of two respond to a charity brief in 24 hours, and shortlisted candidates will have their PR strategy judged by an expert jury.

The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the proud sponsor of the Young Lions PR Competition for the third consecutive year. ICCO has also sponsored ‘The House of PR’ cabana for the Festival week. If you are interested in sub-sponsoring ICCO’s participation at Cannes Lions in 2016 please contact ICCO General Manager Charlene Corrin.

The 63rd International Festival of Creativity takes place on 18th – 25th June 2016.


About ICCO
The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) is the voice of public relations consultancies around the world. The ICCO membership comprises national trade associations in 33 countries across the globe in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Americas and Australia. Collectively, these associations represent some 2,500 PR firms.

About The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
The International Festival of Creativity, also known as Cannes Lions, is the world’s leading celebration of creativity in communications. Founded in 1954, the Festival takes place every June in Cannes, France. As the most prestigious international annual advertising and communications awards, over 40,000 entries from all over the world are showcased and judged at the Festival. The Festival is also the only truly global meeting place for advertisers, advertising and communication professionals. More than 12,000 delegates from 95 countries attend a week-long programme of exhibitions, screenings and talks by worldwide thought leaders. As the networking and learning opportunity of the year, Cannes Lions is the must-attend event for anyone involved in brand communications.




The Swedish model – How to turn rookies into Cannes winners

Written by: Joseph Borenstein, Cohn & Wolfe Sweden Print@J_Borenstein
Linnéa Rinäs, Cohn & Wolfe Sweden Print@linnearinas

We were invited to the ICCO Global Summit 2015 to talk about our winning campaign from Cannes Young Lions this summer. However, since talking about one single campaign for 30 minutes gets kind of dull, we decided to  broaden the theme and name our seminar “The Swedish model – How to turn rookies into Cannes Winners”.

In many markets, the PR business is very hierarchical and it takes many years for a junior consultant to even meet the client. Not to mention taking own initiatives, like pitching on a new client or managing a big account. For us, that has never been an issue. Our CEO has never been afraid of letting us try, letting us fail, and letting us succeed.

We therefore decided to share with the audience a few Swedish-inspired tips for how they themselves can turn their rookies into Cannes Winners:

  • Throw away the titles! We would never have won our awards if we would have been stuck in the blogger-email, journalist-calling, social media-copy-trap for 2 years. Which is easy if you’re bound by titles and official work descriptions. In Sweden, we dropped a lot of the formal structures at companies in the 70’s, and we sure don’t miss them. What junior consultants may lack in experience, they compensate with in curiosity – let them not only be part of creative processes, but sometimes even lead them!
  • Mix & Match! A wannabe engineer with a political junkie. A sports geek and a fashionista. Unexpected combinations of people can be pretty awesome!
  • Enable us! Our boss sometimes say that the least she can do is to not stand in our way. That might sound harsh, but I’d say it’s crucial to believe and trust in your younger team members. They want do things differently than you? Explore a whole new way of doing PR? Let them try! They might fail from time to time, but so what? That’s how people learn and grow, both as individuals and as businesses. And that’s how you get to keep your talent past the famous 3-year “I quit”.
  • Let us have fun! It’s been proved that millennials want a fun and social workplace, and that doesn’t mean we’re slackers. One of the reasons we work at Cohn & Wolfe is that it is hard to imagine a more fun place to be. Our colleagues are the goofiest, funnest and sweetest people we’ve ever met, and sometimes our open floor plan feels more like a schoolyard than an office. Does that mean we win less new clients, score less coverage, or are less productive? On the contrary. It just means we have fun along the way.

We came to Milan not only to tell the story of how we won Cannes Young Lions, but also to encourage agency leaders  to nurture and take care of the talent they have within their agencies. Because we’re pretty sure that every single agency has the potential of winning a Young PR Lion  – by just following our tips.

Next year, we’re going be too old to compete in Cannes Young Lions, but we’ll be standing on the side, cheering for the next generation of Cohn & Wolfers to get their chance to shine. And we’re looking forward to seeing not only all agency leaders from the ICCO Summit, but their junior PR-talents as well.

