F-H’s Senay: PR Ignores Cannes at its Own Peril

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity for 2011 is over but the discussion continues. PR had a less-than-stellar showing this year, its third in the competition, with only six of 39 lions going to PR firms, Renee Wilson, MSLGroup’s northeast regional president, says in today’s Council of PR Firms blog post.  She offers some tips on how PR firms can get their entries noticed.

But over on the Olson PR (formerly Dig Communications) blog The Think Room, there’s the question of whether PR firms should even enter at all. While admitting that the firm enjoys touting a win and pinpointing some of the not-so-great lengths that ad agencies will go to for this and other competitions, the post asks, “Am I alone in failing to see a lack of interest in an award show as a negative?”

The post continues, “But I fail to see how not winning a three-year-old award which PR firms show little interest in pursuing should matter at all to those same PR firms that, for the most part, choose not to enter.”

“Cannes is unquestionably the strongest global brand in the area of communications arts,” Dave Senay, president and CEO of Fleishman-Hillard and PR Jury president, told us today in a phone conversation. “There’s nothing that even approaches it. And when Cannes extends its reach into your industry, you ignore it at your peril.”

According to Senay, all of the top CMOs from all over the world attend this event. He strongly warned the industry that a failure to participate will have grave repercussions.

“All the top CMOs are there and they’re going to get the message that PR firms don’t do PR as well as non-PR firms,” Senay said. “If you want to be an accomplice in the downfall of this industry, just let Cannes continue to celebrate PR without the public relations industry in there fighting.”

“Consider this, only about six-to-10 percent of marketing spend is focused on PR and that’s not a lot,” he continued. “So we can either branch out and integrate better and make ourselves a more prominent force  or we can let incursions happen to our area and become irrelevant.”

Senay rattled off a list of categories that he felt are key practice areas to many PR firms, including travel and tourism, public affairs, and corporate communications, where there were few finalists and in some cases, no big prize winner.

Still, this year was not as bad as it may seem. Entries from PR firms continues to rise, this year up 40 percent to 819. And, much has been made about the PR Grand Prix going to an ad agency. However, according to Senay, Clemenger BBDO is part of a huge holding company that includes a number of PR firms. “I doubt seriously that you’re talking about a single ad agency effort,” he said.

Moreover, entries are only permitted  from one agency, “a technical quirk at Cannes that I think hides a lot of PR agency involvement.” And the entries are blind. So judges don’t know what sort of firm has submitted the entry they’re looking at.

But back to how pretty Cannes is (pronounced like a tin “can,” BTW, for those trying to fancy it up to “c-ah-n”). Senay talked about the long hours the jurors spent in the “gilded cage of the Palais looking out on the sparkling waters of the Mediterranean.” Lovely. Except maybe for the long hours part.

With all that in mind, do you think your firm will entering next year? The comments section is open and you can reach us @PRNewser.