Public-relations agencies continued their struggles at the marketing industry's most important awards show, watching their category once again get dominated by ad and digital shops who took the lion's share of PR Lions.
None of the 20 Gold Lions went to a PR shop, and only one large global PR network was represented among the winners. That was the Nordic office of MSL Group, which took a Bronze Lion for a Procter & Gamble detergent.
As it has for the three other years of the category's existence, the Grand Prix went to an ad agency, the San Juan office of JWT, for its work for Banco Popular. This was the first Grand Prix for Puerto Rico.
WHAT IT IS: In order to combat the large percentage of Puerto Rican residents on public assistance (60%, according to JWT's case study), Banco Popular wanted to inspire people to get off their culos (butt in Spanish) so it enlisted legendary salsa outfit El Gran Combo to change the lyrics of one of their famous songs, "No Hago Mas Na," an ode to laziness whose title translates to "I Do Nothing." The new version, which extols a hard day's work, was broadcast during a media roadblock and it quickly soared up the charts, becoming the most popular tune in Puerto Rico.
WHY IT WON: Gail Heimann, vice chair of Weber Shandwick and president of the jury, said the Banco Popular campaign covered off on the three criteria set as judging began: it was a jaw-dropping idea, had bona fide impact and made a difference to the organization. The campaign won more than $2.3 million in earned media and helped Banco Popular jump to 80% on a reputation index.
THE JURY: Ms. Heimann's jury was mainly comprised of executives from PR specialists. Others included: Marian Salzman, CEO of BETC-Euro-RSCG' class='directory_entry' title='Ad Age LookBook '>Euro RSCG PR North America; Matt Buchanan, managing director of Pulse Communications/Ogilvy PR; and Bechara Mouzannar, chief creative officer of Leo Burnett MENA.
CONTROVERSY OR CLEAR WINNER? The judges seemed pretty unanimous on the Banco Popular program.
HOT TOPIC AT PRESS CONFERENCE: A lot of time was spent discussing PR agencies' struggles, a sensitive issue as public-relations executives have historically struggled to be viewed as important as advertising agencies in the minds of clients. The growth of social media and widespread recognition of the importance of earned media should open some doors, but it's pretty clear that in many cases it's the ad and digital and even communications-planning shops that are barging in in front of them.
It wasn't clear how many of the 1,130 submissions (up 30% from last year) came from PR agencies, and it's probably safe to assume that a healthy chunk came from ad agencies familiar with the Cannes submission process. But the judges did acknowledge that their discipline had to step up its game to compete with other kind of agencies encroaching on its turf.
"PR agencies need to think about how they present their work," said Ms. Heimann. "It takes a singular presentation to stand out. There's some learning there."
For Matt Neale, president of GolinHarris' international operations, it boiled down to two problems. "There's an advantage to ad agencies because they have the remit from clients to work across channels," he said. " At a PR agency you get a brief from a client that asks for national print coverage and you sigh. That limits our creativity and our ability to generate big ideas across channels. Agencies have to improve their execution levels and clients have to brief agencies to become more ambitious."
TOTAL NUMBER OF LIONS AWARDED: 69 Lions were handed out: 20 Gold, 22 Silver, 26 Bronze.
WHO ELSE DID WELL: A couple jurors suggested that if the rules of Cannes Lions were different, then a heartstring-tugger for The Peres Center for Peace by Baumann Ber Rivnay Saatchi & Saatchi could have done even better than its Gold Lion. Because it was developed for an NGO, the campaign, "Blood Brothers," wasn't eligible for the Grand Prix. Among the other Golds were a sponsorship of the Australian cricket team from M.J. Bale by Whybin/TBWA/Tequila, Sydney, Australia and Wimpy Burger buns embossed with braille messages from MetropolitanRepublic, Johannesburg.
WHAT THEY DIDN'T LIKE: Ms. Salzman observed that many of the campaigns didn't possess big enough ideas and were too tactical. "There's an opportunity for the PR industry to develop an insights process that yields more than tactics."
LOOKING TO NEXT YEAR: If PR agencies want to perform better, they''ll have to borrow from their ad brethren's playbook and invest in strategic and creative resources. And a profession that not too long ago proved its effectiveness through the girth of its books of clients press clippings now has to create snappier presentations that reflect a multimedia world.