The Cannes conundrum

Mainstream agencies struggled to register wins in this year's PR Lions at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Steve Barrett highlights some winners and canvases advice for the industry if it is to do better next year.

The Cannes conundrum

Mainstream agencies struggled to register wins in this year's PR Lions at the Cannes Festival of Creativity. Steve Barrett highlights some winners and canvases advice for the industry if it is to do better next year.

The 59th Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity was the fourth event at which the PR Lions were part of the agenda – and while interest in the category and the event has grown exponentially, the results showed the PR industry still has some way to go before it matches its ad industry peers in terms of winning awards.

This time around, only two pure-play PR agencies were successful at the ceremony on June 18: MSL Nordic, based in Stockholm, won a Bronze Lion in the Consumer Goods including FMCG and Household Products category for its “Ariel Fashion Shoot” for Procter & Gamble Nordic's Ariel Actilift liquid detergent brand. And Swedish independent PR firm Prime won three silver for its “Plumbers Without Borders” campaign for plumbers' union Comfort in the Internal Communications category, and “Kids' Kitchen” for Abba Seafood for Best Use of Live Events/Stunts and Best Launch or Relaunch. It also won bronze for “No News is Big News” for telecoms firm Telia in the Corporate Communication category.

Lack of success

Cannes PR Lions Case Studies

Grand Prix
Banco Popular de Puerto Rico
JWT San Juan, Puerto Rico

“The Most Popular Song”

As 60% of the Puerto Rican population lives on government assistance, JWT asked salsa band El Grand Combo to rewrite the hit song “No Hago Más Ná,” or “I Do Nothing,” to send a more positive and proactive message to citizens. The re-recorded song went to the top of the music charts and Banco Popular's image and reputation reached record highs.

“It combined elements in a way that spoke to the equity of the brand,” says Gail Heimann, global vice chair at Weber Shandwick and 2012 jury president for the Cannes PR Lions.  “It galvanized people in Puerto Rico and brought them together around the campaign. It sparked a dialogue that is very unusual in this category.”

Direct and Promo & Activation Grands Prix and Bronze PR Lion
American Express
Crispin Porter + Bogusky
“Small Business Gets An Official Day”

In 2010, American Express created “Small Business Saturday,” a new shopping day right after Black Friday, to help attract more customers. Consumers were asked to shop at small businesses that keep their communities vibrant. It struck such a chord with people that awareness of the day in 2011 rose to 65%, from 37% in 2010. Elected officials in all states championed the campaign – including President Obama, who visited an independent bookstore with his daughters.

Silver PR Lion
Abba Seafood
Prime, Stockholm
“Kids' Kitchen”

A 7-year-old chef and a 4-year-old headwaiter were among Sweden's youngest restaurant managers for a day in Abba Seafood's “Kids' Kitchen” initiative to show children – and adults – how easy it is to cook fish meals. The children ran the restaurant by themselves, serving dishes prepared with products from Abba's new range of fish sauces.

The restaurant was fully booked and the opening was covered by leading local media in Sweden. Total reach was 2.6 million, out of a population of 9.3 million, and more than 437,000 products were sold. The lemon sauce choice on the kids' menu became the best-selling product in the category.

This lack of success by mainstream PR firms was despite the fact PR Lions entries were up 38% year on year from 819 to 1,130, with 139 of those coming from the US.  Fleishman-Hillard was nominated three times in the 134 shortlisted PR Lions entries, with work from its Minneapolis (Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Minnesota), St. Louis (AT&T employee wellness program), and Washington (Bloomberg Government research tool) offices. But, ultimately, the agency couldn't convert nominations into Lions.

Dave Senay, last year's PR Lions judging chair, and president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard, says: “There is no doubt the finest PR in the world is still being done by PR agencies and corporate communications departments. So, while Cannes is important, is it a barometer of the overall PR industry?”

The PR judging panel this year was chaired by Weber Shandwick global vice chair Gail Heimann. Other judges included Jody Venturoni, EVP for the US at Hill+Knowlton Strategies; Marian Salzman, CEO for North America at Euro RSCG Worldwide PR; Matt Neale, international president at GolinHarris; and Joe Sinclair, UK creative director at Burson-Marsteller.

Heimann says: “The work is uniformly amazing. It pushed the boundaries of the way we have defined PR in the past, and it was exceedingly international. The ideas that win are exciting, compelling, throat-grabbing, and simple.”

But it was ad agencies that captured judges' eyes under these criteria, with JWT San Juan winning the Grand Prix for its “The Most Popular Song” campaign for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico (see p.46), focusing on improving the bank's image by painting the country's economic situation in a more positive light.

Senay believes the change in title of the overall event two years ago from Festival of Advertising to Festival of Creativity worked against the PR industry. “It tends to reward big, bold, disruptive, transitory, and edgy ideas, rather than strategic, effective campaigns built on long-term relationships,” he adds. “Cannes is not the place to get recognized for that.” As he further points out, “In IR, if you get too creative you go to jail.”

Another trend was for entries that might be regarded as PR campaigns to win across multiple categories. For example, Crispin Porter + Bogusky's “Small Business Gets An Official Day” campaign for American Express won bronze in the PR Lions, but annexed the Grands Prix in both the Direct and Promo & Activation categories for a piece of work that boosted small businesses during the holiday season, caught the attention of President Obama, and resulted in a change in legislation.

“Ad guys have been doing this for a long time, and PR is still in the neo-natal stage when it comes to Cannes,” adds Heimann. “From a PR network point of view, the results this year were disappointing, but highly fixable. Seduction is really powerful, and the ad industry uses those elements of seduction at Cannes. If PR wants to win, we need to learn how to seduce.”

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