PR Lions: fewer entries, only six Golds and little for PR to celebrate

Continued frustration for PR firms as this year's Cannes Festival of Creativity underlines that communications pros don't have a monopoly on earned media.

Golin’s Gold Lion for its McDonald’s Big Mac 50th Anniversary piece was a rare bright spot for PR firms at Cannes.
Golin’s Gold Lion for its McDonald’s Big Mac 50th Anniversary piece was a rare bright spot for PR firms at Cannes.

Well, that was quick…

I’ve just left Le Palais des Festivals in Cannes after the PR Lions were handed out in record time: only six Gold Lions were awarded, with one idea creation credit going to a PR firm.

Golin hit gold for McDonald’s Big Mac 50th Anniversary; the IPG firm also bagged a Silver Lion for the same activation.

The overall number of Lions awarded this year was down significantly on 2018, with 55 awards comprising 22 silver and 26 bronze in addition to the Golds and Grand Prix, which went to German creative firm Scholtz & Friends for The Tampon Book: A Book Against Tax Discrimination on behalf of specialist retail startup The Female Company.

That compares to the 89 PR Lions handed out last year – 14 Gold, 27 Silver and 47 Bronze. Entries in the PR Lions were down 12% this year from 2018, but the number of Lions handed out was down 38% - I can’t imagine the big PR firms that heeded last year’s PR Lions jury chair Stuart Smith’s exhortation to double down on the category and enter many more submissions will regard that as a good return on investment.

This year’s jury chair, Edelman’s Michelle Hutton, told PRWeek: "Half of the top six gold-awarded campaigns have either come from a PR agency or had a PR agency at the table as an integral part of the campaign. To the best of our knowledge that hasn’t happened before."

She is referring to Golin’s Big Mac piece, AB InBev’s ‘Wind Never Felt Better’ campaign for Budweiser that was credited to ad firm David for idea creation but had significant input from the PR-credited Weber Shandwick-led 3PM, and Scholtz & Friends.

"Our Grand Prix winner this year is a modern communications agency with earned at the core," she said. "It demonstrates the power of combining creativity with the power and craft of PR and PA."

In reality, it could hardly be defined as a PR firm, though of course those terms are becoming less and less relevant in this environment where almost everything starts with an earned media approach, no matter what type of agency is credited.

Hutton also noted a move from "firehouse campaigns" to "lighthouse campaigns", with more long-term sustainable work and activations demonstrating authentic purpose, rather than "woke-washing", as Unilever CEO Alan Jope dubbed it today, or the stunts that characterized previous PR Lions Grand Prix winners.

"There was a shift from global to local," added Hutton. "We saw some great work from local markets in countries experiencing extreme challenges."

She also noted that the winning work reflected a trend towards brands and businesses looking to add some humor and fun into the campaigns and put a smile back on our faces. It’s true that CSR-based ideas had become the preponderance at Cannes, in the PR Lions and many other categories.

PR firms have traditionally been told they lagged in the video production stakes when it came to producing effective Cannes Lions entries. But both Hutton and the Direct Lions jury chair commented that the backup documents were taking much more precedence in the judges’ decisions about winning campaigns, especially when it came to the Bronze/Silver/Gold stage.

Check out my U.K. colleague Danny Rogers’ analysis of the winning campaigns and trends in the PR Lions for more PRWeek insight.

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