Contrary to popular opinion, PR professionals often lack self confidence in what they do. And since PR was added to the Cannes Lions festival in 2009, they suffer a collective crisis of identity.
This is because each year the PR Grand Prix at Cannes Lions is won not by a PR agency but by an advertising agency. Last week, it was JWT San Juan, with a campaign for Banco Popular de Puerto Rico. In the bars on La Croisette, numerous PR bosses bemoaned their frustration to me, pondering what they were "doing wrong". They felt they had been (belatedly) invited to join the advertising elite on the Cote D'Azur, only to be told the "Mad Men" are better at PR as well. The reality is more complex. Evolving from a pure advertising event, Cannes has been rebranded as a "festival of creativity", with judges directed to reward campaigns with ambitious, creative ideas. In this sense, the ad guys hold several advantages in awards schemes. First, big ideas have always been at the heart of their business. PR consultancies, on the other hand, tend to be wide-picture advisers. Their campaigns usually include lobbying, investor relations and other stakeholder management, employing creative ideas as just part of the mix.
Second, ad agencies tend to be much larger, with dedicated insight and creative departments.
And third, the ad executives are more used to "selling" their ideas, often producing powerful films to explain campaigns. But PR agencies are recognising that, as the lines between advertising and PR become blurred thanks to viral content and social media, they are competing for the same marketing briefs. So PR professionals ask themselves: What are our core skills? What is the value that we add? Some are restructuring their consultancies along the lines of ad agencies. Others are retrenching into specialist areas.
But there is a big irony here.
Ad agency bosses in Cannes were desperate to emulate PR's more conversational, holistic approach to communications campaigns.
Danny Rogers is editor of PR Week