Hearing that PLMR had been shortlisted in two PR awards categories in the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2011 was quite a shock, out in Cannes on the morning of 20th June.

This wasn’t because I didn’t think that our award entry was worthy of winning.  Everyone at PLMR is extremely proud of the fact that, through our work for Durand Academy over the last two years, the necessary political and media support has been harnessed to enable the school to deliver its revolutionary vision to set up the first completely non fee-paying secondary boarding school in the country.

Rather, given the prestige of the Cannes Lions and the fact that they are the only international set of awards for the PR industry, we had all been sure to keep our expectations in check.  Looking at other applicants in our awards categories, we were impressed and inspired by the global nature of competition that we were up against – the National Australia Bank, the National Government of Kosovo, Pepsico and the UN, to name but a few.

Finding out later on then, that we had in fact won both categories – Best Public Affairs and Best Use of Media Relations – left me utterly speechless.  What was it about PLMR’s particular campaign that had convinced the judges?  For them, it was that our campaign followed a clear story – a start, middle and an end for problems identified, a decisive strategy set out and executed, and objectives achieved.

Whilst it was officially recognised by Ofsted as an ‘Outstanding’ provider of education at the beginning of PLMR’s campaign with Durand, the school had no public profile, nor was it understood or supported by the politicians who mattered.  Through a sustained campaign to brief and inform political stakeholders, combined with profile raising through media relations, we helped Durand to get their messages out there to wider audiences.  This will now enable the school to undertake the next step of an amazing journey: to extend its exceptional educational provision by opening a free of charge secondary boarding school.

The ‘Shine a Light on Opportunity’ campaign secured coverage across the national print, broadcast and online media, including an interview with Durand’s Executive Head Greg Martin on the BBC Today Programme in December 2010.  Speaking opportunities were accepted, meetings arranged with, and letters written to Cabinet Members, Ministers, Opposition Politicians, Local Government and Senior Civil Servants in relevant Departments, harnessing support to secure 23 mentions of Durand in Parliament over the period of a year from Members across political parties.

The culmination of our campaign came in April with the fantastic news of the Coalition Government’s commitment to co-fund Durand’s boarding school project.  The Government will contribute £17.34 million of support to the school over the next four years and through this, help Durand to deliver a life-changing education for hundreds of children from deprived backgrounds from across South London.

Taking our campaign to Cannes was a privilege in itself.

Arriving in the South of France for the Lions awards, I could immediately sense the mood of excitement.  Hundreds of marketing, branding, advertising and public relations professionals gathered together to celebrate some of the greatest achievements across their industries.  I was keen to make the most of the festival and attend a range of interesting seminars, such as a session on Social Mobile Marketing with Robert Winslow, the Executive Vice-President of global marketing and communications agency, Fleishman-Hillard.

Without doubt, though, the awards ceremony on Monday night marked the highlight of the trip.  Whilst being blinded by flash bulbs on the big stage, I was hugely proud to represent PLMR in collecting our prizes and accepting our global awards, which truly offer recognition on a global scale of what PLMR and Durand have achieved together.

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PLMR’s crisis communications experience is second to none, and includes pre-emptive and reactive work across traditional and social media channels. We work with a range of organisations to offer critical communication support when they are faced with difficult and challenging scenarios.