What was once the annual Cannes Advertising Festival has now rebranded as the International Festival of Creativity in an effort to span the marcoms disciplines. It is an admirable ambition and an important recognition that advertising no longer dominates brand strategy.
I have just attended, in the first of four days of awards ceremonies, the PR Lions event, although this is actually merged, on the Monday night, with the Direct Lions, Activation and Promo Lions – a broad swathe of ‘below-the-line’ campaigns.
There were some great campaigns on show during the breakneck ceremony (that’s the problem with trying to cover global below-the-line marketing in 90 minutes). Some of these you would remember, such as Burson-Marsteller’s two-minute silence ‘music single’ for the Royal British Legion last year. It was a great campaign. It won silver.
Instead, most of the PR Lions went to advertising agencies that also ‘do PR’. The Grand Prix went to Clemenger BBDO Melbourne for its ‘Break Up’ campaign for National Australia Bank.
This reminded me of 2009 – the first year Cannes introduced PR – when another Australian ad agency won the Grand Prix for Tourism Queensland’s ‘Best Job in the World’ campaign.
Despite the fact global PR agency heads regularly chair the PR Lions – this year it was Dave Senay, global boss of Fleishman-Hillard – there is still a dearth of really big prizes being picked up by these networks.
This is partly because Cannes is still not seen as a ‘true PR festival’. And partly because PR agencies have not worked out how to win this type of award. When competing with ad agencies, they need to become much more adept at visualising their creative output and packaging the narrative in a compelling way.
One suspects this is improving all the time, particularly as PR campaigns are increasingly morphing with other disciplines.
But there is little time for complacency. The wealth of ambitious, energetic and fiercely creative agencies from outside the Western world is brutally apparent, with some stunning entries from Brazil, Columbia and Romania.
It is critical that PR networks embrace this fresh creativity. They need to learn, to buy the best global talent. And, ultimately, they need to be better recognised and rewarded when they do.