What you can guarantee is that everyone has an opinion about the Lions awards, but what nobody can say about this year’s batch is that it doesn’t represent what we do every day.
It’s just that maybe we don’t all do award winning work every day.
Most of us strive and get really really close, and it’s that striving to push the boundaries of Pharma that keeps our clients on an upward creative trajectory. It improves their businesses and ours and more importantly helps patients too.
If you didn’t succeed this year, I’m sorry but Cannes is pretty bloody tough.
If it helps, you can feel comforted by the fact that actually it’s all just puffery and nonsense and it doesn’t really matter.
Unless you win of course.
Also, even as a judge this year I watched as my agency’s work was flashed on screen, heard some positive giggles from the room, raising my expectations momentarily, then caught out of the corner of my eye someone giving it a three and realised it would never be seen again. That was what we call disappointment in real time.
But I am getting ahead of myself.
Being a small cog in the Lions, you quickly realise the whole judging experience at Cannes is about as well oiled as a machine can be.
You are scooped up from Nice airport and whisked Cannes-ward in air-conditioned luxury, deposited at what is a very nice hotel, handed, rather MI5 style I must say, a box complete with instructions, passes and lanyards and a Gold note book. This is stationary porn at it’s finest.
It bodes well.
A welcome drink on the Carlton beach follows. It’s a strange little soiree in so much that this is the week prior to the festival kicking off and the streets of Cannes are devoid of the heavyweight creative cognoscenti, it was just a few old codgers, some prostitutes and a few teenagers smoking on a bench.
It reminded me of the first couple of years of Lions health.
Time to mingle.
Hello, what jury are you on?
Oh Design? cool.
Me?….no pharma…no not farmer…pharma…..PHARMACEUTICALS.
Yes, that’s right, like pills and stuff.
Next morning at 8:30am we are met at the hotel by our Cannes ‘rep’ who, rather than telling us about local tourist attractions or the all-inclusive sunset barbeque, is tasked with rounding us up and escorting us to the main building within the Palais. She then facilitates the whole judging process.
This is not as straightforward as you might think.
I mean, we are ten creatives (full grown adults mind you) all trying to organise ourselves without the aid of a producer or account person, this is complicated stuff! Literally every morning someone was late, overslept or simply thought we were meeting an hour later.
Our group was an eclectic mix: a couple of white middle aged admen (guilty as charged) Brazilian superstars, Mexican rock stars, Indian gurus, Singaporean hotshots, American glitterati, German wunderkinds and a ‘fab one’ from Liverpool.
And so we are led in to a small meeting room with a lovely view of the azure sea and a coffee machine it takes at least six of us to figure out how to work. This is a step up, we are told, usually it’s a windowless dark room and air con cold enough to freeze all extremities.
The air-con remained.
The first day we are treated to an explanatory video which spells out the system and how the judging works. This was preceded by a visit from Terry Savage himself, the festival CEO. There is something to this nominative determinism lark, I thought to myself, as he cut an intimidating figure announcing in a gravelly Aussie accent “weer gowin to show you a veedeo bud if it carmes from me it hes more menice”.
We duly sat up straight and paid attention.
The first two days are basically this: See the work, judge from one to nine. 1-3 is not on the shortlist, 4-6 possibly a shortlist, 7-9 definitely a shortlist and possibly a medal.
Depending on the category some entries have a different method to judge them using the above criteria. A mix of percentages for idea, strategy, execution and results.
No discussion. Press the number on the tablet.
The reason for this is clear, and used by other awards shows too. Once you’ve got a shortlist you can then start talking about the work that needs talking about.
Interestingly this system is largely up to the current jury president to shape, this year we were led magnificently by the awesome Rich levy CCO of FCB Health who, having experienced a previous system where they talked about every piece of work right from the get-go, went with this no-chat approach. The problem with the ‘discuss everything’ method is that you can end up at 2am every night debating work you hate or don’t think should even be in the pharma category.
So, thanks to Rich we were able to get a reasonable day’s work in and were away early enough for some jury dinners in the old town.
Day three and the discussions begin. This is what we’ve been waiting for. Let’s get some heated debates going.
Our room was directly next to the Health and Wellness lot. All day we would hear sporadic bouts of hysterical laughing coming through the partition wall. Maybe they were just a funnier lot than us. Maybe the work was hilarious.
So, what’s up next? Yep more Cancer videos. Great.
Once we have a rudimentary shortlist, what you instantly realise is that some great work you definitely saw hasn’t been voted on to it. This is the point where we each get to bring something back.
What you hope is that someone will bring up that work your agency did, because you can’t.
What does happen is that if any agency in your group has work shortlisted it gets you some instant sun on the terrace while they talk about it.
The view from the terrace.
This year CDM New York won a Silver for Zac’s Play Day a beautiful and perfectly executed children’s book explaining to children and those around them what living with Spinal Muscular Atrophy can be like.
