Pharma’s invisibility cloak.

In the Harry Potter books, why we ‘muggles’ don’t see all the weird magical stuff happening around us is explained in one simple line.

‘Muggles see what they want to see.’

A similar myopia seems to pervade consumer advertising and Healthcare advertising.

Maybe I’m being sensitive.

Apparently, there were actually two whole categories at Cannes that happened the same week as the rest of Cannes, had work exhibited in the same basement as the rest of Cannes and actual agencies won golds and silvers and agency of the year awards and……noooooobody noticed.

You had to go through a door in an invisible wall to a strange alleyway, apparently.

How do I know this?

Well, in this month’s Campaign – the leading advertising publication in the UK – an article by the ‘Global editor-in-chief’, no less, Claire Beale, in a piece supposed to soothe our bruised English national pride after the world cup, and get us all fired up about the creative talent on our shores, pretty much confirmed it.

In the article she rightfully championed every achievement by our consumer cousins at Cannes. (It is comforting to know we were still good at something even if the football didn’t work out how we thought.) heaping praise on the awesome achievements of Adam&Eve DDB among other notable agencies.

But somehow we had our invisibility cloaks in full working order and there wasn’t a mention of any successes in the Health and Wellness or Pharma categories for some reason.

I think I’m definitely being sensitive.

But it’s not like she didn’t have her chance at inclusion:

“And UK agencies are strong across the whole bench, not just scoring in the traditional positions, such as Film, but taking gold (and above) Lions in Glass, Sustainable Development Goals, Titanium, Creative Data, Direct, Media, PR, Social and Influencer, Film Craft, Creative Ecommerce and Entertainment.”

Um…not quite the whole bench there Claire is it.

An English agency, Havas Lynx, won Healthcare agency of the year, you might not have noticed.

They even handed out a statue and everything

 

I’m almost certain that I am probably just being a touch sensitive.

It’s weird because a lot of the big agency networks are scrambling to get involved in the healthcare space. It’s where a lot of the exciting work is happening. They even won in some of these categories.

But in some quarters our presence at Cannes is still like we have just been let in the back door to a teenage house party because our older sister was in with the cool older boys and said we could gatecrash if we stayed in the kitchen and didn’t talk to anyone and only drank cider.

We’re the fucking Inbetweeners.

But it’s not just the journos at Campaign. During the Cannes judging I bumped in to a well known advertising Creative Director, with whom I had a passing and tenuous association with, via an old friend, and we work in the same building. She has been in the business a good thirty years.

“Oh, what jury are you on?” she inquired after I introduced myself.

“Pharma”

“Oh? What’s that?” she said.

It wasn’t meant in a mean or derogatory way, I could tell she just had literally no idea. All she heard was “Spells and Potions”.

I am aware this just all sounds like chippy, a little whiny and a little bitchy. Why do I care what Campaign thinks, I ask myself?

I don’t really know, to be honest. It’s this damn over-sensitivity I guess.

But for too long we have been meek and mild about what we do, embarrassed even. Our history of regulations, small budgets and lack of creativity takes a long time to fade and as we know, perception always trails reality.

We are so busy flying around on broomsticks and casting spells on people and talking in backward snakey-talk that the rest of the world is quite happy not being involved.

They see what they want to see.

So whatever Campaign thinks or doesn’t think, it’s time to start being proud of the work, the craft, the ingenuity that we have in Pharmaland and to ditch the sensitivity. Or as Claire puts it “ditch the negativity and self-flagellation…UK Healthcare agencies are creative world champions”.

Ok, I added the healthcare part.

It may be that they just don’t ‘get’ our world, so it’s easier to put us in the cupboard under the stairs and tell us to keep quiet.

Perhaps we should invite them to a big school in a castle in Scotland?

You never know, they might be surprised at what a little magic can do.

The Artificially Intelligent guide to the new Agency model.

Over the last few months we’ve heard a lot of exciting news about agencies and clients reinventing the ‘advertising agency model’.

Not the whole agency, obviously, just the interesting part with all the tattooed beardy men and purple haired women.

Because you see, Creative departments simply weren’t working before.

What? you hadn’t noticed?

That’s why you’re not making the big bucks, buddy.

However, fortunately for us, some of those clever people who are earning the bigly-bucks with bells on – have been thinking about this long and hard and have come up with some cunning new ways to reinvent the whole thing.

There are three main ways this creative reinvention is manifesting itself.

The first is ‘Down with awards, long live Process!’.

The second is the ‘My Ball, My rules’ method.

The third is ‘Committees are the way forward’.

Leading from the front was the much publicised boycott of awards by the Publicis group. “No awards entries for a year, let’s spend it on AI process software!” they declared.

