The General Store CCO Marcus Tesoriero – Judging PR at D&AD: does the idea remain King?

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The General Store CCO Marcus Tesoriero – Judging PR at D&AD: does the idea remain King?

Judging the eminent D&AD Awards in London on the week of King Charles’ coronation, Marcus Tesoriero, CCO of The General Store, discusses his experience with the PR jury – reflecting on the work now that the winners have been announced.


As the array of deserved humble brags now filter through LinkedIn on pencil wins at D&AD, I’d firstly like to say, congratulations, brag away. This show is tough, and judging D&AD for the second time reminds me of how proud agencies and clients should be to get a shortlist, let alone a pencil. For many within the global creative community, D&AD in London is considered the crème del a crème to win at. A Wood Pencil is considered a huge, global achievement. Winning a Yellow or one of the very few Black Pencils, is an absolute career milestone for all involved.

This year saw the return of in-person judging for D&AD. The vibe was alive as we gathered at the famous Truman Brewery festival halls after a three-year hiatus. Donal Keenan, Director of Awards and Operations at D&AD, swears that he booked in the festival dates before King Charles decided to have his coronation in the same week. Either way, Brick Lane and the surrounding Shoreditch area was buzzing in the heavenly moments when sun streaked through the often-bleak London clouds. And it was still buzzing post 7pm when our judging wrapped up most days.

The General Store CCO Marcus Tesoriero – Judging PR at D&AD: does the idea remain King?

Royal palaver aside, judging was serious business for my jury, as expected. And judging the PR category for the first time meant I needed to be on point when critiquing the work. My previous experience judging D&AD was in the Media category, which was definitely an eye-opener. As a creative director, I learnt a tonne riffing off the other judges from different media backgrounds to discover what an award-winning media idea looks like. Now judging PR, I was in the same situation. In the room, I was conditioned to listen before speaking. And there were definitely intelligent insights from every jury member to settle our crucial question: What is a world-class PR idea?

An old-school phrase I heard once was, “Advertising is what you pay for, publicity is what you pray for.” But that’s not entirely true, as well-considered PR these days has a clear strategic intent and is often financially backed to hit measurable milestones.

One of my fellow judges said: “Advertising’s goal is to get the brand in your hands, PR’s mission is to get the brand in your head.” I like the sound of that, but great PR shouldn’t just make people think – it should make them act or transact, too. The truth is the argument between advertising and PR should be over. The idea is king. And to secure attention in this cluttered world, everything we now do as brand communicators should aim to have PR impact.

The days of shouting messages with empty promises are over. Your brand should deliver a function, a purpose – or at very least a strong emotion in people’s lives, or you’re just wasting your marketing budget. The best ideas invite people in for a cup of tea and have them leave telling everyone your full life story.

The General Store CCO Marcus Tesoriero – Judging PR at D&AD: does the idea remain King?

When it comes to true, impactful PR ideas, often the answer isn’t an ad, either. Funnily enough, most great ad agencies these days know that, too.

As expected, almost no ads made a shortlist in the PR category – just smart ways to solve problems in innovative ways. And nearly all the entries were made by advertising agencies. I know, I’ve been there myself. Does that mean we’re all about PR now?

When judging D&AD, this is where the difference kicks in. Amplification and noise in the news isn’t everything. As mentioned, the idea is king – and craft is the other king. So many good ideas got so close to winning but didn’t push it that extra bit to be considered great. The technology was sloppy, the execution was flat, the impact was average. It’s a great reminder to go ten more rounds of thinking once you believe you’ve done your very best with an amazing idea.

Work that went the extra mile

The entries that went that extra mile were the ones that blew our minds most. Some simple ideas with a huge impact like Postponed Day really got the jury talking. To remind women in Argentina to stop delaying their annual breast check-ups, they coordinated 30 cancer NGOs to continually postpone World Breast Cancer Day. Why has nobody thought of that idea before?

There was some amazing work in the PR category from Australia this year too. Huge congratulations to The First Digital Nation and Classify Consent, which showed absolute breakthrough thinking. Please view these case films when you can spare two minutes, you won’t regret it.

But the piece of work I fell in love with most was Middle Seat Lottery from Virgin Australia. This work definitely put in the craft love to score the most PR air miles – around the world.

In a sea of social good campaigns, I know how tough it is to win at top awards shows for an everyday client. And to win with a piece of work that really makes you smile, well, that’s almost impossible. Many would say, yes, Middle Seat Lottery was just a promotion to pick the middle seat in the plane, but for me it was genius. It turned the worst seat on the plane into the best seat by incentivising those travellers. It’s an insight everyone can relate to – and that’s what got the world talking about it.

The General Store CCO Marcus Tesoriero – Judging PR at D&AD: does the idea remain King?

Judging this work, I helped provide some cultural context too, knowing that two years ago through Covid, Virgin Australia was going into receivership. Qantas was one of my clients at the time and I recall a campaign we created bringing the spirit of Australia back for Qantas, which formed an even bigger divide between the two competing airlines. Beyond the need to put bums on middle seats, Virgin Australia since had a real identity problem, and this piece of work has finally brought them back to the skies – in true Virgin fashion.

Every part of the surrounding integrated campaign for Middle Seat Lottery helped support the core idea. For me, seeing work like this is what really helped answer my burning question. What is a world-class PR idea?

Yes, the idea remains King of PR, but when judging at D&AD, the level of craft is what makes it truly world-class. A flawless PR idea is what will absolutely ensure a brand just can’t get out of people’s heads.