See you in Cannes!

If Cannes is an indicator, the future belongs to PR

Written by- Francis Ingham


PR’s reputation on La Croisette is growing, so now it’s time we took on the ad agencies.

No word carries such mystique in the PR world as ‘Cannes’. It conjures images of rosé wine; helicopters from Nice; yachts; topless sunbathing; and random celebs making tangential points about the merits of their clients’ products. And like all great myths, that parody contains some truth.

But having been here with ICCO for the second year, I also know Cannes is so much more than that. Sure, the location is meant to entice. There are plenty of advertising execs. And Kim Kardashian had a moment when her yacht wouldn’t fit into Cannes harbour for her to convey the groundbreaking observation of ‘maybe I tweet too many selfies in a bikini’. But Cannes does represent and celebrate the extraordinary creativity of the PR industry. So, what lessons did I draw?

– PR is flourishing. Our industry won many more awards this time. MSL should be proud of its #LikeAGirl campaign – pride confirmed in victory.

– PR is here in greater numbers than ever – I bumped into dozens of agency heads, many here for the first time.

– PR is truly international. Judging by the Cannes badges, this year there were many more countries there.

– PR’s future is assured. ICCO ran and made possible the Young Lions programme, celebrating young PR. And the ideas generated were astonishing in their breadth and sophistication.

– PR is growing globally. We like to think of the UK and US as world leaders – they are. But the Young Lions’ gold went to Sweden. The silver and bronze to Columbia and China respectively.

But the main point is this – PR represents the future; advertising the past. When PR first came to Cannes it was the poor relation. Poor in numbers; weak in submission content; disappointed in such a small number of wins. Today? It’s the thrusting, entrepreneurial member of the family, with the best ideas. Winning more business. Looked on with envy by – yes – its more cumbersome, less imaginative relations in advertising.

Of course, not everything is rosé (get it?). Too many people think they can’t win here, so they don’t enter. Our production values and the presentation of our content still need to improve. And we need to grab some of that advertising industry arrogance – the confidence to bid for big budgets and then spend them. In a straight fight, advertising still plans a little better; does creativity a little better. And yet…

The key attributes the judges looked for were excellence in campaign design and delivery. And the ability to link commercial purpose with wider social change. I’ve no doubt that those metrics are ones on which PR can happily base its future.

The agency bosses I met this week recognised the challenges, but were incredibly positive about addressing them. They were proud to represent their industry, and optimistic about its future. Representing the PRCA, now the UK’s biggest professional body, and ICCO, the largest international one, I felt the same. If Cannes is anything to go by, the future belongs to PR.

Original article from PRWeek

5 Lessons For PR From Cannes 2015

Written by Paul Holmes

paul holmesPrint@paulholmespr

A question of definitions, a time to stop sounding so defensive, and reasons to really celebrate creativity.

The morning after the presentation of this year’s Cannes Public Relations Lions, The Holmes Report and Ogilvy Public Relations hosted a breakfast meeting—open to all attendees at this year’s festival—to discuss the winning campaigns and the PR industry’s performance. What did we learn from the discussion?

Definitions are important—or maybe they don’t matter at all

Public relations is notoriously difficult to define.

It can mean anything from (the broadest, and our favored definition) anything that influences or impacts the relationship between an organization and any of the people with whom it interacts. It can mean getting coverage in the media—the definition many detractors and even some within the profession prefer (“we do so much more than just PR.”)

By the first definition, almost everything on show at Cannes this week was public relations (something the PR Council hints at with its #itsallpr hashtag). In fact, by the first definition all of marketing is just a subset of public relations: if PR is managing the relationship with everyone, marketing is the much smaller task of managing the relationship with consumers.

The definition that Cannes uses is, in fact, much closer to the former than the latter: “The definition of PR for the purpose of Cannes Lions is the creative use of reputation management by the building and preservation of trust and understanding between individuals, businesses or organisations and their publics/audiences.”

