PR at Cannes: turning point but not breakthrough

So, the 2013 PR Lions have been awarded and the post mortems have begun in earnest, even before the official Cannes "opening ceremony" Tuesday night.

So, the 2013 PR Lions have been awarded and the post mortems have begun in earnest, even before the official Cannes "opening ceremony" Tuesday night.

At least this year, there were some recognizable PR faces on the stage in the Palais to collect Gold Lions, although the Grand Prix still remains elusively out of the PR sector's grasp.

Three big global agencies were well-represented in the Lions winners and provided hope for the PR sector as a whole.

Ketchum CEO Rob Flaherty will have enjoyed his trip to the Cote d'Azur, having collected a Gold for Ketchum Pleon's Tree Concert campaign for Friends of the Earth. Ketchum also won seven Bronze Lions, plus two Silvers in the Promo & Activation Lions for its 7-Election work for 7-Eleven out of the Omnicom agency's Dallas office. Overall, this was an impressive haul by anyone's standards from Ketchum's 20-plus entries.

Weber Shandwick CEO Andy Polansky was also a happy man, with the IPG firm's London office winning Gold for its We Believe in D&T – Averting a Crisis campaign for the Design and Technology Association. Weber also took an agency credit for its role in another Gold Lion winner: Mondelez International's Oreo Daily Twist entry from Draftfcb. Weber took a targeted approach, submitting just 11 entries, which also garnered one Bronze Lion.

Edelman's Cannes experience in 2013 was very much an exploratory mission, with global chair of creative strategy Jackie Cooper plotting a bigger attack on La Croisette next year. However, the world's largest PR firm still walked away with two Silvers for its Microsoft Halo 4 work out of London, and an agency credit in the Gold Lion-winning The Candidate campaign for Heineken International won by Publicis Italy.

Ogilvy as a network performed very well, although only one could truly be attributed to the firm's PR operations: the Same Sex Marriage campaign for Google out of the WPP agency's Paris office.

And, to prove that you don't have to be a giant global firm to prosper in Cannes, little Golden Goose PR from Surrey in England won a Gold Lion for its Putting Sea Containers on the Map work for The Deerbrook Group – a giant banner of the Royal Family in 1952's Coronation draped over the building that became a ubiquitous image of last year's Diamond Jubilee celebrations in London.

The Red Consultancy in London also got an agency credit for Samsung's We Are David Bailey Gold Lion for Cheil UK.

The two campaigns that really caught the judges' imagination were an object lesson in the way convergence and integrated work is overtaking the old-fashioned single discipline-based categories through which Cannes organizes its awards.

Both the PR and Direct Grands Prix were won by McCann Melbourne for its Dumb Ways to Die campaign for Metro Trains in Australia. So, ironically, Andy Polansky's former boss Harris Diamond, who moved from his role as CEO of Weber Shandwick and IPG's PR umbrella Constituency Management Group, to become chairman and CEO of sister IPG ad network McCann Worldgroup in November last year, was celebrating hard in the Carlton Hotel on La Croisette after the awards ceremonies.

Unilever's Christine Cea marked our card about the CPG giant's Real Beauty Sketches campaign when the PR Lions shortlist was announced, and this work by Ogilvy Brazil in Sao Paulo pushed Metro Trains hard for the Grand Prix. It was interesting to note Cea's point about media relations and coverage gained on Good Morning America being real drivers of word of mouth on this activity.

A panel of senior PR agency pros convened by PRWeek UK on the morning after the awards displayed a curious mixture of pessimism about the nature of the work that is winning PR awards at Cannes, alongside optimism – and a little relief – that at least PR had won a decent share of the gongs this year, unlike last year's severe disappointments.

More on this later, but, for now, it's difficult to disagree with chair of PR Lions judges and Ketchum EMEA CEO David Gallagher that this year's Cannes was a turning point for PR – but not yet a breakthrough.

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