Cannes Lions Versus the Real World

The auditorium was still clearing from the presentation ceremony for Promotion, PR and Direct Lions, and already the tweets were bleating lamentations about the poor showing by PR agencies.

“Another winless Cannes!”

“Ad agencies scoop us again.”

“The winners don’t represent great PR – they represent what ad people think is great PR.”

And: “Maybe PR agencies should do what they do best and focus on PR competitions.”

If only we could stay in our own little world, where our work stands alone, with no outside influences to sully the purity of our thinking or to challenge the value of our budgets and our unique suitability to do “real PR.”

Truth is, the Cannes Lions are a microcosm of a far wider fight for investment, trust and credibility by marketing clients, who are increasingly agnostic about who they work with, and how. And, judging by our performance last night, there’s a lot of work left for PR agencies to do if we are to claim our fair share of the marketing pie.

Here are a few suggestions to get us started:

First, let’s learn from the ad agencies – who have been participating in this competition for decades – and learn how to tell our stories better. Rather than bemoan the ad-friendly format of the contest, let’s adapt our content and narrative approach to the requirements of this particular audience. That’s what we do for our clients, right?

Second, let’s enter better work. The winners were mostly good, and a few were great. But most PR agencies I know have done better work with more demonstrable impact than the cases celebrated here. Where were they? Client confidentiality is no doubt a factor in many instances, but surely not across the board.

And finally, let’s all relax. Awards are important, and this competition in particular reflects the mashed up competitive landscape of marketing and communications today. But awards aren’t real life. True success in PR tends to unfold over time incrementally, not in the short-burst sound-byte viral stunts and gimmicks favored by juries.

Failing to win awards is not an indictment against our work – it’s a reflection of our weaknesses when it comes to entering certain competitions. The time to worry will be when ad agencies start winning Silver Anvils, PRWeek Awards, SABREs and other major competitions on our home turf.

Until then, let’s listen, learn and enter our best work in a ways that steal the spotlight from the ad agencies. That way, we can do just fine at Cannes – and, even better, in the real world.

As a Senior Partner, CEO of Ketchum’s European operations and Chairman of the London office, David Gallagher brings more than 20 years of public relations experience, both as a client and as a senior agency adviser, to some of the world’s leading brands and companies. Interested in PR, politics, Texas Longhorns and life with two labradoodles. Follow him on Twitter @TBoneGallagher.