15 takeaways from Cannes 2015

After an inspiring, thought-provoking, and sometimes exhausting week at Cannes, PRWeek editor-in-chief Steve Barrett consults the PR Lions judging jury to identify the most telling insights for communications pros.

As PR pros dodge an Uber-inspired cab strike and head for Nice Airport, they can reflect on a packed week in which MSLGroup won the Grand Prix for its efforts on Procter & Gamble’s Always #LikeAGirl campaign.

PR agencies also progressed again in terms of gold, silver, and bronze Lions won - and they also started to win awards in non-PR categories such as Media, Promo & Activation, Mobile, and Glass.

PR Lions jury chair Lynne Anne Davis, regional president Asia Pacific at FleishmanHillard, joined fellow judges Jennifer Cohan, president of Edelman USA; Ben Shipley, creative and digital director at Hill + Knowlton Strategies Australia; and Kiki Moretti, CEO of press at Porter Novelli Brazil at global industry body ICCO's House of PR cabana to share insights from the judging process that can inform PR pros’ approaches to winning at Cannes and producing great work for their clients.

  1. Cannes 2015 has been a "breakthrough year" for PR in that of the record number of entries (1,969), 50 per cent were from PR agencies, up from 40 per cent in 2014.
  2. PR agencies have embraced data and analytics with ease and are totally channel-agnostic – there has been a huge shift in thinking.
  3. Creativity is now the price of admission for a successful entry. Juries are also looking for earned trust in influence and authority and for PR to have a major role in the planning process.
  4. Creativity is the absolute priority in most Cannes categories, but in PR judges are still looking for real evidence of effectiveness and staying power in the top work.
  5. There is a lot of crossover between categories and PR agencies are learning that they can successfully compete in many areas as well as PR.
  6. You don’t have to be a big holding company agency to win at Cannes, as agencies such as Catalyst, Alison Brod, and Eric Mower proved.
  7. For the second year running, no Lions were awarded in the Media Relations category, and no gold Lions were handed out in Crisis Communications & Issue Management. There were also relatively few submissions in Internal Communications. Judges said there is still plenty of scope for PR firms to submit their best work in these traditionally core areas of practice as this is not currently happening.
  8. Despite obvious progress in recent years, the PR Lions judging jury still called for more PR firms to participate at Cannes.
  9. A lot of the ad agency work submitted consisted of pro bono executions for not-for-profits, which allows creative firms to flex their creative muscles and produce work specifically designed to win awards.
  10. Change prompted by the work must be demonstrated beyond mere awareness building: It must also change conversations, minds, lives, policies, or even the world.
  11. Marrying promotion with purpose is the new paradigm. It’s not CSR – it is purpose unapologetically tied to sales and improving the world.
  12. Around $1 trillion is spent on marketing each year: This year’s Cannes represented a call to action to the creative community to keep pushing for big ideas to make the world a better place.
  13. Social good and social purpose were two of the big themes of the week, as represented by many of the winning campaigns, but there are still too few brands doing it well and right.
  14. The judges are adamant that all of them respect the process and do not promote their own work.
  15. Stunts that drove traffic and conversation but didn’t produce ROI beyond that were eliminated from judges’ thinking.

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