Cannes Lions: is it time for British PR companies to stop entering when the odds are so stacked against us?

To prevent this, two simple innovations would help to level the Cannes playing field and give PR a fair crack of the Lions whip.

Time for the PR industry to celebrate? Hold the champagne, for now, argues Peter Mountstevens
Time for the PR industry to celebrate? Hold the champagne, for now, argues Peter Mountstevens

It's the morning after the Cannes PR Lions and my timeline is full of comment from PR's wondering when the Cannes Lions will either own up to being an issue-led ideas festival or start to get a handle on what a PR campaign actually looks like.


Read next: Ketchum wins big at Cannes PR Lions as Fearless Girl bags the Grand Prix


Now if awards were easy to win, they wouldn’t be worth winning. Which makes the Cannes Lions a tantalising proposition for many British PR agencies.

And yet the playing field is far from level…

We continue to see global advertising agencies reaping the PR honours for marketing campaigns that are entered across multiple categories. All of which begs the question; is it time for British PR companies to stop entering when the odds are so highly stacked against us?

A wag once observed that PR agencies would have more chance of winning the Eurovision Song Contest than a Cannes Lions. It’s a valid point as localised quirks and insights inevitably get lost on a world stage, amid a international panel of judges.

The comment helps to explain why a clever, universally symbolic campaign like ‘Fearless Girl’ (a campaign most Brits would struggle to pin to a brand to) garnered so many plaudits.

It also nods to the fact that the Lions still have some way to go to give campaigns with a genesis in PR and earned-media a fair shot. This year a mere seven out of the 100 PR winners had a PR agency listed as the key creatives, which clearly signposts the issues at play.

Indeed, 2017 has witnessed another year where the majority of Lions PR honours have been pegged to marketing/advertising entries brandishing AVE figures that would make a PRWeek Awards judge weep.

The predominance of issue-led campaigns has now also become an issue, giving rise to campaigns that are calibrated to win awards – ticking the Lions ‘social good’ boxes at the strategy stage to ensure a decent shot at the awards.

Two simple innovations would help to level the playing field and give PR a fair crack of the Lion’s whip.

The first would be to band the campaigns of similar budgets, and the second would be a requirement to declare media spend. Both measures would help judges differentiate between marketing campaigns and work rooted in the practise of PR.

Until we see the judging criteria evolve, PR agencies will continue to be viewed as an adjunct the advertising industry, a view which is reinforced by the new 2017 rules, which now award PR Lions by ‘association’.

In the meantime, British Comms specialists are likely to have more success by spread betting and entering work in categories as diverse as Outdoor, Promo and Data Storytelling.

I predict that this will be the strategy of choice for UK agencies who are rapidly evolving their offering, having outgrown conventional linear PR parameters years ago.

Peter Mountstevens is managing partner at Taylor Herring


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