Editor's Blog: A Grand Prix... but PR has still to cross the Rubicon

Cannes this year represented incremental progress for the communications industry.

Chipotle's Scarecrow campaign, in conjunction with Edelman, won the PR Grand Prix at Cannes
Chipotle's Scarecrow campaign, in conjunction with Edelman, won the PR Grand Prix at Cannes

I missed Cannes this year as I was otherwise engaged at the World Cup in Brazil, but the annual funfest on the Côte d’Azur sounded as inspiring – and controversial – as ever.

Last year, PR Lions judging chair David Gallagher, EMEA CEO at Ketchum, said he’d be "surprised if a PR agency doesn’t win the Grand Prix in the next year or two."

That prediction, which seemed predicated on an assumption that a PR firm hadn’t won the Grand Prix before, came to fruition this year when Edelman New York’s link-up with Creative Artists Agency Los Angeles on the Chipotle Scarecrow campaign took away the PR Grand Prix.

The Cannes organizers certainly thought this was a "PR first" and billed it as such, but subsequently had to climb down when FleishmanHillard pointed out it had been involved in the Gatorade Replay work led by TBWA/Chiat/Day Los Angeles and Paragon Marketing Group that won the PR Grand Prix in 2010.

Some might say it is just semantics, and of course it gets the agencies into a flap, but the bigger issue is that PR firms still have work to do in pushing their claim to be the lead instigator and creator of the "Big Idea" - and, consequently, planting their stake in the ground for wider recognition at Cannes and, more importantly, with CMOs.

For while the higher profile for PR firms in the Cannes Lions PR category is to be welcomed – entries almost doubled and the percentage of entries submitted by PR firms was up from 30% to 40% this year – the function will only have truly arrived when the PR firm is responsible for the whole campaign, from soup to nuts.

In the case of The Scarecrow, Edelman activated an existing piece of creative collateral, borne of the Big Idea, on social and other media. The agency’s brief was to drive downloads of a game and maximize views of a film. And a fine job it did too. But, as Edelman notes in his blog, this was a "classic PR program based on media relations."

Indeed, he has several times told PRWeek this type of work is a strong driver behind the agency’s remorseless growth – with activations for Unilever’s Project Sunlight and Samsung’s Oscars selfie other high-profile examples.

Other PR agencies are growing similarly. And Edelman points out there are already clients where his agency handles the process from soup to nuts, from ideation to execution.

In these cases, his and other firms should heed the advice of our Power List number one Martin Sorrell, who told PRWeek executive editor Bernadette Casey at Cannes PR agencies don’t present entries in the right way.

"It’s purely packaging," he added. "Ad agencies know more about presentation and understand the linkages better. PR looks at it too narrowly." Sorrell also noted that PR budgets tend to be smaller and campaigns less global, which may attract less attention.

Edelman concedes that until his firm is routinely coming up with the Big Idea and producing the creative collateral on the big brand activations that hit the headlines in Cannes, PR will not yet have crossed the Rubicon.

And, as this year’s Cannes Lions PR jury president PR Renee Wilson said, there are also still "huge opportunities" for PR firms in the crisis, public affairs, and corporate reputation categories, which attract fewer entries for reasons of confidentiality and client sensitivity with which we are all familiar.

So, while this year’s Grand Prix recognition at Cannes was undoubtedly good for the PR industry, it is still just another step on an ongoing journey toward full recognition. We will just have to gather next year along La Croisette on the French Riviera to track the next stage in that progress…

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