Cannes 2011

In PR Category, PR Shops Come up Short While Ad Agencies Stand Tall

Creative Agencies Prevail in Best Use of Social Media and Best PR-Driven Campaigns

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It's tough to dispute the importance of PR, either in the marketing mix or in its third year at the Cannes Lions Festival. Agency holding companies all reported annual PR increases in 2010. And this year the category received 819 entries at Cannes, up more than 40%.

So why, of the 105 campaigns on the shortlist, were only about 20 entered by PR agencies, compared to more than 45 by ad agencies? Creative shops were especially prevalent in the "Best use of social media" and "Best integrated campaign led by PR" categories. And this year's PR Lion winner was an ad agency -- Clemenger BBDO Melbourne for the National Australia Bank.

The problem might just be cobbler's children syndrome -- PR shops failing to self-promote . "For the third straight year in a row, the PR industry is still failing to represent itself as strongly as it should in its own category," juror Renee Wilson, president of the northeast region for MSLGroup, said in a recent interview. She attributed this not to PR's inability to understand or lead social or integration, but to the "education that needs to be done among folks that want to enter."

PR WINNER: Clemenger BBDO's Ant Keogh with Fleishman's Senay.
PR WINNER: Clemenger BBDO's Ant Keogh with Fleishman's Senay.

PR agencies may also need to report stronger results and achieve more tangible objectives than publicity, identifying ROI such as behavioral change, said both Ms. Wilson and jury president and Fleishman-Hillard CEO Dave Senay. "There's a certain amount of isolationism in our industry," Mr. Senay said.

"The [creative] industry has been very comfortable talking in an unabashed way about amazing creativity, and that may be new to the broader PR industry," said Porter Novelli President Julie Winskie. We need to learn how to package our work differently, learn to tell our story."

For Marian Salzman, Euro RSCG Worldwide PR CEO in the U.S., part of the reason PR agencies are relatively scarce at Cannes is that they lack access to the resource of creative shops. "I regret we didn't submit our best work," she said. "We didn't have the budget; we didn't have the right materials to continue at Cannes so we withdrew."

A Cannes entry is expensive, and PR agencies are playing with smaller budgets than those of creative shops. So as PR agencies secure a seat at the table but are slower to invest in Cannes than their counterparts, they run the risk of their clients discovering new PR capabilities within the creative shops.

Ms. Winskie is not worried. "There appears to be an inequity because we're disproportionately entered," she said.

That's not necessarily the view of Rob Schwartz, chief creative officer of last year's PR Grand Prix winner, TBWA/Chiat/Day for Gatorade "Replay." "It's no surprise to anyone in a creative company ... that better storytelling is coming from creative agencies," he said. He'd like to see PR agencies work more with creative agencies on joint submissions or take the lead on the entry. "We collaborate on every other piece; we should collaborate on the submission."

The sharing of marketing duties presents a need for education on both fronts. Traditional executives, to an extent, might like to keep the PR agency operating in a silo, despite the discipline's evolution in the mix. "Some of my fellow jurors outside of the U.S. wanted PR in the purest sense, untouched by other marketing elements," Ms. Wilson said.

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