Don't allow Cannes to simply become a distant memory

It's been a few weeks since the 2012 Cannes Lions Festival wrapped up. We'd be remiss if we didn't take a bit of time to more fully reflect on how public relations departments' and agencies' programs continue to fare each year at the festival awards program.

It's been a few weeks since the 2012 Cannes Lions Festival wrapped up. While the hub-bub has died down, we'd be remiss if we didn't take a bit of time to more fully reflect on how public relations departments' and agencies' programs continue to fare each year at the festival awards program.

In 2009, we in the PR industry were pleased to learn Cannes Lions was introducing the PR Lions Awards. We were gratified to see this iconic global institution acknowledging the growing power of public relations and the creative and influential work being done in our industry.

Four years later, some of that excitement has fizzled, as advertising agencies continue to dominate the awards ceremony, winning in their categories as well as our own industry's coveted divisions.

While most in the industry, myself included, walk away disappointed each time, I am convinced that with a little extra planning, we could see a different outcome next year. 

After judging dozens of national and regional awards competitions in my career, I know that corporate public relations teams and PR agencies produce campaigns that are just as creative, just as sexy, and just as compelling as the winning entries submitted by the advertising teams.

The ironic challenge we face is that in our diligence to address our clients' needs, accolades for our work are usually an afterthought at best. But we're doing ourselves a disservice. Showcasing our industry's work with powerful and creative storytelling can also validate budgets and resources, generate new opportunities to practice our craft, and demonstrate the impact of our discipline.

These are lessons the people in the ad industry have already learned. That's why they begin working on their Cannes Lions Festival entries as early as a year in advance. They even collaborate with their clients to create winning entries that in turn benefit both the agency and the client. The investment the agencies make in time and resources means each entry will consist of high quality videos, beautiful display boards, entertaining entry summaries, and other assets that will no doubt impress judges. 

Taking a strategy from the winners' playbooks, let's imagine what could happen if we put more focus on our individual contest entries long before the deadline. Planning and collecting metrics and materials to solidify the case study throughout the planning and implementation of a campaign could result in more high-quality entries and fewer headaches when awards deadlines loom.

While some may consider contests of this nature self-congratulatory vanity programs, PR agencies and corporate communications departments alike would be wise to take them seriously.

Each time an ad agency or an advertising brand manager wins an award in the PR space, it perpetuates a notion that our function can be just as easily handled without specialized PR resources. Should this become a more pervasive mindset, we could quickly find ourselves competing for more than awards — we could be competing for our jobs.

Whether this is merely an anomaly of the Cannes Lions Festival, or a broader symptom of the continuing blurring of the lines between the industries, it is still important to take note. Regardless of your school of thought, the way our stories are told is changing and it's up to each of us to evolve, adapt, and achieve.  

Jody Venturoni is an EVP at Hill+Knowlton Strategies US. She served as a juror for the 2012 Cannes PR Lions Awards and is a frequent judge for national and regional PR industry awards competitions.

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