I’ve had a few ‘pinch myself’ moments in life, but being a juror at the Cannes Lions in June this year takes the cake. There I was in a room of 21 PR people representing every continent of the world, reviewing more than 1000 pieces of PR work while catching glimpses of the sparkling Mediterranean out the window. It was a highlight of my career, but less for being based in the south of France (okay, it was incredible) and more for seeing some of the best work in the world.
Cannes Lions is a behemoth, a great money-making festival of chest beating and back slapping that attracts the great and vainglorious of the communications industry from around the world. It’s the sort of place PR people avoid like the plague. Social butterflies we may appear but you’re more likely to see a PR person behind the camera than in front of it.
The tension between PR and advertising agencies at Cannes has been a major cause of discussion since PR was added as a category in 2009. Since then, primarily advertising agencies have entered and won. Some cynics say that PR was added so the creative agencies could have another chance of winning a medal, or as a way for the organisers to make more money.
But we all know that in recent years some of the measures of a successful campaign have been the amount of media noise, social media commentary and word of mouth generated. And from my (Pollyanna-ish) perspective, I’d say it’s because PR is finally being seen as a real driver of behaviour change.
Ironically, WOM and coverage alone a great PR campaign does not make. Luckily, the jury is made up of PR not advertising people. So while many of them are from traditional consultancy backgrounds where the bread and butter of their work is corporate reputation, social responsibility and issues management, they recognise good insights, strong ideas and measurable results as well as any brand strategist.
So what did I learn in those five intensive days, reviewing 1130 entries, of which 134 made the short list and 69 won medals?
• Good work sticks out like the proverbial tits on a bull; great work moves you to clap and cheer.
• Getting lots of media coverage cannot disguise the lack of an idea or an insight.
• Great work transcends borders but each continent has its idiosyncrasies.
• A clear concise but emotionally moving video is worth much much more than 1000 words (which no one really reads in depth, except to check some facts).
• Be careful with colloquialisms – half of the 21 PR judges did not know what ‘tradies’ mentioned in an Australian entry were.
• If you enter the work in many categories, do make an effort to change the video to reflect why it should win in PR.
• Australian work is by far and away some of the best in the world. MJ Bale’s ‘Grazed on Greatness’ was a blade away from the Grand Prix; ‘Steal Banksy’ was hugely well regarded; ‘Break Up’ won last year. New Zealand has a long way to go to even get close to this.
• PR agencies can learn from advertising agencies in terms of how to present their entries in a compelling video that crystallises your vision.
• Simplicity is king – ideas that engage and change attitudes are simple to understand.
• Juries are looking for three things: insights, ideas and results. Great execution should be a given.
As our jury president, Gail Heimann of Weber Shandwick, North America, said: “We were looking for campaigns that had a singular, compelling idea which created impact—and ideally had a purpose.”
The work that won was all that, and more.
For a look at the best of the best from the PR Lions, click here.