Turning point

PR took a step in the right direction at Cannes Lions and a full breakthrough may be on the horizon. Steve Barrett reflects on the positives the industry can take from this year's Festival of Creativity.

PR took a step in the right direction at Cannes Lions and a full breakthrough may be on the horizon. Steve Barrett reflects on the positives the industry can take from this year's Festival of Creativity.

The theme tune to the Cannes Lions InternationalFestival of Creativity this year was undoubtedly the annoyingly catchy ditty that played a major part in the most successful campaign ever at the annual gathering of advertising, marketing, creative, and – for the last five years – PR pros.

Dumb Ways to Die for Metro Trains Melbourne in Australia by McCann Melbourne became the most-awarded piece of work in Cannes history, garnering five Grand Prix, 18 Gold Lions, three silver, and two bronze – including the PR Grand Prix – but it was a sign of our rapidly converging media times that the work never even ran on TV.

It was an astonishing performance for what is essentially a good old-fashioned PSA, albeit a very cleverly produced animated PSA that was fantastically promoted on social media and went viral.

The span of its top awards stretched across direct, PR, radio, film, and integrated. The only other campaign in the PR category that rivaled it was Unilever's Real Beauty Sketches for Dove by Ogilvy São Paulo.

In many ways it summarizes the PR industry's love-hate relationship with Cannes. On the one hand, a lot of the work rewarded is instantly recognizable as “PR,” as was most of the daytime content in the sessions between the awards ceremonies. On the other, it was often advertising and other non-PR agency folks on stage picking up awards and pontificating during the festival presentations.

Significant wins
But the usual soul searching was at least accompanied by some significant success stories for PR firms this year, with Weber Shandwick, Ketchum, and Edelman all showing well in the Lions honors list.

David Gallagher, Ketchum EMEA CEO and chair of this year's Cannes PR Lions judges, is optimistic. “The headlines are encouraging for the PR community,” he says. “We're seeing great progress from PR firms, winning Lions, even gold. We're winning. I'm confident we're going to do well here at Cannes.”

Another network that shone in the Cannes honors department was WPP's Ogilvy, though more from an advertising-led than PR point of view. Holding company CEO Martin Sorrell acknowledges the historical challenges faced by PR shops in getting recognition. “The fact that, at Cannes, advertising agencies were winning PR or media awards indicated some degree of confusion, either among the judges or what was going on [generally],” he says.

He also noted the increasing impact of convergence displayed by the winning work. “I don't know whether that particular campaign [Dumb Ways to Die] signifies that or not, but PR agencies have found it remarkably difficult to win awards here,” he says.

One thing everyone agrees on is that PR firms have taken a while to latch on to the level of presentation expected by Cannes judges and that is intrinsically understood by the ad community, which is already working on the following year's awards submissions while the prior year's gongs are being handed out.

“There's certainly a technique to winning awards, about how you present. Once they start to learn that, which I think they can easily do, agencies that didn't get shortlisted or Lions are now starting to get them,” says Sorrell. “It's changing. But advertising agencies had a colossal advantage because they knew how judges reacted, they knew how to present, and they are very good at presentation anyway.”

On balance, as delegates took their leave of the Cote d'Azur, there were more pleasant than negative memories on display among the PR community, and the feeling from chair of judges Gallagher was that the industry had reached a turning point, even if it had not yet achieved a full breakthrough.

“The [Cannes] PR competition is a great showcase for creative work,” he says. “PR is changing, hopefully for the better. It's going to create huge opportunities for firms that are willing to move with the times.”

Cannes PR Lions case studies

Grand Prix
Metro Trains Melbourne
Agency: McCann Melbourne
Campaign: Dumb Ways to Die

McCann Melbourne managed to take the rather dull task of promoting rail safety and turn it into a humorous campaign that took home five Grand Prix awards, including PR, film, integrated, direct, and radio.

The effort for Australian rail service Metro Trains Melbourne showcases cartoon characters dying in funny, avoidable accidents. Since November, the campaign has garnered more than 50 million views on YouTube. “We fell in love with [Dumb Ways to Die] early in the process,” explains David Gallagher, CEO of Ketchum EMEA, who was also chair of this year's Cannes PR Lions awards jury.

“The content was based on real human insight – it was fun, engaging, and immensely shareable. And it led to a 21% reduction in serious train injuries, so it was very effective.”

Gold PR
Client: Unilever's Dove brand
Agency: Ogilvy São Paulo
Campaign: Real Beauty Sketches

Dove's Real Beauty Sketches initiative won Gold Lions in a number of categories, such as PR, cyber, and branded content and entertainment. It also battled for the Grand Prix PR Lion against the Dumb Ways to Die campaign.

While it didn't win the Grand Prix in that category, the viral video, which shows a forensic artist drawing women according to their self-descriptions and a stranger's, earned the Titanium Grand Prix. In May, it became the most watched online commercial of all time.

Gold PR
Client: Mondelez International
Agency: Weber Shandwick and Draftfcb
Campaign: Daily Twist

To mark Oreo's 100-year anniversary, Weber Shandwick and Draftfcb were tasked with creating a campaign that not only celebrated the occasion, but also rejuvenated the brand.

The result was the Daily Twist, an effort that spanned 100 days with a new Oreo ad released every day via the brand's social network pages. Total Facebook interactions was 1.3 million, a 195% increase and the initiative attracted more than 1 million new fans to the page. The effort also helped Oreo's base growth increase by 4% in Q3 2012.

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