Taming the Lions: A look behind the scenes of the 2017 Cannes Lions PR Jury

I’ve learned much during my time serving on the PR Lions Jury. I love seeing campaigns that make you think differently, educate you on something important, help you understand cultural nuances, drive you to feel envious that you never thought of that innovation that changed lives, and compel you to laugh no matter how many times you’ve seen them.

I’ve also learned in looking through 2,000 entries that long preambles are infuriating. So I’ll get right to what matters most: the inspirational and extraordinary work from the 2017 Cannes Lions PR category. Here are a few themes that rose to the top from some of our favorite campaigns. If you haven’t seen them, you should.

  1. The physical fueled the virtual and not the other way around
  1. Altered social media platforms made a statement louder than words ever could
  1. Raising awareness isn’t enough – brands taking action stood out
  1. Tech reimagined was extraordinary
  1. Brands scored big just by having fun with themselves (No “Hard Cut Cheetos” here)
  1. Nonprofits/NGOs are courageously going where no one else goes
  1. The bravery of brands placing themselves into points of cultural tension continues to pay off

I am struck (in a good way) that the two campaigns with the most chatter throughout all of Cannes so far – Fearless Girl and Meet Graham – did not include any big television spot or any major paid components. Yet, they made a lasting and larger impact than any single Super Bowl spot this year. This is the time for earned work to thrive.

Having said that, one ad did blow me away: Tecate’s Gender Violence campaign in Mexico. Pure advertising and also, pure genius.

So what are some of the things we, as marketers and communicators, need to pay attention to when entering the PR category?

  1. PR entrants need to put more focus on results. If you don’t show a demonstrative business or societal impact, don’t bother entering into Cannes.
  2. The category you enter really matters. You are judged based solely on the category you enter – and judges aren’t allowed to move entries into different categories. Many deserving entries that could have been shortlisted were simply entered into the wrong category.
  3. Some of the less-entered categories are ripe for PR campaigns. We did not award any medals in crisis and communications or internal comms. Surely, we have compelling work in these spaces. Now let’s get recognized for it.
  4. Authenticity won out in every way. Whether it was a brand associated with a purpose or a brand just living its DNA, the jury spotted “gimmicks” right away and all inauthentic campaigns were immediately thrown out.
  5. The chatter about ad agencies winning in the Cannes PR category wasn’t as prominent as in year’s prior. Why? Because PR agencies won Gold Lions outright (go Ketchum) and it’s clear that the PR campaigns are the envy at Cannes because they have truly earned the attention, recognition and admiration they receive. No one knows earned like we do. So I say, may the best (and bravest) creative win.

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