Emily Tan
Mar 12, 2014

What makes an award-winning PR campaign?

HONG KONG – The Council of Public Relations Firms of Hong Kong (CPRFHK) convened a panel last night to try and figure out why creative agencies often win PR awards at the expense of the profession’s specialists.

L-R: Catanach, Miller, Hemamda, Schafli and Lynch
L-R: Catanach, Miller, Hemamda, Schafli and Lynch

We’ll just break the suspense here and disclose that the discussion failed to determine anything definitive. However boldness and creativity were among the factors that the panellists felt had a role in securing awards.

“It’s about having a sense of surprise, break a rule, break a law,” said Kevin Lynch, ECD of BBDO Greater China. In 2011, Clemenger BBDO Melbourne took home the Cannes Grand Prix in the PR category for the ‘Break Up’ campaign it crafted for National Australian Bank.

“We tend to make obvious things very nice and then we feel good about it, but seek to say something that comes out of the sentiment of the audience rather than the sentiment of what the client wants to say about its brand,” he added.

It’s important, though, for PR firms not to get too hung up on flashy creativity because it’s effectiveness that makes clients happy, commented fellow panellist Katharine Schafli, Asia director of The Marketing Society. “In conversations with marketers, what comes to light is that when they’re looking for a partner, they’re less interested in creativeness awards than they are in effectiveness awards.”

No matter how bold and creative a campaign, it has to achieve client objectives, agreed Campaign Asia-Pacific’s online editor, Matthew Miller. For example, the ‘Driving Dogs’ campaign by Draftfcb Australia won a Grand Prix at Spikes and Campaign of the Year in last year's PRWeek Awards for Asia, not just because it was a crazy idea that generated a lot of earned media coverage, but because its award entry stressed the 590 per cent increase in adoption that followed the campaign’s viral boom. “All the dog’s at the centre were also adopted,” Miller said.

Part of the problem, he added, lies in poorly explained and presented award entries. While the editorial staff of Campaign Asia-Pacific has no role in judging the upcoming PR Week awards, the editors and writers have access to award entries. “We know the PR community prides itself on being storytellers, so use that," he said. "Campaigns that win have clear objectives and their written entries tie the results to those objectives." This, he added doesn’t require a “singing, dancing video”. Clear and well-written submissions go a long way.

A proven track record of effectiveness may also give agencies the clout they need to edge clients into accepting a bolder idea. “It takes an enormous amount of courage for an organisation or a person to take on ideas," Schafli said. "I’m sure there are many powerful ideas sitting in drawers because clients lacked the courage to think beyond the current status quo.”

In fact, clients may just be waiting to be persuaded. “In my previous experience working with PR agencies, we encouraged them to move beyond the obvious, campaigns that were positively disruptive,” added Feryal Hemamda, marketing director for animation firm Treacle.

But surely, a lack of budget and a background in PR may count against firms trying to reap awards, raised moderator Rachel Catanach, MD, SVP and senior partner of Fleishman Hillard Hong Kong.

Not so, insisted Lynch. “At one time, the most award-winning ageny in the world was Crispin Porter + Bogusky, and they had an interesting process," he said. "Instead of starting out with TV scripts they had creatives present the press release" as they imagined it should read. "None of their creatives had a PR background, and they had no idea what they were doing, but it helped them understand the story they were telling,” he said.

An example of a low-budget campaign that’s creating behavourial change, he continued, is the 'Phubbing' movement by McCann Erickson Melbourne, the same people behind ‘Dumb ways to die”. Created to sell the Macquarie Dictionary, the campaign highlighted a phenomenon that everyone had observed but no one had a word for—the act of ignoring someone else to pay attention to your phone.

Ultimately, with the industry shifting so rapidly, clinging to traditions or attempting to follow trends will not win the PR industry any awards. “It may be up to us to define to award judges who we are and what we can do,” concluded Catanach.


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