Of course they never reckoned on Creative people’s ability to think creatively. We needn’t have worried, last count Publicis had 398 entries at Cannes and won Gold in Pharma and came third in Healthcare Agency of the year via Langland.

Not bad for a group on a Cannes boycott. Maybe we should all try it.

Plus Publicis saved quite a few bob on air fair. They admit they had 15 people going under their own steam, 12 employees in the young Lions competitions and 12 leaders who were there for jury duty, paid for by Cannes.

Oh but wait, they did pay for the account leaders who needed to attend all the important meetings and the you know, all the important stuff.

Apart from the cost of junior creatives sandwich allowances, they saved themselves a shit ton of cash because all their suppliers or clients had to pay for the entries themselves and even their employees who actually picked up the awards had to pay their own way.

I mean it’s almost as if creative people’s careers depend on awards or something the way they managed to get stuff entered. Who knew?

Second, in the ‘My ball, My rules’ camp is P&G.

Recently they announced that they are forming a new agency called ‘People First’ which plans to cherry pick the best talent from the major networks and corral these lucky souls under one roof to service their North American fabric brands.

Naturally, when one of the world’s most powerful clients has a bright idea, agencies will nod, applaud obsequiously and agree through gritted teeth what a fab idea it is, or miss out on their slice of the world’s biggest pie.

But, you ask, is this just P&G setting up an in-house agency without all the bother of trying to find their own creatives or Creative Director?

Not a bit of it, this is completely different.

You have to concede it’s pretty damn bloody clever to not call it an in-house agency as the minute anyone does, I fear all the top talent at the top agencies might have an identity crisis that somehow they’ve crossed over to the dark side.

Thing is, an ad career can sink or swim on the recognition you get for your work. And by association your agency benefits from the afterglow of your genius, making it easier to hire talent and attract other business. That’s kinda the point.

Are the agencies to just forego this?

Well, luckily we don’t have to wonder. This years ‘It’s a tide ad’ campaign that swept the superbowl and won multiple golds at Cannes was won by the amazing agency Procter & Gamble Cincinatti.

Everyone credited appeared to work for Saatchi and Saatchi NY but you know, who cares if the cash is right.

The third act of reinvention is what Campaign described as the dawn of a new age of Creative power at JWT.

Finally!

It’s what we creatives, who’ve been round the block, recognize as the old ‘we don’t need creatives or Creative Directors because everyone’s a creative’ routine.

Or the ‘WDNCOCDBEAC’ routine for short.

Yes, JWT have decided they don’t need a global CCO.

‘Bloody over paid primadonnas’, someone probably said at some point, my hidden sources can confirm.

Tamara Ingram, the CEO, and her chums have realised that what they need is a group of engineers, architects and musicians from the Latin American agencies – an ‘incubation program’ named JumpStart instead of a global CCO.

They’re going to call it the ‘Inspiration Council’.

The only problem, as I see it, with taking engineers, architects and musicians and asking them to tackle creative problems for brands is that pretty soon – if they’re any good – Gosh, darn and damn it if they don’t go ahead and become creatives. This means then you have to fire them all and get some more engineers, architects and musicians to replace them.

Tamara explains:

“They’ll combine this with a ‘Futures Council’. The mix of talent — from data science and creative technology, to strategy and user experience — will work with universities and technology firms to feed the Inspiration Council with knowledge to find the right solutions to solving clients’ business problems.”

See? easy!

Personally I think committees, sorry –  ‘future councils‘ – are always the best way to provide a strong creative voice. Just think of all the great creative ideas or inventions that have come from committees, oops…sorry, Inspiration programmes that you can think of.

I mean there must be literally dozens.

It’s an exciting time to be a creative in a creative department, no more boring architecture or silly music to worry about for a start. So much change, so much reinvention by the people who know best.

As Tamara Ingram so eloquently put it, using simple plain English to make her point:

“This council is about unleashing the imaginations of these thinkers into our creative world,” she told Campaign US. “It is about encouraging a collision of ideas and inspiring the whole agency. It is about recency, relevancy and driving culture. It is about the application of the triangulation of humanity, creativity and technology that generates stand-out work and experiences.”

I couldn’t have triangulated that better myself.

So, it’s clear folks. The future Advertising agency model is an in-house creative department, run by a committee of engineers and musicians with a focus on AI software process systems.

Who wouldn’t want to work there?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pharma? Everything’s looking Rose

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.

Next.

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.

Nope.

Oh well.

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Starting out as a creative? Get Creative.

When I started out, after a period traveling around the USA with a backpack, I decided to give this lark a proper go.

