More chance of winning Eurovision? PR chiefs on sector's prospects at Cannes Lions

Sector bosses discuss whether PR agencies will finally win big at Cannes Lions, and offer tips for surviving the event, including: rosé sucks, parties on yachts never end well... and don't do anything naughty on the red carpet.

The PRWeek @ Cannes hub is live


Rob Flaherty, partner, chairman and CEO, Ketchum

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs. their marcomm counterparts at the awards?

I am increasingly optimistic, but still realistic about "the game of Cannes". To put winning at Cannes in context, the investment in Cannes productions and entries by the large ad agencies is often in the multi-millions of dollars, and the sheer number of campaigns and categories entered across the 24 divisions of the show entirely dwarf those from all PR companies combined. Cannes is an ideas show, not a PR show, so good ideas trump all, sometimes regardless of the medium in which they are executed. Large integrated campaigns tend to be most successful, but the true source of the idea behind the multi-agency work can be hard to determine. PR agencies still sometimes struggle to be the lead entrant of their work, even in the PR category, so I hope this year’s PR Lions jury will truly examine the creativity and role of the earned media and influencer work that helps bring the big ideas to life.


Read next: Which campaigns will win big at Cannes this year?


What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Waiting in lines is serious business in Cannes. If there’s a "can’t miss" session on your list, it’s safe to assume it’s on the "can’t miss" list for hundreds of other delegates as well. While standing in line, you might as well use that time to engage in good conversation with fellow attendees. Embrace the line – you might just make an important connection!

Matt Neale, co-CEO, Golin

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcoms counterparts at the Awards?

I think true PR work will perform well. Karen van Bergen [below] is an excellent jury head and will weed out ads masquerading as earned campaigns.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

When you get back home, share everything you’ve been inspired by with your teams. Cannes is a fortune, but spreading the creativity spreads the cost.

Alan VanderMolen, president, international, WE

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcoms counterparts at the Awards?

Part of me says ‘who cares’? If recent performance of the jury continues, PR will be secondary to the ad agencies and the work will not reflect the power of earned media as an element in the broader ecosystem of paid/earned/owned/social/search and experiential. At the end of the day, we should celebrate work and not disciplines.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Rosé sucks. Parties on yachts never end well. Use sunscreen. Leave the shades at home… they are so last year.

Hannah Pawlby, director, the Brewery at Freuds

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcoms counterparts?

I still think the campaigns that get the most credit for creativity at the awards are the ones with compelling video content, which can favour other industries, but things are definitely changing, partly because PR agencies are producing more and more creative content themselves and partly because the Awards are recognizing campaigns that are broader than that.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Don’t Instagram a picture of yourself drinking rosé on the Carlton terrace, however impressed you are by the sheer size of the bottle of wine. People back in the office might think you are just there to have fun and drink rosé (which you definitely aren’t).

Mattias Ronge, CEO, Edelman Deportivo

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs. their marcomm counterparts?

When it comes to competing with own ideas and concepts, PR is still in a development phase. The irony is that the best work in Cannes will be earned at core, often with a societal aspect, creating conversations and delivering measurable results. And this is, of course, what PR always has done.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Don’t think that you will have time to see and hear everything or meet with everyone. Be selective, and remember to have lots of fun.

Beth Williams, director, UK health team, Weber Shandwick

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcoms counterparts?

PR is the category to watch this year. Will we take back our crown from the ad and digital agencies? There’s enough good work submitted to say "yes", so let’s see!

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

I’m a first-timer myself so ask me again next year! But I have been told to check out the gallery of work on the lower ground floor, so I think that’s a good tip for others.

James Herring, managing partner, Taylor Herring

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcomms counterparts?

If organisers haven’t sorted out the PR judging criteria then ad agencies will clean up once again. My two biggest bugbears are non-disclosure of paid media spend and a lack of any sort of sensible quota for the huge amount of cause-related, issues-based entries that dominate the contest. Unless agencies have set out to design and build a 'Lions-type' campaign from the get-go I’d say most would have more chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest than a Cannes Lion.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Don’t spend all your time in seminars – make time to peruse the thousands of inspiring competition entries in the basement.

Rebecca Rhodes, chief creative officer, Virgo/Golin

How do you think PR agencies will perform vs their marcoms counterparts?

Well, the opportunity is there for the taking. In the game of 'hungry hippos' that is today's cross-agency meeting, PR has every opportunity and capability to create the central idea.

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Don't s**g anyone on the Palais red carpet. Other than that, soak as much of it up as possible it is an inspirational masterpiece. And the fringe events are as interesting as some of the main stage mega shows.

Vikki Chowney, ‎director of content and publishing strategies, H+K Strategies

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

Don’t try to do too much; be selective with key sessions – and once you get a seat in one of the big theatres, try not to leave.

Jennifer Risi, worldwide chief communications officer, Ogilvy

What’s your top piece of advice for first-time Cannes attendees?

All week long, there is a tremendous amount of diversity of both people and programs, which offers attendees the rare opportunity to explore areas beyond their everyday areas of expertise or interest. For the Cannes first-timer, take advantage of everything – keep an open schedule that allows enough flexibility to attend as many workshops, discussion panels, training sessions and other networking events as possible. Also, meet as many people as you can. Making fresh connections with new people helps us challenge one another to think beyond the status quo and inspire new and creative ideas that shape the industry.

Stay tuned to PRWeek in the coming weeks for extensive coverage of Cannes, including Awards news, showcases of the best campaigns, analyses of the big trends, and more. Our PRWeek @ Cannes hub is here.

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