By this definition, a 30-second television commercial—if it built or preserved trust and understanding—would presumably be eligible for the PR category. So, by the way, would a smart business decision. The CVS Quits campaign, which won Platinum at the SABRE Awards in New York but was nowhere to be seen among the 79 PR winners at Cannes, is the perfect example of a change in corporate policy that built trust between an organization and its publics.

So clearly there is more to it than that. PR jury president Lynne-Anne Davis, in an interview with Arun Sudhaman, explained what the jury was focused on: “Creativity, innovation, freshness and ingenuity…. Earned trust through influence powered by authenticity…. Change. Change could be behavioral, or change in conversations, in minds, in lives, in societies, in laws…. And then ultimately we asked the question, ‘Why does this work matter?’”

Those are all excellent criteria for selecting award-worthy work, but none of them would exclude either of the examples—the hypothetical 30-second TV spot of the smart business decision—above. And those criteria leave room for debate about several of the winners, and just how big a role PR played in making them successful. That it leads to a very lively debate about whether the winning campaigns were examples of great campaigns (some of them, perhaps, made a little bit better by sprinkling on some PR) or examples of truly great PR.

“If you are on a jury, you want good work to win, regardless of whether it’s a good fit for the category,” explained Rory Sutherland, vice chairman of Ogilvy Group UK. “There’s a willingness to blur the line to see that happen.”

The answer to whether the line is too blurry is in many cases very much in the eye of the beholder:

  • True Wetsuits, entered by TBWA/Hakuhodo in Japan, seemed to some observers to be a new product introduction that—because the product itself was so innovative—generated a large volume of media coverage. Was the creativity in the product itself, or in the communications campaign? If the latter, was this just a clever ad campaign amplified by PR?
  • Similarly, Proud Whopper, entered by David Miami (with support from Alison Brod PR), appeared to some to be not much more than a cool packaging idea—wrapping the Whopper in rainbow colors to celebrate gay pride. On the other hand, it was a packaging idea that clearly impacted the relationship between the company and the LGBT community and earned the trust of many within that community.
  • Even The Ice Bucket Challenge, which almost everyone agrees was a terrific concept and a powerful popular movement, raised questions. Did the award recognize the basic idea, and was it really PR? Did it fundamentally change the relationship between the ALS Society and its stakeholders, or was it entirely transactional. Was the PR element primarily about generating media coverage for a social media phenomenon?

It’s not clear that there is a right or wrong answer.

“PR is becoming the glue in a lot of integrated campaigns,” said Michael Frohlich, Ogilvy’s UK chief executive. “Does it matter that we don’t create the idea? One of the things we do is make someone else’s ideas even better. We can come up with the great idea, and we can make other people’s campaigns better. But clients are interested in integration.”

On the other hand, this seems like a strange time to be accepting a supporting role for PR. The things that PR has always been about—transparency, authenticity, credibility, engagement, conversation—are at the heart of successful marketing today, and that ought to create an opportunity for campaigns that are driven by a PR idea to win big at Cannes.

We certainly should not be looking at narrowing the definition of public relations to ensure that the winners all feel like “real” PR campaigns.

We do need to embrace the fact that public relations is an extraordinarily broad discipline, and that it can encompass an amazing variety of good winners. The PR Council—which represents PR agencies in the US—was prominent at Cannes with the #itsallpr hashtag, and does not seem overly concerned by the ambiguity.

“We don’t reconcile it, we take ownership of it,” said Kathy Cripps, president of the PR Council. “We say the umbrella is PR. All those other things are part of what PR should be. I think we should be very pleased with the way it’s going.”

We need to get past the numbers game

Depending on how you look at it PR agencies either won 10 Gold Lions in the PR category this year (out of the 17 awards) or three-and-a-half. So it was either a “breakthrough” year for the PR industry—a position adopted by several jury members and repeated in some media coverage—or yet another disappointment in which the PR industry was outperformed on its home turf by other disciplines.