I was very proud, but I never heard a word discussed about it other than to see it keep popping up on the list. Then some handshakes when they’d decided the medal.
I took all the credit naturally.
Cannes are very hot on subterfuge, collusion and basic skullduggery. There’s an algorithm built in to the tablet voting system that recognises any anomalies. Different voting signs post-lunch with fellow jurors that might be reciprocal, or pre-planned tactical voting..everyone else thinks it’s a shortlist but you gave it a one? it all shows up.
Not that any skullduggery would reflect well on you or Cannes. The pressure at Cannes is to try and find and reward the best work for the category and the show as a whole. There is a mild paranoia about letting the side down for Pharma, so as a team we were determined to keep the standard up there for Cannes, not just Pharma. I think we did that.
Sunday, the last day, is medals day.
We all were rubbing our hands with the anticipation as well as trying to stay warm in the minus 6c temperature.
This was the day that felt most like the famous James Stewart movie, 12 angry men.
Apart from the fact we were ten not twelve, male and female and really quite even tempered.
What I never realised in previous years was that you are given a quota to guide you. 10 bronze, 7 silver and 5 Gold.
This may answer your question as to why one piece can’t win several golds in different categories. Or if it does it swamps everything like last year’s Immunity Charm.
This quota isn’t set in stone. But, like a wish from a Genie, if you give a Gold you can’t downgrade it. If you give a bronze you can always return to it and vote again and upgrade it. This way you start off cautious and slowly build your big winners out of your medals shortlist.
Some entries began the day as a shortlist and ended up Gold, one stayed Gold all day. Some stayed where they were despite the best efforts of their champions.
You also have the ability to group two or three campaign entries as one, so long as they all are entered in the same category, thus awarding all the ideas and saving yourself some of your quota.
We each had our favourite, and I kinda relished the challenge of lobbying support for a piece of work I liked. The others groaned every time I brought it up. It ended up a Silver, which in the end I think might have been fair.
The thing is, as we kept saying, Silver at Cannes is fucking good. (And actually, so is a bronze and a shortlist.)
But also, and surprisingly to myself, I came round to some pieces championed by others that I had initially disliked. This is what the jury room can do to you. Some amazingly intelligent and talented and highly awarded people persuading you of the entries brilliance, I found myself in the unusual position of ‘client’ to someone’s passionate creative director role. Okay, I’ll buy your argument.
I guess that’s why we are all there. I learned a lot.
And so on Sunday night, you emerge in to the soft evening sunlight, bleary eyed and nursing a nice new summer cold thanks to the air con.
But this year no Grand Prix in Pharma.
Okay, a note on that.
I promise you, had you been on the jury you wouldn’t have awarded one either.
The Golds we did award were truly great but the one thing that got us all excited was ineligible. (Blink to speak) And there was nothing else to compare. So you can’t just go with something you don’t feel is up to it.
So, is pharma destined to be constantly the bridesmaid and never the bride?
I don’t think so. This year the category changes have made real pharma work come out of it’s shell, for once not fighting with Pro Bono or spurious health based activation projects.
The standard of craft is now hitting the mark, and now all it will take is one sublime idea. And there were fifteen of the top Pharma companies represented in the shortlist, so the groundwork is there.
This was truly, what we do every day. Or at least could have been.
Will it be from your agency next year? Now there’s no reason why not.
I believe the Holy Grail is still the Grand Prix for branded work. Maybe that is too much to hope for but we all need dreams.
I’ll leave you with the some final pleas/tips on behalf of next year’s jurors.
1. It’s not enough to win at Cannes just because you entered it. Ten to twenty category entries isn’t going to make it any better. Buddy, it’s still just a woman in a pool. In fact you lessen your chances with each entry. 4 max!
2. You need an idea. It can be small, but you still need an idea. Some stickers won this year.
3. Funny can win too. Check out the Wrestler.
4. That idea you really like but aren’t sure could win? enter it anyway. One of the jurors might spot it, love it and make it theirs.
5. Make sure your case film hits the nub of what makes it special. People in the case film saying it’s great doesn’t count.
6. Probably avoid putting the Art Director and writer in the case vid. (see point 5)
7. Some great results really help. Jurors will spot bullshit results. It doesn’t have to be global PR coverage but if you enter it a year early you may weaken your chances. There were a lot of ‘we’re hoping for big things!’ which is hard to put up against concrete figures. Wait till you’ve got the big things to talk about.
8. If Cannes recommend you put it in the H&W category not pharma but you insist you want the pharma jury to decide, then don’t be surprised if the jury doesn’t think it’s pharma either.
9. Craft counts.
10. Go big or go small. Don’t go medium.
If you have any gripes, or questions about why your work didn’t shortlist in Pharma or why certain work did, feel free to ask questions in the box below.
Because of the way WordPress works I have to approve the question before it shows on the site, but I will try and answer as best I can (and if I can remember it). If you really really are curious it might help, or maybe it might be best to let sleeping dogs lie
Up to you.
Until next time dear reader.