Amith Prabhu: Why can’t our PR firms win PR Lions at Cannes?

24 Jun,2013

By Amith Prabhu


This year marked the fourth anniversary of the introduction of the PR Lion at the International Festival of Creativity in Cannes. By virtue of being the biggest gathering of marketing communications professionals from across the world these awards are sought after by the advertising fraternity for a long time and by the PR community for the last five years. The moot question is should PR firms participate in an advertising festival that is bound to be dominated by ad agencies? The rules are open so some do.


Over the years PR firms have struggled to make headway in this space as advertising agencies have won the PR Lions left, right and centre. Even the largest PR firm in the world won its first Cannes Lions in 2013.  No PR firm has ever won the Grand Prix.  A few firms have managed to grabs some Gold and Silver.


This column looks at some of the reasons as to why this category has been elusive to PR professionals. And the focus is on India. For a better appreciation one should look at the statistics of Indian entries for the category over the years here - and a snapshot in the table below,

Year Total Entries from India Shortlists from PR firm Winners, always ad agencies
2009 12 0 0
2010 12 0 1
2011 14 0 3
2012 19 1 0
2013 27 0 3


Of the 27 entries from India in the PR category this year only two were submitted by PR firms. The other 25 went from ad agencies. The organizers of Cannes Lions have made it a point to invite the best from India to be on the jury year on year starting with Prema Sagar in 2009, Nandita Lakshmanan in 2010, Veena Gidwani in 2011, Sunil Gautam in 2012 and Dilip Cherian in 2013. The Practice, the firm that Ms Lakshmanan runs is the only Indian PR firm to have made it to a shortlist ever and that happened last year for a campaign for HP.


What is the reason for this dismal showing? I put together five factors that contribute to this drought.


Exorbitant entry fee – At Rs 35,000 or Euro 450 per entry most Indian firms are not even considering participation in these awards. Maybe the festival organizers should consider a discounted fee for emerging markets.


Lack of award-winning worthy campaigns – Due to low budgets to execute great PR campaigns and a great focus on tactics rather than strategy it is possible that Indian PR firms don’t do campaigns worthy of participating in the Cannes Lions.


Inability to package and produce smart submissions – Packaging and producing storyboards and videos takes a great amount of time and most ad agencies have dedicated teams that focus on this through the year. Imagine what wonders that a dedicated creative group focused on awards packaging can do to a firm!


Absence of an awards culture – How many Indian PR firms have internal awards to reward the best work done for clients? I would think 2 or 3. That change needs to come about internally.


PRCAI and the members of the jury should come together – The premier association of PR consultancies and the five stalwarts who have been to Cannes as jury members should come together and offer a workshop in the major metros to share insights with future generations of the profession.


Until most of the above changes, an Indian PR firm winning a Lion at Cannes will be hard to come by.


I still don’t see a reason why the top 10 PR firms in India can’t set aside Rs 1 lakh to send three entries every year. If PRCAI mandated all its members to do so Indian PR would be on the world map in no time by just beating the advertising counterparts two times over. Before that it would be great for PRCAI to host an annual workshop on Preparing for Cannes. If not the annual debate will just keep recurring.


Amith Prabhu is the founder of The PRomise Foundation which organises PRAXIS – the annual summit for PR & Corp Comm professionals in India. During the day he is a full time employee at a leading Public Relations firm in their Chicago office. He spent the first eight years of his post graduation career in India and is in the US for two years of which he has completed 18 months. Views expressed here are the author’s own and don’t represent those of his past, present, future employer or of MxMIndia. You can connect with him on Twitter @amithpr


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3 responses to “Amith Prabhu: Why can’t our PR firms win PR Lions at Cannes?”

  1. Sandeep Acharya says:

    You have mentioned the realities correctly. An excellent write-up and an eye-opener to the various PR forums and agencies in India.

  2. Liza Saha says:

    Completely agree with all the points mentioned Amith! Also, all this will not happen till the time PR is seen as an integral part of marketing.

    • Amith Prabhu says:

      Not sure if that is true. There are categories that have nothing to do with marketing. eg. Categories A9 to A16.