Undoubtedly, it was a breakthrough year for PR agencies in Cannes. As reported by PRWeek, PR agencies accounted for a record 50% of all entries and the majority of Gold Lions in the category. They also won multiple Lions in non-PR categories. If my math’s correct, a total of 78 Lions were awarded in the overall PR category. Woohoo, us. And after watching every winning entry submission, I’m inspired/provoked/encouraged not only by resounding creativity inherent in each, but by the fearlessness of brands to take a back seat to a greater social purpose and authentic value for their consumers. Brands got the memo. It’s no longer about them. It’s about their purpose and what they’re doing for the people who buy their products and services.

Always #LikeAGirl. Optus Telecoms Clever Buoy. Skoda 70 Guardians of Winter. Volvo Interception. Quicksilver True Wetsuits. All of these activations contained not an iota of self-serving, brand chest-thumping. They all either took a strong, social stand (improving women’s confidence, gay rights) or offered tremendous value to people (shark warning system, saving a school and a rural town). And the affiliated brands either built or continued to cultivate a legion of loyal advocates who speak on their behalf, on their own accord. You can’t just tell someone to do that – even if you tell them a thousand times – and you can’t buy that with money or celebrity.

And then there are the public service winners. They didn’t merely point out societal dilemmas, they solved them with tremendous results (raising $220 million to find the cure for ALS, decreasing iron deficiency in Cambodia’s population by 50%, compelling Romania’s government to open more blood donation centers). No small feats.

This is what I call the value paradigm—brands providing people value in the forms of assistance, opportunity, social currency, inspiration, access, etc., instead of touting product attributes. And it clearly resonated with the judging panel and won at Cannes. For good reason. It’s now the way we consumers judge brands and movements. Beyond a rad pair of sneakers and a low-interest credit card, what value do companies offer to people and what do they really contribute to the greater good?

There were other red threads pulling through the winning campaigns:

  • Use of data and research to inspire the creative and keep it grounded in reality. Many provocative insights (girls experience their biggest drop in confidence around their first period, Japanese men suddenly stop surfing once they join the work force) led directly to award-winning work.
  • Collaboration across multi-disciplinary agencies. When PR and advertising agencies worked together, they won.
  • Omni-channel campaigns. Many of the winners had experiential, digital and social components.
  • Measurable results. No matter how impressive the creative idea, if it did not achieve substantial results that could be quantified, it did not win.

Interestingly, the traditional core practice areas for PR agencies (media relations, crisis management, internal comms, public affairs) received very little recognition. That begs the question do we, as an industry, need to push for bigger, more original ideas and programs at every level, every day?

So what is the huge opportunity in 2016 for PR at Cannes? I want PR to take ownership and the lead in creating more of the bigger ideas. I was ecstatic to read PRWeek’s headline “MSLGroup crowned at Cannes for Always #LikeAGirl campaign.” But when I shortly after read in an interview with Leo Burnett Canada’s CCO Judy John that MSL wasn’t in the room “when the light-bulb moment happened,” I thought why not?

That’s the challenge I bring to Porter Novelli. Let’s search out and seize the opportunity to develop the next #LikeAGirl. Or World’s Toughest Job. Or Real Beauty Sketches. If we continue to push our thinking beyond traditional PR and bring our clients smart, value-driven programs built on insightful strategies, we just might find ourselves winning lions more often. Oh, and also growing business organically, increasing revenue exponentially and becoming even more valued partners with our clients.

Here’s some of the winning work to inspire us all.