Peter Heneghan described the campaign, which also won the Grand Prix in the Design Lions – as well as the PR Lions – as "an evolution of PR".
Trash Isles was created by ad agency AMV BBDO in June 2017 in partnership with LADBible and The Plastic Oceans Foundation. They submitted an application to the UN on World Oceans Day to recognise the Trash Isles – an area of rubbish in the ocean the size of France - as an official country. If granted, this would compel other nations to clear it up.
It attracted big names to the cause such as Sir David Attenborough and Al Gore (both are "honorary citizens" of the state) and Dame Judi Dench, who is officially its Queen. Stephane Dujarrac, spokesmen for the UN secretary general, described Trash Isles as "a very innovative and creative way to bring attention to a problem that is not often seen".
It now has the support of over 200,000 citizens via a petition on Change.org to recognise it as a country. The video has been viewed more than 50 million times and the campaign has reached half a billion people so far.
There is no PR credit for the campaign, which originated from the UK, at the PR Lions. AMV BBDO is given the idea creation credit, with LADbible credited with "production" and "product"; the latter is a joint credit with Plastic Oceans.
Heneghan, who also previously worked at Buzzfeed, said the campaign was "super charged" by promotion on LADbible’s social channels and website.
"The campaign was led by the marketing team, supported by consistent relatable editorial content, talent relations, social and traditional PR and data science. This has given us the edge to build out a long-term campaign that has reached half a billion people so far," he stated.
"Trash Isles winning the Cannes Lions PR Grand Prix should act as light bulb moment for the PR industry about the positive influence of social publishers like LADbible. With the industry still obsessing about traditional media coverage, right under their nose LADbible has built up a massive social media following of over half of all millennials in the UK alone – both male and female.
"We are interacting with this audience directly in their news feed in relatable ways and they love us for it."
He added: "We are already taking this positively social approach and partnering with brands like Smirnoff on ambitious ground-breaking partnerships in support of the LGBT community and to encourage a more positive and inclusive nightlife culture for all."
In a statement after the victory at Cannes, the creative team behind the idea at AMV BBDO, Dalatando Almeida and Michael Hughes, and designer Mario Kerkstra, said: "We wanted to put this country-sized problem under the noses of world leaders, literally, raising awareness of the crisis in our ocean and its impact. So to see the campaign getting recognition on a global stage is great, as the more noise that is created around the issue, the harder it is to ignore".
Julie Andersen, global executive director at Plastic Oceans Foundation, said: "We believe in the value of creativity and its ability to serve as a powerful tool for awareness. Trash Isles is a perfect example of multiple sectors coming together to create a campaign that has done exactly that."