For second straight year, ad firm captures top PR prize at Cannes

A judge at the festival said adverting agencies possess ‘a little more sophistication when it comes to evaluating effectiveness.’

For the second year in a row, an advertising agency walked away from the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity with the top award in the PR category.

The Grand Prix Award for PR went to Clemenger BBDO Melbourne for its “Break Up” campaign for the National Australia Bank.

The campaign was based on the idea that National Australia Break was “breaking up” with the nation’s other three big consumer banks. The reputation of Australia’s big banks have taken a hit after the financial crisis, and so National Australia Bank wanted to cast itself in a different light from its competitors.

The 24-hour PR blitz featured press, outdoor and radio ads, mobile billboards, street teams, street chalking, and helicopter banners. As part of the campaign, 60 couples publicly broke up on Valentine’s Day. The breakups were filmed and posted to the Web.

Clemenger’s BBDO Melbourne effort also included what appeared to be an errant tweet from one of National Australia Bank’s corporate Twitter feeds. The tweet referred to a personal breakup, and many people had thought it was a gaffe on the bank’s part.

This marks only the third year judges have given an award for public relations at the prestigious Cannes festival. In those three years, two traditional ad agencies have captured this prize. Last year, TBWAChiatDay of Los Angeles won the Grand Prix in the PR for its work on behalf of Gatorade. In 2009, the Australian-based firm Nitro—which bills itself as an interactive marketing agency—won the top prize.

Dave Senay, president and CEO and Fleishman-Hillard and PR jury chief, said this trend of Cannes PR winners might serve as a “wake-up call” for the industry.

“There’s a certain amount of isolationism in our industry,” he said. The winners in the PR category will “reach across the disciplines and grasp hands.”

Another member of the PR jury, Kat Thomas, manager director at the Australian firm One Green Bean, further explained the jury’s decision in a column for B&T.

She writes:

“What potentially gives advertising agencies the upper hand in awards like these is a little more sophistication when it comes to evaluating effectiveness. The stand out campaign entries were those that demonstrated a genuine and tangible outcome and due to the budgets clients spend on advertising, there is simply more inclination to invest in getting a clear understanding of campaign impact. I think it is also important to acknowledge that PR agencies are simply not experienced at putting together awards submissions that effectively communicate their achievements.”

Thomas added that because the PR prize is still new to the festival, it’s “apparent that PR agencies are grappling with the level of sophistication required of an entry to capture the hearts and minds of the judges tasked with attempting to grade excellent.”

There were 819 entries in the PR category, up 43 percent from the previous year.

Senay said he hopes to see more (and better) entries in corporate categories next year. From Ad Age:

“Entries from corporate categories, which are the bread and butter of many PR firms, were weak,” Senay said. “Public affairs, crisis issues … I know there’s better work out there, I’ve seen it in other competitions, regional competitions, but you have to enter to win.”

Last year, Paul Taaffe, CEO of Hill & Knowlton and PR jury chair, issued a statement that said, “The advertising industry is eating our lunch at these awards, and the PR industry has to raise its game.” The Cannes festival runs through Saturday. Perhaps the PR industry will step up its game in other categories.

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