Judging The 1st PR Lions At Cannes

When USA Today asked me to be part of the judging panel for the first PR Lions at Cannes, I was deeply honored to join this preeminent global competition with 14 other seasoned public relations professionals from around the globe; from the U.K. to Singapore, Argentina to India, Sweden to Spain and beyond. Interestingly, it took 56 years for the Cannes Lions Festival to acknowledge the critical role of PR as part of the communications and marketing mix. Ah, good things come to those who wait.

Jury President, Lord Tim Bell warmly welcomed us Tuesday evening for a kickoff dinner at the Carlton Hotel. Joining Cannes Lions CEO Philip Thomas, we all toasted to the next era of the awards and to setting a new standard for public relations excellence in strategy and creativity.

Early kudos to the Cannes organizers for selecting a great PR jury. Today, during our first deliberations, all fell easily into our significant duty of short- listing the best campaigns. Unlike the other categories, the PR division was prejudged due to the more complex nature of the work. The initial 431 entries from 48 countries in 20 categories were narrowed to 322. Today, we divided ourselves into three groups, each given approximately 40 entries to judge against four criteria: strategy, execution, creative and results -- with strategy and results having a slightly greater weight across the four. Animated debate characterized all three groups, with Lord Bell occasionally overseeing the conversation with a sometimes quizzical look. He promised not to weigh-in until the final stage of the short listed entries, approximately 12% of the total.

I just loved the experience. What a view of some of the world’s best work! Having been a frequent judge in the U.S., I was fascinated by the international entries -- some with huge budgets, some with little and one with none. Some with just simple and very clean programs, others reaching for the moon with solutions that must have made their clients sweat!

At our group, we represented the world; Sweden, Spain, Singapore, Romania and the U.S.. Early on, it was clear we needed a working definition of PR. While the Cannes Lions did not offer one, we all agreed it was about creating powerful understanding and relationships between an organization and key stakeholders –and is far more than publicity. This made us feel like a “band of brothers” coming from so far away, yet with like minds.

So we dug in and began to judge, one by one. Many of the entries had lofty goals, interesting strategy and creative to attain them, but disappointed with those showing only media relations results. So often we wanted more. I got the reputation at my group as the “sustainable” person, asking again and again, “Did it create behavior change?” or “What happens next?”

Hint to those who want to enter and win in the future: write a very clear entry and make sure your goals and results match up. As well, at least 2/3 of the entries did very polished video summaries of the campaigns. This was most enlightening and it was also fascinating to see the different production styles from country to country.

This trip is no cakewalk. We judge five days in a row, eight hours a day! As well, I am giving a speech called “Goodness Required: Authentically Linking Social Issues with Corporate and Brand Strategy”on Monday, June 22 at 13:00, right after the press conference for the PR winners.

Enough now. Off to sleep so I can be fresh for more engaging debate tomorrow.

Let me know if you have any questions.

Also, you can follow my days on Twitter: @carolcone

- Carol Cone


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