As they emerged blinking into the sunset after the PR Lions award ceremony, the heads of some of the world’s biggest PR agencies could be forgiven for looking a little sheepish. They had just sat through an awards show that did not see a single PR agency take to the stage in the category which shares its name. Only three PR firms, by our count, won metal of any kind - Prime PR, One Green Bean and MSL Stockholm. Four if you count advertising agency Scholz & Friends, which houses a credible PR arm.

Now in its fourth year, the Cannes PR Lions tends to trigger soul-searching within the PR industry. It is easy to self-flagellate over the reasons that PR firms have been unable to outshine their advertising peers. Yet, we have analysed this issue in some detail, and it remains difficult to avoid the conclusion that the awards, in their current incarnation, are simply not configured to recognise the best global PR work that exists in such categories as corporate, crisis, reputation management and public affairs.

Even if you accept that the Cannes Lions are a vehicle to access the consumer marketing side of the equation, there is plenty to ponder in the results from this year’s competition. Unlike last year, when the judges made behavioural change a clear priority, this year’s panel appeared to place a higher premium on, as jury president Gail Heimann put it, “an unbelievable, jaw-dropping idea.”

In this respect, this year’s version of the PR Lions can be viewed as following the template already laid down by most of the other award categories at Cannes. Indeed, the high premium placed on the entry video, says 2011 jury president Dave Senay, effectively marginalises everything about PR except the consumer-facing campaigns that are able to display cutting-edge creativity. Senay characterises this as an approach that favours the “starburst” idea rather than the sustained creativity of “sunlight”.

This publication has frequently expressed the view that the PR industry needs to sharpen its creative edge if it hopes to play a more central brand-building role. That does not mean, of course, that creativity should exist in a vacuum from results, which is an impression that is hard to avoid when surveying the award-winning advertising work at Cannes. The PR category is a long way away from that state of affairs; it would be a genuine shame if that fate was to befall it.