Where was PR at Cannes Health?

The Cannes Health Lions featured some amazing and very creative work, but PR firms were conspicuous by their absence from the competition.

If feels like déjà vu all over again on La Croisette in Cannes for the PR profession.

Remember a few years ago when everyone in PR was bemoaning the complete lack of traction by PR agencies in the PR Lions at the main Cannes Festival?

Well that feels exactly where we are with the Health Lions, which awarded its second year of metal on Friday evening at le Palais de Festivals in the South of France.

There was just one mainstream PR firm honored: Ruder Finn won bronze for its work on Protecting Our Tomorrows: Portraits of Meningococcal Disease for Novartis Vaccines’ Bexsero brand in the Pharma Product Groups Communications to Non-Healthcare Professionals, Pharma, Vaccines & Biotech category.

It seemed somehow symptomatic of the status in which PR firms are held and awareness of them that host Juan Señor even mispronounced the Kathy Bloomgarden-helmed agency as "Rudder" instead of Ruder.

Out of the 25 campaigns in the PR categories of the Health and Wellness and Pharma product groups, only three were produced by PR agencies: Ruder Finn in New York; Bang PR in Sydney, Australia; and Kompass Kommunikation in Copenhagen, Denmark. There were 259 campaigns shortlisted in total.

Ketchum entered two campaigns for Legacy US, one from London for the World Hepatitis Alliance ('Think Again,' which won a PRWeek Global Award), and an Allergan campaign from Spain. None reached the shortlist. Omnicom sibling FleishmanHillard entered a few pieces of work into six categories.

I understand the jury struggled with how to evaluate PR work, emphasizing creativity over effectiveness, with a particular focus on a very literal definition of "life-changing creativity". That’s not completely surprising when you consider there was only one PR person on the judging panel, Rebecca Rhodes, executve creative director at VirgoHealth.

Weber submitted several pieces of work, including Novartis Living Like You, but failed to reach the shortlists, the story was the same with Edelman. Marina Maher Communications also entered some work.

But Huntsworth Health, MSLGroup, Havas PR, and W2O Group didn't enter anything, though W2O plans to engage in a big way next year. There was no sign of inVentiv Health on the shortlists either.

The New York office of APCO Worldwide’s advertising subsidiary Strawberry Frog won a Gold Lion for its Out The Monster work for Orexo’s Zubsolv brand, under the Integrated category, but for the only time on the night nobody was on hand to pick up the award, which suggested there was apathy on the other side of the equation too.

Don’t get me wrong, there was some excellent gold-winning work categorized as PR on display, such as Ogilvy Brasil’s Bald Cartoons work for NGO GRAACC, which also picked up gold under the integrated category.

And 3SG-BBDO from Ariana in Tunisia struck gold for its excellent The Backup Memory campaign for Samsung Tunisia.

There was a silver lion awarded under the PR category for J. Walter Thompson in Sydney, Australia – and to be fair Hill + Knowlton got a shared credit for this one, though it wasn’t recognized as such when the shortlist was unveiled on the morning of the awards ceremony.

And WPP's Ogilvy network performed well, with Ogilvy Brasil, Ogilvy & Mather in Mexico City, and Geometry Global/MEMAC Ogilvy in Dubai also taking home silvers.

PR is finally doing well in the Public Relations Lions and is figuring in other "Big Cannes" categories too, such as Media, Creative Effectiveness, Promo & Activation, and Mobile.

It's time for PR to target its guns onto Cannes Health too - the industry can and must do better in applying the same standards to healthcare that it does to Big Cannes.

The industry has shown that PR can drive creative and core campaign development and is not just designed to extend or promote ideas that have come from elsewhere - the task now is to convince the Health Lions judges.

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