CANNES--A Puerto Rican campaign that attempted to persuade the country’s workers to get off welfare has won top PR honours at the 2012 Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity.

Banco Popular de Puerto Rico’s ‘Most Popular Song’ initiative, by JWT Puerto Rico, won the Grand Prix in the PR Lions’ fourth year of existence at the festival.

Once again, the winners list was dominated by entries from ad agencies. Of the 134 shortlisted entries (out of more than 1,100 in total) not a single PR firm won one of the 20 Gold Lions handed out this year, representing the PR industry’s worst return at the competition.

A handful of PR firms were represented among Silver and Bronze Lion winners, led by Prime PR, a regular Gold Lion winner in previous years. The agency’s ‘Kids Kitchen’ campaign for Abba Seafood took home two Silver Lions, and it won similar recognition for the ‘Plumbers Without Borders’ programme for Comfort. Prime also won Bronze Lion for Telia’s ‘No News is Big News.’

MSL Stockholm won a Bronze Lion for P&G’s ‘Ariel Fashion Shoot’ campaign, and Australian firm One Green Bean took home a Bronze Lion for a campaign on behalf of Pacific Brands’ Dunlop Volley. A number of digital and integrated shops took home Lions, including Naked Communications, R/GA, Duval Guillaume Modem and Proximity Colombia, along with a slew of advertising agencies.

The PR Lions jury was headed by Weber Shandwick’s Gail Heimann, who said that PR firms need to “think differently” if they are to compete with advertising agencies at the Cannes Lions. “It takes a singular presentation to stand out,” said Heimann. “You’ve got to do it right in order to get the recognition.”

Another jury member, GolinHarris international MD Matt Neale, said that PR agencies must accelerate their shift beyond earned media into shared and paid media. He also said that advertising agencies have an advantage “because they have a remit from clients to work across all channels.”

PR firms, he said, are often briefed to work solely on media coverage. “That limits our creativity and ability to work across multiple channels.”

Two jurors - Euro RSCG North America CEO Marian Salzman and Burson-Marsteller UK creative director Joe Sinlair - also called on the PR industry to adopt a more insight-led approach to its work.

“All of the companies that have won gold had a deep insights process,” said Salzman. “That’s the big transition PR needs to make.”

“How much has the PR industry really changed?” asked Sinclair, adding that the insights process is something that “historically, PR agencies haven’t been good at.”

The Banco Popular campaign represents Puerto Rico’s first Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions. 60 percent of the country receives government handouts, a state of affairs that is popularised in a legendary salsa song by El Gran Combo.

JWT convinced El Gran Combo to rewrite the song to extol the virtues of working which, said Heimann, “sparked a new dialogue and empowered the people of Puerto Rico.” The song made it to the top of the charts, and drove the bank's 'Reputation Index' to a record-high of 80 percent.

Heimann added that winning entries had to demonstrate three things: “an unbelievable, jaw-dropping idea”, “impact,” and “purpose”.

The jury handed out 69 PR Lions, up from 39 last year.

Another highly-rated campaign, ‘Blood Relations’ from the Peres Center of Peace in Israel won two Gold Lions, but could not win the Grand Prix because of the prohibition against non-profit work winning the top award.

The PR Lions press conference also featured an attack on advertising from one judge, Leo Burnett MENA chief creative officer Bechara Mouzannar. After noting that he had stopped believing in advertising five years ago, Mouzannar said that many award-winning ads are “ads that nobody every sees, a reputation based on lies.”