Prior to the start of the Cannes Lions Awards for Promo & Activation, PR and Direct, I did a little homework and viewed the entries hanging in the gallery simply called “Work” and perused the day's issue of the Lions Daily News.
I read with interest two articles spotlighting PR points of view from PR Jury President, Gail Heimann, vice chair of Weber Shandwick (a Unilever agency partner) and PRWeek UK editor-in-chief Danny Rogers.
In the gallery, I was struck by how the shortlisted entries for the PR awards primarily consisted of submissions by advertising agencies whose work garnered media attention (including one of our own for Dove from Ogilvy and Mather, a Silver Lion winner). PR entries were up to 1,130 from 819 for a category that was only recently introduced in 2009 (56 years after the Cannes Lions began).
“The PR industry respects the fact that Cannes is a place it should be and the change in the digital landscape has given us new reasons to be here,” noted Heimann in the Lions Daily News. “We're at the heart of these changes, because we are engaging people across channels, platforms and geographies…getting people to take action.”
If that's the case, though, I wondered why there wasn't more PR agency representation among the finalists. Are ad agencies better at generating creative ideas? At packaging their work to win awards? At thinking what they do is PR?
The well-thought-out and planned-out PR programs I wanted to believe were behind that coverage were not in evidence. If there wasn't a PR plan in place, I then imagined what the coverage could have been with a media strategy and metrics that measured beyond impressions and ad equivalencies (not exclusively, but mostly). The deserving winners did have in common incredible impact based on an idea that was brilliant in its simplicity and out of the ordinary in its creativity.
As we well know, a good idea can come from anywhere, especially with the expansion across the digital landscape. PR, though, is in a unique position to leverage and, when necessary, manage resulting coverage and conversation.
As Rogers put it: “All brands, companies and individuals now operate within a conversation economy… And this gives PR a huge advantage over traditional advertising, direct mail, or sales promotion… It has the ability to listen to what the world is saying and rapidly respond accordingly.”
PR, in today's lexicon now elevated to earned media, provides a value unlike ever before. However, at a time when good ideas that earn coverage and conversation are not solely PR's stock-in-trade, there is a risk that the parade of advertising creatives winning awards for showcasing their “PR” work will continue and the opportunity will pass us by.
PR agencies are undoubtedly producing world-class work. I've seen it as a judge of the PR Week Awards – and I will again as this year's chair of judges. Why isn't that world-class world making it to the world stage? We all know clever when we see it; something truly new and different when we see it; something powerful when we see it. PR agencies need to enter their work so the rest of the creative world can see it.
Christine Cea is the senior director of marketing communications for Unilever.