Clash of Cannes.

By Alan VanderMolen:

A controversial Grand Prix winner, ad agency dominance of the PR category and the battle between entertainment and authenticity has PR agencies fuming and creatives asking “what’s the big deal?” at the ad industry’s annual beach party in Cannes.

“The Organic Effect”, from Swedish ad agency Forsman & Bodenfors, was celebrated as the best in show last night at the Cannes PR Lions, arguably the PR industry’s most celebrated stage. Controversy around the campaign’s honesty (summed up here by a lively Paul Holmes), has PR pros here and around the world questioning what exactly we are celebrating.

I have to admit, I am outraged by the selection. I think it perverts the basic concepts that PR as an industry is charged to uphold – transparency and third-party validation. Further, I think the agency’s slick presentation of a high-quality piece of film to support its entry underscores the point that PR simply plays at fringes of this sun-soaked – albeit highly-educational – networking fest.

Let’s face it, this is a festival for the ad industry…or, as I was corrected today, the Creative industry (apparently ad pros have as much of a problem calling themselves ‘ad execs’ as a lot of PR pros have calling ourselves ‘PR execs’). PR has been playing here for under a decade and the festival is in its seventh decade. So, we should not be surprised that only 1 PR agency won top honors last night in the PR category, while 18 ad agencies took honors. The ad (dammit, Creative) industry is rewarded on winning Lions. They are bonused on them. They are hired on them. They are fired for not winning them. So, ad agencies are geared to enter and win awards…scores of awards. And, the ad agencies will enter any category they please rejecting the notion of category naming conventions.

Frankly, I hate naming conventions. And, I think any agency can enter any category they please. I do, however, believe that the category needs to be true to the tenets of the profession. This is a big fail for the Cannes PR Lions. The industry needs to get together now to fix this so the Lions can truly embrace and celebrate work from all marketing services disciplines. The industry needs to aggressively distinguish between authenticity and entertainment. They are not mutually exclusive, of course, but PR has an obligation to authentic content.

More than a few creatives have told me today to chill. They say that creativity is best expressed in short film. That ad agencies know how to work in short film. That PR agencies should amplify short film in earned media. Obviously, I think that is flawed. PR agencies and pros do have the responsibility here to step up the defense and promotion of the industry -- an industry that needs to understand and leverage the entire media ecosystem – paid, earned, owned, social, experiential and search – while building and defending clients’ brands.

We have some work to do. So do the PR Lions.