Cannes Lions judges criticise PR industry for lacking 'big ideas'

The PR industry has been accused of lacking 'big ideas', following another disappointing performance at the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Picturesque: Cannes hosts the International Festival of Creativity
Picturesque: Cannes hosts the International Festival of Creativity

Advertising agencies dominated the PR category at the Cannes PR Lions on Monday night, with the top prize bagged by an ad firm – this year, JWT – for the third year in a row.

PR category judge Marian Salzman, CEO of Euro RSCG PR North America, said many of the entries from the PR world were too tactical and lacked ‘the big idea’.

Fellow judge and Burson-Marsteller creative director Joe Sinclair added that ad agencies had dominated because PR agencies were ‘stuck in historic structures of having one person who is the client contact, the idea generator and also the budget keeper’.

Many agencies have tried to emulate the creative flair of advertising in recent years by bringing in creative directors alongside insight and planning roles. Some, like Weber Shandwick’s Creation, are also developing content development divisions that can create video, online and experiential material in-house.

However, Sinclair also said that clients ‘needed to change their mindset’ and move on from PR briefs focused on coverage quotas and metrics.

GolinHarris International president Matt Neale, a Lions judge, agreed: ‘We sigh in despair when we receive a brief that prioritises print coverage in the nationals. It narrows our ambition and creativity – our advertising sisters have no such baggage.’ He added that PR could no longer hide behind the excuse that advertising can think big because its budgets are bigger: ‘Some of the most creative and big ideas we judged were done on a shoestring.’

However, Fleishman-Hillard’s London MD Richard Kanareck warned that agencies and in-house teams should not be judged purely on the Cannes Lions criteria, which he claimed did not reflect the broader range of services provided by the industry.

He argued: ‘In terms of sustainable platforms and campaigns that drive engagement and reputation, the best PR is being done by PR agencies and in-house teams... the Lions lean towards disruptive, one-off, standalone creative ideas.’

It was a view seconded by Ogilvy PR MD Michael Frohlich: ‘The problem for the PR category is Cannes is all about creativity. PR is about reputation management and impact and effectiveness, of which creativity is part.’

Also read: Danny Rogers: We can learn from Cannes but look beyond

How I see it

Sarah Gower
Head of PR, Adidas UK & Ireland
Ad agencies still have the bigger voices because they have the bigger networks globally. Because they have the bigger budgets, they work across multiple channels in a better way. But this is being challenged now with the prominence of digital.

Greg Dawson
Director of corporate comms, Virgin Atlantic
It is nonsense to say that big thinking only comes from big budgets. It costs nothing to come up with creative ideas. In-house comms people want their ad, PR, digital and marketing agencies all working together. None of these disciplines has the right to own the big creative idea – they all bring creativity to the table.

WPP consultancy JWT wins Cannes Lions Grand Prix

The Cannes PR Lions awards were dominated by ad agencies, with the Grand Prix going to WPP-owned JWT.

The top prize in the PR category – in its fourth year at Cannes – went to JWT San Juan for a campaign for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico entitled ‘The Most Popular Song’.

The campaign saw the agency rewrite a well-known Puerto Rican song that celebrated not having a job, with help from the band behind the original. The new version espoused the merits of gainful employment and went on to become the most popular in the country.

Gail Heimann, the PR Lions jury president, described the Grand Prix winner as ‘singularly spectacular’.

The only UK agency to win a Gold Lion in the PR category was Brooklyn Brothers for its Promote Iceland campaign ‘Inspired by Iceland’, which PRWeek featured on 3 May. In the campaign, Icelanders were inspired to open their homes to tourists. To encourage them, the President of Iceland, Ólafur Ragnar Grímsson, kick-started the campaign with an online address to the nation in which he pledged his own invite and urged his fellow citizens to do the same. As tourists arrived in Iceland they were given an ‘Honorary Icelander’ passport.

Elsewhere, Ogilvy & Mather received a Silver Lion for its ‘Dove ad makeover’ work.

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