The famous Croisette that runs along the ocean front is teeming with global marketing executives. Tech media behemoths like Google, Microsoft and Twitter host lavish parties. Creative types, decked in combat shorts and sandals, flock in from South America and Asia.
But there is still a major doubt about whether this festival’s newly ‘integrated’ nature – it now runs awards schemes for all marketing disciplines – is striking a chord with the worldwide PR industry.
On Monday night the winners of the PR Lions were announced (in Cannes, PR shares an awards ceremony with direct marketing and promo & activation). More than ever, since the PR category was added in 2009, the prizes were dominated by advertising agencies.
None of the Golden Lions went to recognised PR agencies. Indeed, they were dominated by names such as JWT, Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett. Virtually no British PR agencies, even global PR networks, appeared among the 60-odd gongs.
So while the growth discipline of PR has arrived in the Cote D’Azur, the town’s traditional audience of ad agencies are the ones muscling in.
Some of the European PR bosses here this week, including Ketchum’s David Gallagher and GolinHarris’ Matt Neale, argue PR consultancies simply aren’t displaying the levels of creativity produced by their ad agency cousins.
Looking at some of the winners, they have a point, but for me it’s a chicken and egg problem. Until Cannes – indeed the global creative marketing business – truly understands and embraces strategic comms, PR professionals will continue to feel a cold shoulder.
It comes down to a narrow definition of PR. What Cannes has done is highlight some of the brilliant ‘editorial’-type ideas now being embraced by brands and their creative agencies.
This is traditionally the heartland of PR shops and they should indeed worry about and learn from the innovative content on display.
But if we understand PR as strategic reputation management, there are areas of expertise (high-level corporate judgement, public affairs, stakeholder relations, internal comms) that certainly do not exist within marketing departments and marketing agencies.
PR’s opportunity is to champion its holistic comms nous on the global stage beyond Cannes, while adopting the creative content prowess here. The prize for achieving this is influence right at the heart of global brands and many other powerful organisations.