To explain, as briefly as possible, only three of the Gold-winning campaigns were entered by PR agencies (Edelman, FleishmanHillard, and Australia’s Fuel Communications), which means that the PR agencies were clearly positioned as the “lead” agencies on those campaigns. Even the Grand Prix winning Always #Likeagirl campaign was entered jointly by MSLGroup and Leo Burnett—and so in the more pessimistic formulation counts as only half a win for our business.

Of the other winning campaigns, six featured PR firms in “supporting roles.” (And because of the way Cannes works, it is impossible to know whether those supporting roles were limited to generating earned media coverage for a campaign invented elsewhere, or included a genuine strategic partnership in the overall campaign).

That means all but three Gold winners were entered—in whole or part—by ad agencies or other “creative” shops (a term which, when used at Cannes or in the marketing services sector generally, appears to exclude PR agencies).

And perhaps that explains why the comments from the head of the PR jury—in this case, Davis—always seem slightly defensive, explaining that PR firms are submitting more (half of the 2,000 entries this year) and hailing a “breakthrough” year for the industry, as if the same word had not been used last year when Edelman, while not the official entrant, wascredited for its role for Chipotle’s “The Scarecrow.”

At some point, surely we just need to enjoy the fact that PR is getting more attention at Cannes.

“People here are talking about PR as much as any other category,” said Ogilvy’s Sutherland. “The people who should be worried are the people doing 30-second commercials. You’re television and they are the movies. Hollywood is where all the glamor is, but all of the interesting work these days is being done in television.”

And if PR is getting more attention, PR firms—the ones that are represented at the festival and the ones that are doing good word—will benefit.

“This is a great time for our industry,” said Ketchum president and CEO Rob Flaherty. “We are here. Marketing is a $500 billion business and we are a $15 billion part of it. We win just by being here. We are a challenger brand in this environment, we can double the size in the category.”

Doing good does well

There is an inherent bias in many awards competitions that favors campaigns for non-profit clients and good causes. In the PR industry in particular, professionals are cognizant that outsiders tend to view what we do with some suspicion, to believe that we are all accepting fat paychecks to “spin” for faceless corporations wreaking environmental havoc and tricking consumers into buying more of their hazardous products.

And so we pick award winners that show how PR can be used for good too. Which is how we get to a place where five of the Gold winning campaigns were for nonprofit causes and at least half of the remainder either promoted socially-responsible products or focused on companies associating themselves with good causes.

This is not necessarily a bad thing. After all, the best way to build a relationship with stakeholders is to do good deeds, to demonstrate that profits are not your only concern and to show that you care about the same issues your employees and consumers and communities do—a point made by Rob Flaherty at our meeting.

“I think there’s a bias toward campaigns that do both,” he added. “Campaigns that are great at social consciousness raising and drive sales.”

Having said that, there is a concern that PR could follow the path of advertising, which is strongly suspected of creating pro bono campaigns almost exclusively as “award bait.”

“If we were recognizing campaigns in service of the environment that have no impact on sales, that would be a problem for me,” Flaherty said. “We don’t want to create great campaigns just to win at Cannes, we want to use Cannes to help us do great work for our clients.”

On the other hand, there is a problem if the desire to recognize good works ends up excluding good work.

“There is a massive political element in the judging process,” Sutherland claimed. “You could produce a great campaign for the National Rifle Association or the confederate flag and it is never going to win at Cannes.”

Under the circumstances, it’s probably wise for entrants to focus on their most socially-conscious work, and not to waste their money on campaigns for tobacco clients or fracking. At the same time, it would be better if jurors recognized their bias, and perhaps gave a little more consideration to the fact that most people who hire ad agencies do so for crass commercial reasons are care about crass commercial results.

We need to celebrate creative talent

Last year, there was a lot of conversation about whether PR agencies could ever learn to craft Cannes-winning entries. The feeling was that PR firms did not understand how to use video—rather than the more traditional (in PR awards) written two-page summary—to really sell a campaign, and that they did not quite get the value of playing on the judges’ emotions with stories that made them laugh or (preferably) cry.

