PR Lions: Exchanging Clippings for Real Conversations

Lion TitelAfter more than 20 years with Ketchum, I thought I knew a lot about international work. How naive I was. Serving on the PR jury at Cannes Lions, I had the pleasure of seeing more work from every corner of the world in five days than I have in my entire career. That’s the beauty of an international festival like Cannes – the ability to see global work with all of its cultural differences but, just as importantly, its many similarities.

No matter where we live or work, everyone in our industry has more in common than we think – whether we’re from Paraguay or Sri Lanka, Japan or Canada, the U.S. or Germany.

When you look across the 1,800 award entries from around the world, and especially the 2014 PR Lions shortlist, the following trends stand out:

1. Storytelling: Public relations has always seen itself as a storytelling industry – like journalists, we package news into narrative. But this year’s PR Lions give a clear signal that the art of storytelling in PR goes well beyond a simple “once upon a time.” It embodies a strong commitment to helping messages earn audience attention through compelling narrative – either documentary or fictional – via heads (the intellect), hearts (the emotions) and feet (two-way engagement).

2. #live: Real-time communication is everywhere, offering new opportunities and challenges that PR is especially well-equipped to handle. Our discipline has practiced real-time communication for more than 90 years, since PR was invented as a profession. We are experts at immediate response, relationship-building and dialogue, and we know how to prepare for conversations that unfold at a relentless speed. PR thrives in situations where you can’t plan and can’t buy, and we’ve always been masters of unscripted moments, which is why PR, as a young category here at Cannes, is the one to watch.

3. PESO: PR has officially made a play for all channels: Paid, Earned, Shared and Owned. Earned and Shared is PR’s home turf – we’ve always earned coverage and convinced influencers to share messages. PR is happy to add Paid to the mix, too. It’s not that we want to become advertisers, but some messages just need an extra push. And now more than ever, branded content has given the Owned channel amazing power.

4. Relevant, authentic conversations: Thanks to well-honed trend radar, PR can do something priceless: break through the clutter of information, engage with an audience, and encourage relevant and authentic conversation. Others share this superpower, of course, but PR is specially qualified to anticipate risks and perils. The many entries I reviewed as a juror brought this truth to life in consistently unexpected and effective ways.

The PR Lions 2014 are a clear signal that this is a new era for PR. We´ve overcome the stigma of counting news clippings. We are storytellers, sharing clients’ stories across all channels, and sparking real and relevant conversations. This is what the PR industry is known and valued for. We are proud of our industry’s past and present, and excited about the future. So no matter what kind of conversation you’re looking for, I hope you can appreciate the possibilities PR can bring to your world.

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Petra Sammer is Partner and Chief Creative Officer, Germany, where she promotes brand storytelling and delivers award-winning campaigns for the likes of Burger King, Bosch, BMW, Kodak, IBM, Mattel, Merck, Pixar, Starbucks and Sennheiser. Stating “we [as individuals and global brands] are all journalists now,” Petra employs a 5-step model for turning brands into storytellers to help them “break through” and connect with their customers. Based in Munich, Petra is a Cannes PR Lions jury member, and recently served on the Eurobest jury. @petrasammer