Ogilvy PR's DiSalvo, King head to Cannes as U.S. Young Lions PR winners

The duo's winning pitch pictured children as comic book heroes in an effort to reach millennials and drive donations on behalf of the Variety Freedom Program.

NEW YORK: Ben King and Michael DiSalvo, account directors in the New York office of Ogilvy Public Relations, will represent the U.S. at the Young Lions competition at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in France next month.

The two said earlier this month that they were "humbled" to be singled out from about 70 other competitors in the U.S. Young Lions competition in the PR category. The PR Council sponsored the event, and has launched the Snapchat account PR_council to show off the experiences of King and DiSalvo at Cannes.

"I do a lot of work with advocacy organizations, and it’s fun because the story is there and the elements are there," DiSalvo said. "But oftentimes, they don’t know how to pull that together and how to tell their story. I like to think of it as this: there’s a phenomenal story; we’re just the authors and storytellers to create that phenomenal book."

National CineMedia, the official U.S. representative to the Cannes festival, announced the winners this week.

Teams from around the world were tasked with developing a campaign that would promote the Variety Freedom Program among millennials and drive donations. The proliferation of nonprofits over the past decade was one challenge the teams had to consider in their pitches.

"People question the impact of their donations. So anything we can do to make that impact more obvious was really important," King said. "Anything you come up with has to be new and has to show benefit."

An initiative of Variety – the Children’s Charity, the Variety Freedom Program provides equipment and services to children with special needs and the organizations that serve them.

King and DiSalvo’s pitch took a whimsical look at the children at the center of the campaign, portraying them as comic book heroes.

"Just like fictional heroes need a Batmobile, cape, or utility belt, the life-changing mobility equipment Variety provides allows these children to embrace the superheroes they really are," a slide from their pitch reads.

The competition concealed the competitors’ agencies from the six judges on the panel, noted Jim Joseph, president of the Americas and chief of integrated marketing at Cohn & Wolfe.

"What really made the final decision for [King] and [DiSalvo] was that they had such a strong creative concept that was so tangible. We could see it so realistically playing out in the marketplace," he explained. "Their presentation was exhilarating visually, and they carried that throughout their entire presentation."

In second place were Colin Berglund and Jamie MacFarlane of Rational360 New York and Penn Schoen Berland New York, respectively.

Other U.S. Cannes Lions winners were: Graham Davis and Felipe Yamaoka from AKQA for Cyber; Ricardo Franco and Vince Mak from KBS for Film; Mark Longacre and Catherine Young from Mindshare New York for Media; and Lauren Cooper and Erika Kohnen from Deutsch New York in the Print category.

"It’s important that we look for opportunities to showcase to the marketplace just how creative and strategic PR can be," said Renee Wilson, president of the PR Council. "Cannes is something I’ve been involved with for a long time. I was the jury president at Cannes two years ago and served on another PR jury a little bit earlier. I know there’s opportunity to create greater awareness among the Cannes participates about the power of PR."

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