Most of us had not even left France and the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity before the lamentation had begun. "In PR Category, PR Shops Come up Short While Ad Agencies Stand Tall," taunted Ad Age magazine. “Cannes Drubbing Puts PR at Risk in Social Media” worried O’Dwyers. “PR can’t sit passively by,” admonished a PR jury member.
With respect, this is a big fuss about nothing. Nobody should be surprised by the fact that ad agencies prevailed in a competition they’ve been mastering for 60 years. PR firms weren’t invited to the dance until three years ago, and while we’re fast learners, it will take another festival or two before our full potential is realized.
Blind optimism? Maybe, but coming from one of the PR agencies to win a Lion (a silver, for work done as part of our OneVoice partnership with Fleishman Hillard, after a gold in the first year of the competition), I’ve got several reasons to think we’ll do better in the years to come:
SABRES and Silver Anvils don’t necessarily make Lions. Cannes Lions favors highly visual, event-driven, big-burst entries. Some might even call them stunts. Nothing wrong with these, but it’s not usually the stuff of winning entries for PR competitions we know best. Rather than re-purposing our prize-winners from elsewhere, we’ll need to look for work best suited for Cannes.
The field is wide open. The ad agencies are savvy in their entries, pushing contenders into multiple categories. They know some are more crowded than others, and that the Grand Prix points system rewards multiple entries. We tend to be selective and potentially overly analytical about which work we put where, and we almost always contain ourselves to the PR competition. And we typically shun work that features paid media. No more – there’s a war on, people!
Practice makes perfect. Entering a stand-out Lions submission is, like entering the PR Week or PRCA competitions, an art form in itself. We’ll get better at recognizing what works and what bombs at Cannes, and we’ll put that knowledge to work in 2012.
Strength in numbers. In only the third year of the PR competition, leading PR agencies showed some serious commitment to Cannes. Ketchum, Hill & Knowlton, Porter Novelli, and Golin Harris were there in bulk, and you can bet that number will double next year. It won’t take long to reach a tipping point of interest and investment in success.
The organizers want the best. There’s a reason the festival organizers changed the name from the Advertising Festival to the Festival of Creativity – they want the event to appeal to everyone in the creative industry, and the credibility of the Lions rests on the quality of the winners. You can bet they’ll look for ideas refining and improving the process to keep getting better. Let’s not disappoint them.