The three ways to do Cannes.

1. As a Creative client.

It was a few years ago now and it was my first visit to Cannes, and I swore I would never do it that way again. I had always been the senior guy who wasn’t quite senior enough to go but was senior enough to hold the fort while the bosses frolicked on the croisette.

So, yes when the invitation came – I accepted it gladly. This was my turn.

It was lovely and generous of my hosts but exhausting. 15 odd years ago production companies rented villas miles from the actual town (maybe they still do) and had potential creative clients come to stay. I never went near any Palais de Festival, in fact I am not sure I knew or cared where it was. There were a few people milling about with lanyards but I didn’t pay much attention.

It was a succession of production company parties and thumping music all night long as I tried to get some sleep. Even 15 years ago I was too middle aged and married with kids to really feel comfortable, especially as my fellow house mates won the Grand Prix that year. So they were intent on celebrating, as you might imagine.

Me? I had to get back to a school parents summer ball on the Saturday night and I arrived back a quivering, hungover imbecile after having nearly missed the only flight home that would get me back in time.

2. As a Delegate.

It was ten years later that I came to Lions health. A bit of a trade up, as we were able to get a room at the Carlton. This was when adland didn’t arrive till the Sunday and we had it all to ourselves.

Over the last few years since it’s been going for us pharmatypes, I’ve experienced the true value of Cannes, the talks and the awards and won some nice accolades (although no Grand Prix as yet) myself.

I’ve sat in the auditorium as the big winners win and held my breadth for our campaign to be read out.

I’ve stood on the stage after winning Healthcare Network of the year.

I still arrive back home a beaten man, after too many late nights at the gutter bar, but that is compensated by feeling inspired by the new wave of creativity sweeping the sector.

3. As a judge.

Finally, I get it.

Now, from inside the machine it makes sense. All the griping about the judges decisions, all the frustrations become clear when you turn gamekeeper.

You see the foolishness of so many agencies who don’t listen to the advice and greedily enter too many categories hoping something might stick or envisioning a truck load of Lions as a result.

You see the quality entries who pick and choose their categories.

Yes, sometimes you feel like scooping your own eyeballs out with a screwdriver if you have to sit through that case history again.

But then there’s the thrill when something pops up that is brilliant.

You are able to pick up the tiny ideas that are beautifully done and shepherd them towards an accolade.

And ultimately you get to talk about great ideas with world class talent.

This year, although it’s early days, the division between pharma and health and wellness categories has made a big difference to the time spent in the jury room. Hopefully this will be the first year that reflects the kind of work ‘we actually do’ every day.

That’s if you do brilliant work every day.

The gutter bar may still beckon, but this is so far my favourite way to do Cannes.

There is of course a fourth way to do Cannes and that’s as a holiday maker, which I did last summer. We were staying in the hills above Nice and we drove down just for a visit.

The place was quiet, clean and the gutter bar had returned from the hottest property in town to a normal cafe on a street corner just trying to please its customers.

Just as we all do for the other 51 weeks of the year.

 

 

Releasing the Lions.

So the week is over, and Lions Health is a distant Rose-tinted memory.

It’s been a weird period with the new CEO of Publicis, Arthur Sadoun, risking pissing off his entire creative workforce by pulling out from entering Cannes 2018 or indeed any awards, in order to spend money on an internal collaboration tool called ‘Marcel’.

The nations headhunters just got a whole new bunch of candidates.

To me it just shows a fundamental misunderstanding of creatives, and the point of awards in general, let alone Cannes.

But let’s not forget there was a whole heap of griping from the world’s Healthcare agencies about how the whole Lions Health event is unrepresentative of what we do and therefore why should we bother?

So let’s explore that.

I’ve given myself a little time for the whole thing to sink in before immediately rushing out a strongly worded blog, because, having slept on it, it’s not as easy as just saying that the awards are irrelevant to what we do every day. It’s my belief that they serve a higher purpose than just representing the best of our day to day briefs. They do inspire and the high bar is there for a reason.

