Amith Prabhu: When will there be a Cannes Lion Grand Prix for PR, by PR and of PR?

29 Jun,2015

By Amith Prabhu


This is my customary, annual column focused on the Cannes Lion. I eagerly track and follow the Cannes Lions each year, ever since PR came to be included as a category a few years ago. Ever since, India has been represented on the jury by Prema Sagar in 2009, Veena Gidwani in 2010, Nandita Lakshmanan in 2011, Sunil Gautam in 2012, Dilip Cherian in 2013, Radhika Shapoorjee in 2014 and this year the original name was Ashwani Singla, who was replaced by Paresh Chaudhry. I’m hoping other PR pioneers like Madan Bahal, Bela Rajan, Archana Jain and Ameer Ismail are invited in the years to come. I listed these names for the record as well as for the singular purpose that the organisers know there are many more names to cover. If not, like a global power list that just came out last week, some critical names will get missed out because of limited knowledge about Indian PR that certain international editors possess.


Finally, the grand prix went to a campaign entered a PR firm. This was MSLGroup New York office. I have high respect for this PR firm because the only time I was a client they were the consultancy on record and in my last consulting role before co-founding the PR school I was closely associated with this firm for most of 2014. Well, I was elated that MSL won it though Leo Burnett, the primary architect of this campaign #LikeAGirl for Always spared no effort to take ample credit for the work which no one has refuted. Interestingly, one of MSL’s senior executive who was on the jury also commented that he was aware of Leo Burnett’s contribution to the campaign. Well, the fact of the matter remains that this was a well-deserved win and the winner takes it all. Last year’s Grand Prix went to Creative Arts for the Chipotle campaign because they entered it and Edelman got credit for it. This year the campaign was entered by MSL and they won it. No dispute there.


That brings me to the moot question. If the Cannes Lions is an advertising-led festival why is PR even there? It could possibly be because most PR firms are owned by one of the Big Four holding companies that owns most of the Top 20 advertising agencies. In that case there should be two sub-categories within the PR category. One for work created and therefore entered by PR firms and the other for work created and therefore entered by ad agencies. Then the post award bickering will not exist. I’m hoping there comes a time soon when there is no ad agency involved in the Grand Prix winning entry and the entire campaign and award belongs to the PR consultancy itself. Sharing and team work are great but then stealing the thunder is not done, after an award has been given away which is what the ad agency did very well.


Now comes the real big question as to why not a single campaign from India-based PR firms made it to the shortlist. There were three campaigns that made it to the shortlist of 200 from India and they were from ad agencies which sends a bulk of the entries in this category. I have always being stressing on the high entrance fees of the Cannes Lions. An entry fee and the cost of packaging an entry is close to a monthly retainer that some clients pay. Then, comes the work in question. Do we do cutting edge work that is worthy of international recognition. I think we do but we fail to package it well, as always and miserably fail in sending them because of the cost involved.


As the Cannes jury was being announced in April, India witnessed a fabulous campaign on Net Neutrality. As the jury was sitting to evaluate the entries, India witnessed one of the finest Public Relations campaigns of all time. The International Yoga Day. I have not seen another first time event getting the kind of talkabaility and free publicity that this event got. Unfortunately, they were not put together by an ad agency or a PR firm and they may never go to Cannes. I’m hoping I am wrong and they feature in the shortlist next year. These are surely Gold and Grand Prix material. Because they were simple ideas translated into magnificient campaigns.


Well as we get on with another season of awards here’s opening three things change. A) There are more entries from India in the shortlist. That has only happened once. B) The Grand Prix winner is an idea completely planned and executed by a PR firm and the ad agency does not take credit. And C) India gets couple more good and credible awards. Sabre is great but there are no other of good standing where work can get recognized and rewarded.


On that note I end with three cheers to MSLGROUP. For making history, no matter what their detractors say.


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