by Michael O'Neill
June 20th, 2013

Once again, a PR agency has failed to win the prized Grand Prix award at the Cannes Lions, trumped — as has been the case for the five years the category has been contested — by an ad agency. However, most PR folk were far happier this year than in previous years, encouraged by the fact that PR agencies pulled in a handful of Gold Lions.

Proof that PR is closing the creative gap? Maybe, but first let’s look at why PR agencies did better this year. It could be down to one of two reasons: either PR agencies are becoming more creative, or — the more cynical view — they are getting better at writing award show entries.

In truth, it is most likely a mixture of the two. Without question, PR agencies have raised their game, creatively speaking. The more progressive agencies have expanded their in-house creative production capabilities and are hiring high-level creative talent. Crucially, they are also now more proficient at selling this creativity in to clients.

At the same time, the quality of the entries being submitted into Cannes has improved. Packaging, storytelling — being able to sell the creative essence of a campaign to overworked jury members — is an art form in itself, and it is an area where a number of creative agencies already invest a significant amount of time and money. In this respect, PR is definitely narrowing that gap.

But even if we accept that PR agencies are doing better at Cannes, there is a more pertinent question: does it really matter?

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, as outlined more than once by the Holmes Report’s Arun Sudhaman.

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.

So, congratulations to all those agencies that flew the flag for PR at Cannes this year, but let’s not worry too much if those ad agencies keep stealing our thunder.

Michael O’Neill is digital managing editor, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick

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