PR can't opt out of Cannes because it shapes CMO views

CANNES, FRANCE: The week on La Croisette rolls remorselessly on as the awards for different disciplines are unveiled each evening at the Palais de Festival.

CANNES, FRANCE: The week on La Croisette rolls remorselessly on as the awards for different disciplines are unveiled each evening at the Palais de Festival.

Last night it was the turn of Creative Effectiveness, Media, Mobile, and Outdoor, and some of the same campaigns reared their head as had done on Monday night for the PR, Direct, and Promo & Activation categories.

A few examples included ALS Foundation in the Netherlands, which added a Media Silver Lion to its Direct Gold for its "I Have Already Died" campaign. PR Grand Prix winner Banco Popular de Puerto Rico added a Media Bronze for its "The Most Popular Song" activity. And American Express' Direct and Promo Grand Prix and PR Bronze honoree "Small Business Gets an Official Day" will undoubtedly snap up more awards before the week is out.

It's another indication of the way ad agencies, especially, carpet bomb the awards categories in their mission for winners, the increasingly thin dividing lines between the award categories, and the way the different marketing disciplines are essentially playing in the same sandbox.

It is leading some global PR agency chief executives to ponder whether they should completely drop the term PR from everything they do, as communications becomes more of their byword.

And it hasn't gone unnoticed by the likes of Olivier Fleurot, CEO of Publicis' PR arm MSLGroup, that the winning work is often carried out for foundations or non-profits. "Ad agencies can be more daring and take more risks" with these types of client, notes Fleurot, whose agency was the only PR network to carry home a PR Lion, for its Stockholm office's "Ariel Fashion Shoot" work for Procter & Gamble Nordic.

There is still a sense that much of the winning work at Cannes is stunt-based, with little lasting impact, with CLM BBDO's "Naked Man" cited as just one notable example. The campaign, produced in France for e-tailer La Redoute, won in the Best Crisis or Issue Management category, turned on its head an embarrassing situation where a naked man was discovered in the background of a picture for a children's website.

A hunted fake fails website was created and users were asked to try and find fake fails among thousands of pictures. The activity helped take back control of La Redoute's online reputation.

It's all a long way from the strategic and high-level counsel firms are offering their clients in the real world of PR, but that work is often hard or impossible to talk about, especially in the context of having to produce a glossy video to tell the story. As Fleurot says: "Most true crisis work is behind the scenes."

Richard Edelman, boss of the world's largest PR firm, which has engaged relatively lightly with Cannes, says the  awards just don't reflect the modern world of PR, rather it is "like a PR line extension of advertising." "PR is so much more than that," he adds.

But Edelman is adamant that it is not good enough to say the industry is going to opt out. "Maybe we should double down on the marketing work and opt out of the corporate stuff," he concludes.

As I said yesterday, PR shouldn't beat itself up about this, but the senior client marketing community is out in force in Cannes and they are going to come away with certain perceptions about PR from the event that aren't necessarily closely related to reality. 

PR must work hard to ensure CMOs understand - and back - the core PR industry.

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