When you can’t get a dance at your own party.

In the last month I must have looked at over 400 case studies as jury member at the Asia Pacific Effies and as PR jury chairman and integrated jury member at the Dubai Lynx.  The news for the PR industry was good and bad.

But before that, a ‘health warning’.  Unlike the awards run by PR Week or the Holmes Report, which are targeted primarily at work that serves the Chief Communications Officer (CCO) or PR Director/Manager if you prefer things more Anglo, these awards, like Cannes, are targeted at work that primarily serves the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO).  Please note; primarily not exclusively.

In most of these awards and the conferences or ‘festivals’ that accompany them, PR feels a bit tacked-on and you should not hold your breath if you are hoping to see great investor relations, employee engagement or public affairs work. Media relations, crisis-and-issues, purpose-and-cause and influencer work all feature, but they are very much in service of brand promotion.

At these awards, we are in the realm of brand reach, penetration and saliency rather than corporate reputation or trust.  Consequently, I doubt very much if Brunswick or APCO have lost sleep at their lack of EFFIE, Lynx or Cannes silverware.

Back to the good news.  ‘PR thinking’ informs many if not most of the creative campaign and integrated category winners, and having sat on these things for longer than I care to remember, the scale of this damascene conversion is new and significant.

It appears that non-PR agencies and their non-CCO type clients appreciate the value of earned as well as owned and paid; work hard to involve influencers; are now preachers of cause and purpose at the heart of brand and spout as much ‘like’ and ‘engagement’ ROI BS as the glibbest and most hipsterish of social-first-PR agencies.

That’s not to say they have cracked the code.  They rarely lead with earned; are still more about environmental and social gesture than real change and almost never properly engage employees or campaign for policy change.  But they have come an awful long way and they still do proper planning, big creative and can integrate across channels and buy space like they used to, so they rarely lack for impact.

And that is where the bad news comes in. At the Dubai Lynx Awards, no PR firm won a single award and only one made the shortlist of the PR category (happily that was us).  It was a little awkward to be honest.  Perhaps when the Asia Pacific Effies are announced those who self-identify from the PR industry will do better.  Perhaps again at Cannes after our breakthrough with REI last year.

Many in our industry will not lament this state of affairs.  The reputation-based PR sector (Corporate, PA, Financial and Crisis & issues if you prefer the old tags) will carry on in its slow growth but decent margin kind of way with or without these baubles and there are plenty of vibrant, specialist niches to settle in.  And many PR firms will continue to pick up their fair share of ‘non-strategic’ brand amplification and social and digital content work and never put on a festival lanyard or quaff a glass of rose on the Croisette.  But if that’s what we settle for, we are missing the big prize.  By Edelman analysis the equivalent of fees paid by CMOs are at least 14x and possibly up to 20x those paid by CCOs.

There is much more growth to be had by fully committing to becoming strategic partners of CMOs on their main brand tasks of strategy, creative and tactics that drive real reach and penetration numbers or deliver on hard core performance metrics.  The things they really pay real money for.  It is by far, the biggest financial opportunity the PR industry has ever had.

Which is where these awards come in, because in the absence of a better measure, this is where CMOs look to see what works and who is good at it.

And right now what they are seeing is more and better campaigns with PR thinking baked in, but very rarely from a company that is (or was) a PR firm.


This post is dedicated to my old friend Alan VanderMolen (back atcha) and to my awesome Dubai Lynx  PR jury colleagues.

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