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Cannes Winners: Ad Agencies Become PR-First Pioneers

Cannes Lions, one of the ad industry’s biggest award celebrations, wrapped up late last month, and since then our team has enjoyed reading through myriad articles recapping this year’s winners, festivities, trends and takeaways – especially those that speak to Luquire’s motto of “Uncomfortably Ambitious.”

One of the most thought-provoking reads shared and discussed across the agency was an article by PR Daily’s Allison Carter titled, “Advertising firms dominate in the PR category at Cannes. Here’s why.

In the piece, Carter interviews Greg Bagnall, co-founder of media intelligence agency CARMA, to talk about a surprising insight from this year’s festival: 11% of shortlisted work in the PR category came from traditional “PR-only” firms, while a whopping 84% of shortlisted work was entered by advertising agencies.

Bagnall gives three reasons why advertising agencies are seeing ROI on PR:

  • Cannes is all about the “creative,” which he says is good news for ad agencies who are often more adept at crafting visually compelling/creatively concepted work. 
  • He notes that ad agencies typically have much larger budgets than PR-only firms, which means they often have more capacity to focus on high-production campaigns. 
  • And, says Bagnall, PR and communications teams less frequently plan and measure in ways that link to organizational value (For instance, he mentions that the “Insights and Measurement” category had the fewest entries of all categories.) 

Five Takeaways for Agencies Looking to Propel PR 

  1. Idea is King. Whether you’re a boutique PR-only agency or the largest advertising conglomerate on the block, the idea is the bedrock of any campaign, be it creative-driven or public relations. From Cannes to Clio, and everything in between, judges first and foremost dig into the soundness of an idea. 
  2. Explore Earned-First. With the increasingly fragmented media landscape, often the most effective way to reach your target audience is through an “earned-first” idea that cuts through the clutter and overdelivers on positive publicity and social exposure. An integrated client structure that incorporates strategy, creative, content development, media, public relations and analytics can give clients the best shot at attaining their marketing goals.  
  3. “Creatives” Come in All Forms. With already-established relationships with company executives, ad agencies are well positioned to take the lead on PR, especially as it relates to amplifying creative execution. And at an integrated agency, the reverse is also true! Public relations pros are “creatives” in their own right and can help set the stage for their creative colleagues. 
  4. Lay a Solid Foundation. Agencies must prioritize research, data and insights, guiding the strategy which (ultimately) will lead to the (hopefully) award-winning idea. Though it can be tempting to rally around an exciting idea and fill in the gaps to make it work, there is no substitute for conducting research, harnessing data and developing a corresponding roadmap. 
  5. Reevaluate What’s Valuable. Every discipline must get comfortable with AND understand its unique role when it comes to measuring impact. Public relations teams, especially, are used to pulling reports for clients to showcase placements secured and impressions generated. But no matter how impressive the numbers, if the results are not aligned with helping clients reach their goals, then something needs to change. This might even necessitate a rethinking of media monitoring and measurement expectations on both the client and agency side, including a heavier emphasis on qualitative results. Perhaps Bagnall’s most important insight? “Don’t confuse counting activity with demonstrating value.”

In an emailed reflection to the agency, Luquire Chief Creative Officer Glen Hilzinger summed it up perfectly, noting, “Too often we think of PR as an add-on, when really isn’t creating buzz and maximizing organic reach the point of any creative idea?” 

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about the author

Clare Rizer  A Charlotte native with nearly a decade of strategic communications and public relations expertise under her belt, Clare is passionate about telling her clients’ stories and believes the right angle – mixed with boots-on-the-ground ardor and tenacity – can transform the most seemingly mundane narratives into a client’s biggest opportunities. A PR Account Director leading our Simon Property Group, PGA TOUR Presidents Cup and OrthoCarolina accounts, Clare spent the first six years of her career in Washington, D.C., working in health care advocacy and communications.


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