That concern had not dissipated this year: Ogilvy Public Relations chief executive and PR jury member Stuart Smith suggested that if the jury was more like a clinic—offering advice to entrants before they submitted—the results could have been quite different; PR firms might have presented their cases better, and non-PR firms could have avoided the impression that PR element of the campaign was an afterthought rather than a central part of the process.

But there was more focus this year on the different creative cultures at different agency types—and the concern that PR firms have never quite celebrated creativity with the same gusto as their counterparts in the ad industry.

It is, for example, not uncommon for an ad agency creative director who wins big at Cannes to go home and demand a hefty salary increase. Or, as Smith puts it: “Advertising people are rock stars.”

On the other hand, very few PR people have ever seen their salaries sky-rocket because of a SABRE Award or a Cannes Lion.

Gabriela Lungu is perhaps an exception. Her success winning awards at Romanian boutique agency The Practice secured her a job as chief creative officer at Weber Shandwick. That job only lasted about 18 months, and her subsequent experience was disheartening: “I spent six months looking for a job in PR and eventually I took a job with an advertising agency,” she told the group. “For PR, creative specialists are nice-to-have, not must-have.”

Perhaps that’s because PR has always viewed creativity as more of a collaborative process. Or perhaps, as Lara Leventhal, deputy managing director at Ogilvy PR London, suggested, it’s because “we don’t train our people to come up with the big brand idea.”

Ogilvy’s Smith recalled joining Burson-Marsteller in 1988, at which time the firm had a creative director, content production capabilities, and its own ad agency. “But somehow we got boxed into this uncreative narrow space.”

Fortunately, there are some signs that things are changing.

“At Ketchum that has changed a lot,” said Flaherty. “We have as much brand permission as anyone to come up with a campaign-leading idea, so we train our people to do that.” Last year, he said, the firm promoted nine people to partner, and five of them were creative directors.

“There’s more emphasis on research that leads to great creative ideas. In the past, we celebrated our global client leaders, but now it’s creative directors and content creators. When we get to the point where the biggest campaign idea in the world is created by our people, we will have to pay those people $1 million, and I will welcome that day when it comes.”

For others, it can’t come soon enough.

“I come here to see work that inspires me or makes me angry because I didn’t think of it,” said Caroline Dettman, chief creative and community officer at Golin. “This year, I was not that impressed with the work.”

That view was echoed by a number of PR professionals we spoke with later in the week, after they had an opportunity to review the winning entries in more detail.

Smaller firms have to find a way in

One possible explanation for that is that a lot of great PR work—created an executed by PR firms—is still not finding its way to Cannes.

“One thing that is not true about Cannes, people think the best of what we have done globally gets to be on the shortlist,” says Smith. “Are these 2,000 entries representative of our industry? It’s not representative of what we do. There are still some parts of our industry who think Cannes is not for them. But it’s a shop window. If we want to do more work with marketing, this is where there eyeballs are so this is where we have to be. It’s seven years in; get involved.”

One issue is that while the large global agencies have made a major commitment to Cannes—firms like Edelman, Weber Shandwick, FleishmanHillard, Ketchum, Ogilvy and MSLGroup had anywhere from 20 to 50 people at the festival this year—very few boutique PR firms are represented. There was only one person in the morning-after meeting from a small independent agency (although Smith was quick to point out that about half of the jury came from independent firms).

“Quite a few of our independent members have been sniffing around this year,” said Steve Miller, membership and partnership director for the UK’s PRCA and its international umbrella organization, ICCO. “They are looking around and they are learning how it works.”

Let’s hope they learn quickly. Only one of the PR Lions nominees came from the UK—a market that is famous for the creativity of its small and midsized PR shops.

Cripps, meanwhile, said that the PR Council has been encouraging similar participation from the US, but had encountered resistance because “it’s so expensive.”

Said Lungu: “Somehow our industry should support those smaller firms. Maybe we could have some process for selecting the top 10 campaigns from smaller independent agencies and find a way of helping them.”

If we want to continue raising the profile of our industry at the world’s leading festival of creativity, and if we truly believe that success at Cannes will help elevate the entire industry, that’s not a bad idea.


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