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PR as a category continues to grow at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, but public relations agencies' role in the winning work remains murky.
This year, PR Grand Prix went to Procter & Gamble campaign "Always #Likeagirl: Turning an Insight Into a Confidence Moment." Publicis Groupe's MSLGroup entered the campaign with sibling shop Leo Burnett, the agency that originally came up with the winning idea.
"We already knew PR thinking evolved dramatically over seven years in Cannes," said Lynne Anne Davis, PR jury president and FleishmanHillard president and senior partner for Asia Pacific region. "2015 in Cannes showcases a dramatic elevation of force in the power of PR in creativity in the world today."
The category is seeing a rise in interest, with a record number of 2,000 Cannes entries, she said. Even more significant, noted Ms. Davis, is that about half of those entries came from dedicated PR agencies, up from 30% in 2013 and 40% in 2014. "The creativity gap has closed between PR and other agencies."
But the results point up that PR agencies aren't solely responsible for their wins, raising a chicken-and-egg style debate.
While MSLGroup entered the campaign -- and it likely wouldn't have worked without the PR shop's intervention from the start -- the idea came from creative agency Leo Burnett, said Sebastian Stepak, managing director for MSL Poland and a PR jury member. "The original idea came from Leo, but of course there was cooperation of Leo and MSL, and you can't really decide who was first but [the agencies] came up with it as a whole," he said.
Despite the integration, the winner begs the question -- why is a PR agency once again not coming up with the idea for a PR campaign that wins the top prize? This has been an ongoing debate since the category's inception.
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In a film by Leo Burnett Chicago and "The Queen of Versailles" creator Lauren Greenfield, Procter & Gamble's Always brand asked adult women and a little brother to show the camera what it meant to run, fight, or throw like a girl. The results show them running wildly, flailing their arms, or exhibiting a weak arm. Then it asked the same questions to pre-pubescent girls who run fast and throw strong. The film comes after brand-commissioned research found that half of girls report a drop in confidence after they get their first period.
Why it won:
"There was a clear consensus for the Grand Prix," said Ms. Davis. "It marries brand purpose with commercial [purpose]…No generation will ever look at 'Like a Girl' as anything other than something to be proud of. It has the power to change the world."
"It inserted itself into pop culture because it didn't just speak to girls," said Ms. Davis. "It hit a chord with everyone: women, mothers, fathers, and it spoke to every single culture [and told] a cultural truth that transcends boundaries."
"PR can play a very prominent role in [a lot of] conversations," she added. "In this case [the client is] talking about self-esteem issues."
Controversy or clear winner:
Ms. Davis said the jury was deliberating until almost 2 a.m. the last night of judging. There was a lot of discussion throughout the week, but a clear consensus that "Like a Girl" should win the top prize.
How should the jury define PR with so much integration? It decided to filter the work by looking for fresh thinking and innovative ways to communicate and reach audiences via earned trust through influence and authenticity. It looked at whether PR was prioritized in the strategic planning process (versus just an outcome) and whether there was measurable change in behavior, lives, policies and societies.
The jury consisted of 21 members from 20 different countries.
What they didn't like:
There were a lot of fake-outs that didn't seem authentic, in which the PR team told people something that isn't true to make an impact when they revealed the truth. Sometimes it worked, but often it was inauthentic.
Among the 17 Gold Lions winners were Volvo's "Interception" from Grey New York; the Ice Bucket Challenge by the ALS Association with support from Porter Novelli; and Adobe's Photoshop Murder Mystery from Edelman. Of all the Gold Lions, fewer than five were entered by agencies with a heritage in PR, including Edelman, FleishmanHillard and MSLGroup.