How can UK agencies do better at Cannes? The PR Fringe has the answers...

British PR agencies are attracted to Cannes Lions because it represents the zenith of creativity, but are failing there because they operate on smaller budgets and tend to focus on effectiveness rather than presentation.

The first meeting of the PR Cannes Fringe
The first meeting of the PR Cannes Fringe

This was the consensus of creative leaders from UK independent PR agencies at the PR Cannes Fringe event in Antibes last week, with the unofficial title of #SpareMagnum.

Once again the 2018 Cannes Lions saw a wealth of earned media campaigns winning major accolades, but few were taken home by PR agencies.

"The question is whether we are attending Cannes Lions by design or default," said Peter Mountstevens, managing partner of Taylor Herring. "Award-winning work opens up the marketing budgets. So, we are here because Cannes Lions is the zenith of creativity. That’s what we’re aiming for; that’s what we want if we are going to progress as an industry."

But despite earned media campaigns winning many Grands Prix in recent years, the representatives at PR Cannes Fringe agreed that specialist PR agencies were still not getting the credit.

Warren Johnson, founder of W said: "The fact is that we’re sitting around here trying to work out how we can hustle onto the main stage. But we [already] are on the main stage - because we’re the output."

Jo Carr, co-founder of Hope&Glory, agreed, but thinks the entry process at Cannes inherently mitigates against PR agencies gaining credit there: "I think the big challenge for PR agencies is entering the work in the right way. The ad agencies just do a brilliant job of telling the story with a film. Their entries are amazing and there were PR agency entries in the long list and they weren’t good enough; we have to invest."

"I think that’s the point," said W’s executive creative director Mark Perkins: "If you made a five-thousand-pound campaign and it did amazingly well - all the clichés, went viral, blanket news coverage – it still cost five thousand pounds. You are then competing sometimes against a campaign from an ad agency which has exactly the same results, but they spent maybe a million pounds making the campaign and five million pounds on media spend, and Cannes does not count media spend.

"But then, you have to make the 'sizzle reel' and some of these ad agencies spend fifty thousand pounds on a sizzle reel. If a PR agency has made a five-thousandpound campaign, you can’t then say, 'Let's spend ten times as much trying to market it.' If you’re a small agency that’s not possible and we are
independents, we don’t have that facility."

"Cannes isn’t interested in business outcomes," agreed Taylor Herring co-founder James Herring. "Cannes is interested in the creativity and an idea that everyone goes: 'That's really cool.' They don’t care about the business outcomes in the way like, say, the PRWeek Awards does."

Read next: The fringe event also discussed which campaigns were really worthy of recognition

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