Are ad agencies really better at PR than PR firms?
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Are ad agencies really better at PR than PR firms?

Arun Sudhaman

In the wake of the Cannes Lions PR results, there has been plenty of soul-searching within the PR industry. This is not exactly surprising. For the second year, ad agencies won the majority of awards - so it is perfectly fair for PR firms to wonder why this is happening. Much of the commentary I've seen, though, focuses on whether ad agencies are driving greater PR innovation, and I think this misses some crucial points. Largely overlooked in all this is that no awards were handed out in the "classic" PR categories: crisis, public affairs, issues and internal comms. So where ad agencies have won awards it is in the consumer categories. There a couple of reasons why that has happened. First, as Paul Taaffe explains in this video, the ad industry is simply better at putting together the types of entries that win at Cannes. They also have much bigger award entry budgets - and producing a high-quality video submission is not particularly cheap. More importantly, though, is that many of the ad agency entries that have won - such as Gatorade's "Replay" this year, or "Best Job in the World" last year, win across multiple Cannes contests, including Promo and Integrated. These are not entries that you would see at conventional PR award shows. Rather, they are broad marketing campaigns that have placed a strong conversational element at their core, and have exploded virally as a result. Like it or not, ad agencies are able develop campaigns like these because they work with the CMOs who drive these marketing programmes. Until PR agencies can do the same thing, they will probably suffer at shows like Cannes. But the lack of awards in the key strategic categories outlined above indicates that some of the best PR agency campaigns of the past year - whether in social media, issues management, public affairs and internal comms - were simply not submitted to Cannes. And until they are, it is neither possible, nor fair, to ask whether ad agencies really are colonising the "earned media" turf at the expense of their peers in the PR industry.
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