After looking at countless award entries from Weber Shandwick over the past couple years, I know what a contender looks like — big wow factor, big results. And I know there are some programmes where we’ll likely do better than others. But for those awards that go beyond “just” PR — the Cannes and Spikes Asia of the world — there is a perennial commentary that puts the spotlight on our company and our competitors, by asking: where are the big PR agencies and why are ad agencies winning in the PR categories?
Its a valid question. And it‘s a topic that Arun Sudhaman of The Holmes Report has touched on a number of times, pointing out that “the PR Lions can be viewed as following the template already laid down by most of the other award categories at Cannes.” His full assessment is spot-on.
Historically, the big creative idea that gets people talking the world over isn’t what most of our clients ask of us, and focusing on this at the expense of other, equally important factors often doesn’t reflect the very best work we do for those clients. Furthermore, boutique agencies have a reputation (whether or not it’s true) of being able to take bigger risks with a crazy idea, and can often carve out a specific niche, so clients often call on them for the kind of campaign that gets people talking. Firms like Weber Shandwick have the capabilities and the creativity — we were recognised for this recently when we topped the Holmes Report Creative Index — it’s just not the first thing that people typically come to us forThis, though, is changing, with digital permeating everything we do and the continuing blurring of lines between what PR is vs. marketing vs. advertising.
The PR winners at Spikes Asia continue to reflect what ad agencies have for years done best – images with catchy copy, 30 second emotional films. We’re seeing our own creative scope expand as we build our studio team in Hong Kong, China and Australia, but this hasn’t been ingrained in everything we do like it has for the ad guys.
At Cannes last year, nearly all the public relations agencies were recognised for very public campaigns – such as changing government policy, NGO and CSR work. This year it was all about the one single big idea, above all else. Based on what is judged and rewarded, it can look like we’re trying to fit PR into an ad world. And that’s just not how the communications dynamic works today.
Amanda Mohar is marketing manager, Asia Pacific, at Weber Shandwick