Cannes 2016: 5 Campaigns That Won Big For PR Firms
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Cannes 2016: 5 Campaigns That Won Big For PR Firms

While the PR Lions category might have proved unrewarding, public relations firms prospered across the board at this year's Festival.

Arun Sudhaman

Cannes 2016: 5 Campaigns That Won Big For PR Firms

Another action-packed Cannes Lions festival comes to a close, with the PR industry submitting its worst showing (since 2010) in the category which bears its name.

Just two PR agencies — Prime and FSB — led Gold Lions-winning campaigns in the PR category this year, a turn of events that left many in the industry scratching their heads, helping to reignite the perennial debate about how firms are credited.

Those results, though, should not obscure the fact that PR firms actually had a pretty good year at the Festival, once their work across other categories is factored in. This can only come as a welcome development; the work that PR agencies are doing today cuts across many disciplines and channels. Here are five campaigns that not only bring this trend to life, but also garnered plenty of metal for the PR agencies involved.

1. REI #OptOutside: Edelman

REI was richly rewarded for this brave effort, which saw the outdoor retailer close all of its 143 US stores on Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year, and pay its 12,000 employees to take the day off instead of spending Black Friday indoors. The campaign, which involved collaboration between Edelman, Venables Bell & Partners and Spark, won the coveted Titanium Grand Prix, along with the Promo & Activiation Grand Prix, and Gold Lions in Cyber and Direct.

Curiously, the campaign (which took home Best of Show at this year's North American SABRE Awards) only garnered Silver and Bronze Lions in the PR category, despite starting life as a employee engagement decision led by its communications and public affairs function. "The idea to close on Black Friday started here at the co-op as a business decision — a stand against a day and an idea that were out of control — but it took amazing partners, millions of passionate people and the transformative power of the outdoors to create a movement. said Alex Thompson, VP of  communications and public affairs at REI.  "Edelman was a huge part of this from start to finish."

2. The Swedish Number: Cohn & Wolfe

Once Cohn & Wolfe got itself credited on the Ingo-led effort, it began to reap the rewards from a tourism campaign that allowed anyone, anywhere in the world, to call a phone number in Sweden and talk directly and immediately to a random Swede. The Swedish Number won the Direct Grand Prix along with a Titanium Lion and Gold Lions in PR, Cyber and Mobile.

As Direct jury president Mark Tutsell put it, the campaign was "an incredibly brave idea that generated immediate response." "At the end of the day, we're people talking to people," he added. "And it's really refreshing to see an idea and a campaign that unites 9.5 million brand ambassadors with the world through the most direct form of communication—which is speaking, talking. In this case, a one-to-one phone call."

3. Hemnet House of Clicks: Prime

My favourite campaign from the PR category might have lost out to the controversial Organic Effect effort, but still demonstrated everything that is good about modern public relations. Prime's data experiment analysed 200 million clicks and 86,000 properties on Swedish property site Hemnet, before using the data to create Sweden’s statistically most sought after home.

In addition to a Gold PR Lion, the campaign also won Silver Lions in Cyber and Media, continuing the Swedish PR agency's remarkable run of success at the Cannes Lions. Indeed, other agencies could do worse than learn from Prime's ability to translate its complex PR work into the kind of simple stories that are rewarded by Cannes jurors.

4. Pearson's Project Literacy: Weber Shandwick

Led by FCB Inferno, Weber Shandwick's supporting work on this campaign, in addition to the performance of Prime above, helped deliver a highly successful Festival for the IPG agency. Pearson's Project Literacy has become a central pillar  of the publishing company's corporate purpose, taking home the Health & Wellness Grand Prix for dramatising the everyday problems that illiteracy fuels.

5. Philips Breathless Choir: FleishmanHillard & Ogilvy

The Philips Breathless Choir campaign already wowed judges at the EMEA SABRE Awards earlier in the year, after it brought together 18 strangers with chronic respiratory conditions to work with a choirmaster to learn to sing again. Led by Ogilvy & Mather London, the campaign featured PR support from FleishmanHillard, as part of the Omnicom OneVoice team that handles Philips' global PR. At Cannes, Breathless Choir was rewarded across several categories, including the Grand Prix in Pharma.

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