Nevertheless, something is wrong when Healthcare agencies are squeezed out of their own award show.

In the Health and Wellness category, the consumer agencies marched in like Hells Angels at a teenage house party then they undid their flies and whopped a driving safety campaign out on the kitchen work top.

Put a more delicate way, it was like watching Torquay United play Real Madrid.  To quote my imaginary Torquay manager’s post match interview, “We could have had a chance if we could have just gotten the ball”.

(The analogies are pouring out of me today!)

In other words it’s hard to compete with the awesome effects of a milk advert and the impressive blend of science and art of ‘Graham’  if you don’t get those briefs.

If you think I’m being alarmist, out of the 80 pieces that won guess how many were specialists in Healthcare?

Two.

It was more of a warm up for them and easy points for their CEO dick measuring competitions, so the word around town was pretty much that that category was now lost to our big budget consumer brethren and you’d be mad to enter anything in it.

Which Lions Health should be concerned about, but Pharma agencies need to be canny with their precious entry budgets.

The H&W category had something like two and a half thousand entries and Pharma had around 600.

So could Pharma come to our rescue? show some much needed reflection of our day jobs?

Well, of course all the agencies that did win were from pockets of Pharmaland but there were only a handful of actual branded pharma clients. The Pro-Bono gang (another motorcycle gang but with smarter jeans and Japanese made bikes) had moved in and the more ethnic and third-world the plight that the idea was solving, the more brilliant the idea.

The most awarded campaign in the Pharma category was “The Immunity Charm” – created by McCann Health New Delhi for The Ministry of Public Health (MoPH) in Afghanistan.

It was a simple creative solution that harnessed a long-standing cultural tradition of new born babies wearing lucky bracelets. The coloured beads on the bracelets were then used as a communication system between HCPs as to what inoculations the child had had and it provided mothers with a powerful new incentive to get their children vaccinated.

No one can deny that it was a worthy winner. Except it didn’t win the Grand Prix. Why? because it was a public health campaign and as such ineligible.

But why no branded work? A good friend of mine was on the jury and according to her the quality ‘just wasn’t there’.

It’s always going to be hard to compare simply improving sales of a drug to a device or programme that saves lives. (Check out Area 23’s Trafficking concept) but surely there is a possibility that we can do that kind of work?

So is it right that we all stand around at the gutter bar feeling disillusioned? Who can we blame? The clients? The regulations? The budgets? The PI? The HCPs themselves?

Well maybe, it’s all of these other factors. But Lions Health will always get my support.

I think of it this way: Bear with me.

I once tried for a job at Gold Greenless Trott, back in the 80’s. I’ve mentioned Dave Trott before and his influence over a generation of creatives. Read his blogs if you get a chance.

We took our book in to see a CD there, called Paul Grubb. He liked one thing in our book, so told us to go away and do another book in a week.

In a week? this book had taken us three months!

Anyway we worked morning noon and night and duly returned to see him the following week.

He liked two things. He told us to go away and do it again.

Again? Jesus. Well, we really wanted a job there so we knuckled down again.

We struggled but returned the following week and he looked at the work and said he liked a couple of things.

So what then?

Yup, a third week ensued.

But the fourth time we went there, he simply said ‘congratulations, you’ve now got a really good book and you should get a job somewhere soon.’ We felt duped but…

He was right, we had and pretty soon we did.

And that’s how we need to see Lions Health. It’s a different game at this level. Our ‘nice for pharma’ won’t cut it anymore.

If we have one eye on the standard that is required to win, before we submit that work to a client, it might just give you a different parameter to judge it by and thereby even improve the industry’s work as a whole, hang the awards…the clients will benefit won’t they?

We might have to work harder to get that client to buy it, and we might have to work harder to get the budget to make it. But that’s what it takes in any agency.

In the end what no one wants to consider is that we don’t have the chops to win in our own awards show.

So, what are going to do?

Withdraw or up our game?

 

 

 

 

(By the way, GGT did offer us a job about three years later, which we turned down because we couldn’t afford to start again from the bottom…one of the big regrets of my career)