“PR does not only belong to PR Agencies” remarked Pascal Beucler, SVP and Chief Strategy Officer, MSL Group and Juror – Cannes Lions 2013 seeing the dominance of Ad agencies at Cannes year after year. The clear proof point for this was the ‘Dumb ways to Die’ winning the PR Lions Grand Prix.
But this year has undoubtedly been better for PR Firms, as few of them were successful in grabbing Silver and Bronze, which in itself is the sign of change. A change driven by upgraded capabilities of PR firms, which includes research and integration of various other communication mediums.
It’s a clear indication that more progressive agencies have expanded their in-house creative production capabilities and are thinking beyond plain media communications. They are now genuinely trying to put the publics’ back in Public Relations.
Affirms, Jaideep Shergill, CEO of MSL Group India, “Yes, creative co-creation is getting increasingly important. It has been our view for a while that the line between different communications disciplines is blurring, laying the foundation instead for an integrated approach. This would mean that the traditional PR agency’s scope would expand to include design, advertising, social media, events, content and research. Much of this is already happening. We believe it won’t be long before such integrated agencies make their mark in the market as well as at industry events such as Cannes.”
Madan Bahal, MD of Adfactors PR, adds, “Public Relations professionals should not be daunted by the fact that advertising guys are winning PR awards for creativity at Cannes. Many in the ad industry have a single career motive – win awards. The recent scandal at Goa Fest is only a case in point. Advertising tends to dramatize a proposition and make people buy things whether they need those or not. Public Relations is a larger idea which goes far beyond communications. We have a lot of responsibility in addressing multiple stakeholders. Listening, restraint and discretion in communication are the virtues of the PR professional. So while creativity is important, we must never lose the perspective and pursue it as an end in itself. Our work should be driven by the business objectives of the client.”
But the annual introspection on PR firms’ debacle in Cannes resurfaces every year and same questions confront us. Does winning at Cannes really matter? Do clients expect PR firms to draft strategies with awards in mind? Do Indian PR firms have processes that identify and award winning work, package it appropriately and take the efforts to apply at multiple awards?
Cannes is not about how many clips we managed to get or about the quality of coverage we pulled-in for our clients, Cannes favours big, bold marketing ideas. Results actually don’t matter on that platform, what matters is storytelling packaged in a compelling manner, transcending cultures and attracting judges & participants from various nationalities. The work done by PR is difficult to package in a 15 second case study. PR is much more strategic than advertising; we are better at solving problems, while Cannes rewards simplicity. Every PR campaign cannot be created in a form of a great story. They are crafted specifically to achieve the business and communications objectives of the client and often great PR campaigns are complex and nuanced. Such platforms are not appropriately configured in the first place to recognize the best PR work in areas of corporate image building, crisis & reputation management and public affairs. Then why cry for something that is truly not created for us? There are many other reputed platforms like SABRE etc., where PR work can get its due credit.
Arun Sudhaman, Editor of Homes Report, in one of his blog posts, says, “Cannes being Cannes, there is limited scope for PR firms to submit solid if less flashy work. Despite PR’s growing infatuation with the Cannes Lions, it needs saying that while the Festival is a useful benchmark for creativity in PR, it is not the benchmark. The award show rewards a specific kind of creativity.”
“Creativity in PR is not just about the ‘big idea’ philosophy that drives ad agencies, but instead favors a more sustained, multifaceted approach. Similarly, PR campaigns tend to be more results-focused and don’t do creativity for creativity’s sake, the kind of work that — sadly — is still winning big at Cannes,” points out, Michael O’Neill of Weber Shandwick in one of his articles on Cannes.
“I doubt that PR agencies create campaigns only to win awards; MSLGROUP India, at least, does not. Every campaign has one purpose: To achieve a specific business objective specified by the client, be it brand awareness, stakeholder education or an increase in sales. If the campaign is good enough, it will win plaudits. Spending a client’s money and your own effort only to win awards is not something I recommend.” adds, Jaideep.
So the clear mantra for PR firms should be – churn out work, that earns you applauds from your clients, who would reward you with an increased retainer, continued retention and references. If the work matches the criteria for awards then flex your muscle to pull in the required creativity and package it well as expected by jury at the respective awards.
One good aspect about awards programs such as Cannes Lions is that atleast we get know why a particular campaign or an individual has won the honors and derive some learning and course corrections in the way we practice. This important factor is being clearly missed by many institutions who host PR awards in India. Though the award winners are chosen by expert panelists, but the reason why they are chosen as a winner is not made public for broader learning of everyone in the business. They need to bring out winning case studies, so that youngsters can learn from them. I hope we would see such transparency in the coming years.
So, congratulations to all those agencies that brought home the Cannes Lions Honors this year, but let’s not worry too much and get back to what we are good at. As when reputation tumbles, it is PR that comes to the rescue. Please share your views on the topic either on this forum or tweet @vikramkharvi
I have compiled a collection of all case-studies in a pdf format, for you to read in your and learn. Download it here