PRCA chief: If Cannes is an indicator, the future belongs to PR

PR's reputation on La Croisette is growing, so now it's time we took on the ad agencies.

No word carries such mystique in the PR world as ‘Cannes’. It conjures images of rosé wine; helicopters from Nice; yachts; topless sunbathing; and random celebs making tangential points about the merits of their clients’ products. And like all great myths, that parody contains some truth.

But having been here with ICCO for the second year, I also know Cannes is so much more than that. Sure, the location is meant to entice. There are plenty of advertising execs. And Kim Kardashian had a moment when her yacht wouldn’t fit into Cannes harbour for her to convey the groundbreaking observation of ‘maybe I tweet too many selfies in a bikini’. But Cannes does represent and celebrate the extraordinary creativity of the PR industry. So, what lessons did I draw?

- PR is flourishing. Our industry won many more awards this time. MSL should be proud of its #LikeAGirl campaign – pride confirmed in victory.

- PR is here in greater numbers than ever – I bumped into dozens of agency heads, many here for the first time.

- PR is truly international. Judging by the Cannes badges, this year there were many more countries there.

- PR’s future is assured. ICCO ran and made possible the Young Lions programme, celebrating young PR. And the ideas generated were astonishing in their breadth and sophistication.

- PR is growing globally. We like to think of the UK and US as world leaders – they are. But the Young Lions’ gold went to Sweden. The silver and bronze to Columbia and China respectively. 

But the main point is this – PR represents the future; advertising the past. When PR first came to Cannes it was the poor relation. Poor in numbers; weak in submission content; disappointed in such a small number of wins. Today? It’s the thrusting, entrepreneurial member of the family, with the best ideas. Winning more business. Looked on with envy by – yes – its more cumbersome, less imaginative relations in advertising.

Of course, not everything is rosé (get it?). Too many people think they can’t win here, so they don’t enter. Our production values and the presentation of our content still need to improve. And we need to grab some of that advertising industry arrogance – the confidence to bid for big budgets and then spend them. In a straight fight, advertising still plans a little better; does creativity a little better. And yet…

The key attributes the judges looked for were excellence in campaign design and delivery. And the ability to link commercial purpose with wider social change. I’ve no doubt that those metrics are ones on which PR can happily base its future.

The agency bosses I met this week recognised the challenges, but were incredibly positive about addressing them. They were proud to represent their industry, and optimistic about its future. Representing the PRCA, now the UK’s biggest professional body, and ICCO, the largest international one, I felt the same. If Cannes is anything to go by, the future belongs to PR. 

Francis Ingham is PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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