Michael Frohlich Weber Shandwick

PR vs Advertising: Who's winning the creativity battle is a tired debate

Weber Shandwick's global chief transformation officer and EMEA CEO says brilliant and impactful creativity is always a winner. Notwithstanding where it comes from

By Michael Frohlich

The same old Cannes and PR debate rages on. Is it right that non-PR agencies are winning more in the PR Category than PR agencies? It’s such a tired debate that has no need to be discussed any more.

In 2009, Graham Drew (currently CCO APAC, Grey Group) and I picked up a gold PR Lion in the inaugural year of the PR Lions (see photo for 'vintage' Lion). It was to re-launch The Footballs Pools and highlight its charitable donations to the arts. We partnered with the Royal Ballet to create a performance of the greatest footballing moments in history and called it the Beautiful Game.

We were beyond excited with our new gold Lion. We proudly walked down the red carpeted steps, in torrential rain, so without the usual curious crowds, and smugly burst into the Gutter Bar (a time pre-security, barriers, crowd control and police). As we sat, cuddling our Lion, revellers stopped to congratulate us. However, when we explained it was a PR Lion, they feigned interest and quickly escaped to swoon over ‘real Lions’.

Fourteen years on, and thankfully we’re in a very different place. Now, a PR Lion is as coveted as the others, as a broad spread of agencies battle for them. No longer is PR seen as a poor relation. Arguably, all great ideas today have an ‘earned’ idea at their heart. That’s how they gain fame, traction and talkability. The PR category is winning!

The industry enjoys labelling agencies and shutting them in boxes. Honestly, I hate the label PR, as it’s so long been seen as peripheral and somehow can’t be as creatively smart as an ad agency or is opaque in how it achieves results. This is all balderdash and lazy thinking.

The reality is, a great agency should be looking to partner with clients to provide impactful work. An overused phrase is ‘a great idea can come from anywhere’. But it’s true. So why when the rubber hits the road, do we still think in boxes? I’m not advocating that every agency should be all things to all people. Far from it.

Any agency has the power to ignite a brilliant idea, but deep expertise is needed from specialists (teams or agencies) to turn that idea into a world class campaign. At The Weber Shandwick Collective, we are a family of different strategic communications and consulting firms, offering world class business solutions for our clients – with 41 Lions to our name this year, spanning across 19 categories. And if we can’t offer our clients world-class solutions, we partner with other IPG agencies to do so.

We shouldn’t care what type of agency wins in any of the Cannes Lions categories, as long as it’s brilliant, beautiful, and impactful (although we all do care about who wins!).

Weber Shandwick was awarded 41 Lions at the 2023 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity including two Grand Prix, seven Gold Lions, 12 Silver Lions and 20 Bronze Lions.

Michael Frohlich is global chief transformation officer and EMEA CEO at Weber Shandwick.

An overused phrase is ‘a great idea can come from anywhere’. But it’s true. So why when the rubber hits the road, do we still think in boxes?

Michael Frohlich


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