When it comes to winning at Cannes, what is the PR industry doing wrong?

When it comes to winning at Cannes, what is the PR industry doing wrong?

Of 67 PR Lions awarded at this year’s festival, just five PR agencies from across the world were credited for an award-winning idea.

Edelman's win in the Entertainment Lions for Sport was PR's only idea generation Grand Prix. 

With 1,725 entries, that equates to a 0.3% chance of a PR agency winning. No UK PR agencies took home a PR Lion this year. Why?

This is not a new topic. 

A quick Google search throws up articles dating back 10 years—and that is just scratching the surface. 

Yet despite all the speculation, nothing has changed. 

Perhaps we need to take a hard look in the mirror, and examine the issue more deeply.

Gail Heimann, jury chair of the 2021 Cannes PR Lions, tried to shed more light on the matter. She commented: "The work that we’re looking for must truly uphold the power and the primacy of public relations." 

A look at this year’s winning campaigns shows a collection of astonishingly moving and profound work, affecting genuine societal and behaviour change, or addressing major taboos. 

But what about the countless other entries from PR agencies?

For the price of the entry fee, one would assume they considered their work to be worthy of winning, but clearly it failed to make the cut.

This is perhaps all the more surprising when you consider that the skill that differentiates PR from the other channels is storytelling – a key ingredient in bringing these campaigns to life for the judging panels. 

Indeed, it is often our discipline that weaves the narrative thread that holds integrated campaigns together. 

It is always our goal to tell stories in such a way that people are compelled to take time out from their busy lives and pay attention.

But as I watch the engaging case study videos and emotive production from each of the ad and creative agency winners, it makes me wonder… has our industry spent so long crafting powerful stories for others, that it’s simply overlooked how to do so for itself? Is it a lack of film-making prowess that seals our fate time and again at Cannes?

And this leads me to what I believe to be the other problem. 

As part of the same interview, Heimann noted: "We wanted to see work that had values at the core and added value to whatever initiative it was meant to address." 

We all know this is what wins at Cannes. 

But even if a brief with the creative potential of a Cannes win comes our way, will the PR agency ever be positioned to suggest the brave, subversive, and game-changing ideas that the judges are looking for?

In my opinion, no, unless we change our ways, and it boils down to two, interlinked, things.

1. Measurement and evaluation.

It is time we stopped evaluating our work using opportunities to see, number of pieces of coverage and, worse still, in some cases AVE.

To a client evaluating paid alongside earned media, PR will never be seen as more than an ancillary channel—the proverbial icing on the cake—unless we can provide hard metrics of our work’s success and integrity. 

I believe that, as an industry, our ability to harness real-world insight and the power of storytelling, means our ideas can compete with the best of adland. 

But with no hard success metrics PR campaigns can seem as insubstantial as a Matt Hancock apology.

2. Idea generation.

Thinking bigger when it comes to our role, and envisioning the output of our work going beyond just earned media coverage, will ensure we can deliver the bolder, game-changing ideas that travel across channels (and that the Cannes judges love).

In a world where the biggest stories often start life on social media, and everything is content, I believe as social-savvy PR story tellers we are uniquely placed to deliver truly remarkable campaigns and results. 

But we’ll only start winning if we get better at measuring and packaging them up for the judges.

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