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Cannes Recap: High Hopes For PR Agencies; Maybe Next Year?

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This was supposed to be the year that PR firms made a splash at what has traditionally been the advertising industry’s hottest party: The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

Although PR category submissions were up 32%, many of the PR awards actually went to advertising agencies.

While PR agencies overall didn’t have a strong showing, it should be noted that this is only PR’s second year at a party that advertising has been hosting for the past 57.


Hill & Knowlton CEO and jury chair of the PR awards Paul Taaffe was disappointed with the PR agency showing and went so far as to publicly ask festival organizers to remove the word “advertising” from the festival’s name moving forward.

Omnicom-owned Fleishman-Hillard touted its three awards, for clients Papa John’s and the World Hepatitis Alliance. Weber Shandwick and Ogilvy PR also picked up awards.

However, a big disappointment was TBWA\CHIAT\DAY taking the PR Lions award. Fleishman-Hillard did receive some creative credits for the Gatorade “Replay” campaign, but the award went to the ad agency.

As Adweek digital editor Brian Morrissey, who attended the festival, told PRNewser, “My opinion is the PR shops just don’t take Cannes seriously yet. They also don’t have entire departments dedicated to award show video production. Seriously, you should see the craft put into entries.”

It wasn’t all bad for PR. Many corporate executives see the industry’s ability to take charge when it comes to social media. “PR agencies have done a great job leading the way in social media, understanding the upside and downside to the point where there’s a blurring of responsibilities between a traditional ad agency, the PR agency and even the client,” said Johnson & Johnson VP of corporate affairs Brian Perkins.

As Morrissey noted, in relation to the winning Gatordate “Replay” campaign, “one of the biggest drivers of what was so impressive was it had PR metrics, earned media.”

“All of the agencies are getting into the PR game in their own ways. They want to create stuff that’s shareable, that’s worth talking about,” he said.

Meanwhile, despite all of the hype about social media and digital communications, it remains mostly just that: hype. Unilever CMO Keith Weed compared digital to high-school sex: “Everyone is talking about it, a few are doing it and not very well.”

RELATED: Head over to our sibling blog AgencySpy for more coverage from the ad agency point of view.

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