Cannes Lions 2009 International Advertising Festival - PR arrives at Cannes

Public relations is finally being honoured with its own award category at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. Arun Sudhaman investigates.

Cannes: home of glamour
Cannes: home of glamour

Say hello to the Cote d'Azur, aka the French Riviera. After years of watching the advertising world live it up at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival, PR professionals now have their own entree to the famed Croisette, thanks to the inclusion of a PR category at the 56th annual event this year.

The inaugural PR Lions will see the sector take its place alongside the various advertising disciplines already honoured, with awards for film, press, outdoor, media, radio, direct, promo, cyber, design and integrated. A special Titanium Lion celebrates 'breakthrough ideas'.

The event, which takes place from 21 to 27 June, will give PR professionals a chance to rub shoulders with some of the biggest names in the marketing world. The Monday night (June 22) PR awards form just one part of the week-long shindig. Each day is brimming with seminars, workshops, master classes and exhibitions.

In recent years, Cannes has made a concerted effort to attract the kind of big names that can elevate the festival above the realms of just another awards show.

Judging from this year's speaker line-up, the strategy seems to be working. Former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan will lead a session on climate change, while other key speakers will include Barack Obama's 2008 presidential campaign manager David Plouffe, Google chairman Eric Schmidt and Twitter founder Biz Stone.

For PR agencies, there are some compelling reasons for taking part in the festival. Cannes' ability to attract senior client-side marketing executives is well known and remains a draw. With clients increasingly looking to integrate their advertising and PR activity, Resonate director Graham Drew believes Cannes offers agencies the opportunity to start leading the creative process and win more business.

'It feels like an award with a lot of gravitas in the wider marketing world, so why wouldn't we be interested?' asks Drew. 'It could get you on the pitchlist - and that is the primary reason for winning awards.'

By making sure that clients see award-winning PR work, Threepipe co-founder Jim Hawker hopes they will divert below-the-line budget towards the PR agency rather than the creative shop.

Eulogy CEO Adrian Brady points out that competition with other disciplines is now a fact of life in the PR world, so it should welcome the recognition that Cannes is offering.

'It's a great opportunity to see what's working in other territories and to learn more about the real work and thought processes required to offer clients truly integrated campaigns,' says Brady.

'As long as we look at ROI and changes in brand perceptions, and are proud to show how our work is every bit as powerful and impactful as a quality advertising campaign, we can be proud of the fact PR has been integrated into Cannes.'

Cannes has attracted more than 400 PR entries from around the world, including 60 from the UK. The numbers represent a healthy tally, particularly in such a tough economic environment. It is also worth bearing in mind that attending Cannes is not exactly a low-cost affair.

'You are looking at a minimum of EUR2,000 per head, which is incredibly hard to justify in this market,' says GolinHarris co-MD Matt Neale. 'We will only attend if we can be sure that every job in the agency is safe for the rest of the year.'

Hawker adds: 'I actually think the costs are prohibitive for smaller agencies. If the organisers want better PR representation, they will need to take a look at this. It seems only ad agencies can justify three days or more out of the office.'

Those who make the trip will certainly gain a unique insight into current marketing zeitgeist, even if PR-specific seminars are thin on the ground.

Neale says: 'The digital workshop looks interesting and I am always interested in talking to industry people about cracking breakthrough ideas and fostering disruptive thinking.'

Ultimately, it appears PR's inclusion at Cannes is yet another sign of its increasing recognition and importance within the marketing community. In an environment where clients are looking for the best ideas, regardless of their provenance, the onus is on PR agencies to prove they can swim with the biggest fish.

Hawker says: 'More and more budget is going below the line, and it is important that the PR industry is represented.'

VIEW FROM THE CHAIR - LORD BELL

The entries will be judged on their merits, with particular regard to idea generation, and hopefully the jury will make the awards with particular regard to creativity. This is important because Cannes is all about creativity. It is also long overdue that public relations work should be celebrated in the same way that advertising always has been.

I understand there have been a huge number of entries and we will have to see if the proposed judging system will work well. I am determined to lead in favour of persuasion, not manipulation. Impact is also very important, as is the power of a single-minded proposition. Whether an array of international entries can be compared, given the different cultures, media environments and economic situations, remains to be seen. The prospect is very challenging.

But a chance to judge best practice in many different markets is an exciting prospect. I hope that the outcome will be awards given for ideas that have captured people's imaginations and resulted in real attitudinal and behavioural change - and, most of all, ideas that have worked.

- Lord Bell is chairman of Chime Communications and jury president for the PR Lions at Cannes.

INSIDER'S VIEW - NOEL BUSSEY

If you're a Cannes virgin, this will be a strange year to pop your Cote d'Azur cherry.

With the economy as it is, the big networks have pulled the plug on their usual lavish parties and decided to invest in speakers instead.

These happen in the Palais des Festival, where work is displayed, and the Debussy Theatre next door, where the seminars and talks are held, with names such as Spike Lee and Roger Daltrey on the bill this year.

However, that doesn't mean it will be all work - expenses can still be spent on long lunches and dinners. Top restaurants include the Colombe d'Or, Eden Roc (which only accepts cash) and, for the super-lavish, helicopters or boats out to Le Cinquante-Cinq in St Tropez.

But if you are struggling on a budget, you can always visit the old town - great food, cheaper prices.

Just remember, however, your main consideration should be the herd of adfolk who have owned the festival since its creation in 1961 - they won't want to give up their territory easily.

They are bound to be in the restaurants, but if you decide to steer clear of them afterwards, then don't go anywhere near Croisette 72 (the Gutter Bar), which can be found next door to the Martinez between midnight and 6am-ish. Half of London will be crammed in there. But if you do fancy it, it's complete mayhem and great fun.

- Noel Bussey is Close-Up editor at Campaign and will be attending Cannes for the fourth time.

WHY I'M GOING - MARIAN SALZMAN

I can't stay away from Cannes - it's in my blood, sad as it is. The itch to network, to watch films, debate the work, even the Gutter Bar. I am thrilled PR is finally joining the main stage, as I think of Cannes, and am already worried about what to wear, whether I will be there enough or too many days, and how to leverage my advertising and PR smarts to make the most of it for Porter Novelli. Did I mention I can't wait for the buzz of the Majestic Terrace as shortlists come out in the daily?

My best Cannes was when JWT CEO Bob Jeffrey and creative director Craig Davis let me organise the pop culture event that brought Arianna Huffington, Michael Patrick King, and Martin Sheen to the Palais to talk about pop culture politics. Fast forward and I wonder how this year's event will manage our insight into the end of mass consumerism and the beginning of something new.

- Marian Salzman is CMO at Porter Novelli in New York and formerly worked for JWT.

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