I found myself a writer out of Watford Copywriting school to partner with (I was very much an art director then) and Rob and I started to get a book together.

We had a rather short list, like many ambitious creatives, of where we wanted to work.

In the 80s GGT was the agency every young creative wanted to work at, the Droga 5, Adama & Eve DDB or Mother of its day. We even turned our nose up at JWT…JWT? who did we think we were!

What we never considered was going the Pharma route.

Not glam enough. No TV. Maybe that was it, but also we just never knew about it or saw anything it produced.

But what we needed were placements at agencies, a short internship that could get us some experience and a foot in the door.

Even today most agencies, consumer agencies at least, still get requests for placements from young teams and some agencies even have to put you on a waiting list, to work for them for free.

This was before minimum wage laws. We had to finance the placement ourselves and make up the shortfall by nicking all the markers and layout pads we could get our hands on. (Apologies to Y&R circa 1986)

But placements were also a way of networking, getting some briefs under our belt.

Rob and I did a hundred and ten ‘book crits’ with every hack in town and ten months trudging the streets before we got offered a job, I dare say it would take more these days.

But today when it’s harder than ever to get a foothold, why do creatives still avoid placements in pharma agencies?

Take a look at the work that’s happening in Cannes, Clios and the Creative Floor awards. Anyone involved in that kind of work would sail in to a decent consumer agency surely?

And yet, I’ve not really heard of any student teams looking in Pharma for a month’s placement.

Not one. Never even been asked.

Okay, the briefs are sometimes more tricky but the opportunities are there.

The way I see it (with hindsight) is that 90% of the placements creatives do in any agency, do not end up in a job anyway so what have you got to lose?

Everyone has the dream of being plucked by a top agency but like footballers if you stay too choosy you can miss out on some great football matches in the lower league and in doing so, improve your skills.

There’s a reason why the top clubs loan out their players to the lower leagues; to get experience.

So, if you are a young creative team looking for placements, would you rather be on that waiting list at BBH or AMV that might get bumped to next year or get a foot in the creative door and start making stuff?

If I had my time again, I might have at least taken a look.

But where to start?

Try doing what we did, scour the award websites, see which work you like and give them a call. ( ok, these days its an email or tweet!)

You never know, you might even like it.

 

 

The LIA awards get Healthy.

Back in May I received one of those emails you cannot ignore. “Dear Olly, we would like you to be a judge in the inaugural Health and Wellness category at the LIA (London International) awards in Las Vegas in October.”

Hotels and flights paid for.

Hmm, let me think for a moment.

To be honest, the LIA awards could have been judging the Lactose-free Inkjet Awards or the Lazy Imbecile Awards and I would still have signed up.

Leaving aside, for the moment, why an awards show that has resided in the middle of a Nevada desert for the last ten years is called the London International Awards, it did seem like an opportunity too good to miss.

Pharma and Health and Wellness continues to come of age, thanks in no small part to the likes of our Jury President – Jeremy Perrott, Global Chief Creative Officer at McCann Health, pushing our often reluctant industry in to the limelight where it belongs. The LIA awards are another step to being part of the genuine adland gang.

Indeed Healthcare is where the action is these days.

The glee of this invitation lasted right up until this week when the tragic shooting took place and turned the town known for its partying and freedom of spirit in to a bloodbath.

I cannot write about the relatively frivolous activity of judging creative work without mentioning it, because as these events often do, it puts everything momentarily in to perspective.

Anyway, let’s hope America gets a short break before the next NRA funded terror attack happens.

And so it is I found myself last Wednesday in a cab driving past the shimmering Mandalay Bay hotel travelling through a town with 30 degree heat, to sit in a darkened room for three days looking at some of the best work in health and wellness over the last 18 months.

So why do we need another awards show?

Well, what the LIAs isn’t about is huge cabannas on the beach with tech company logos dominating the skyline. It’s not a trade show, indeed it’s not even an awards show in the traditional sense.

The LIAs is palpably about creative awards, celebrating ideas and new innovative thinking ( they dropped the ‘advertising’ from the awards title in 2004 to recognise how the business had changed).  Set up by the founder of the Clios, Barbara Levy, the money from your entries goes in to funding young creatives and account people to come to Las Vegas and learn from the big names across the industry. It’s putting something back, which has to be admired.

Isn’t that better than an international show where no international people show up to collect their award and everyone just gets wasted?

Ok don’t answer that.

It’s aim is to be a genuine rival to Cannes (in terms of kudos at least) and if the level of judging is anything to go by, it already is.

Our first day was pretty brutal. I’ll take you through the deal.

Seven judges from around the world, including Japan, Sydney, Sau Paulo and Toronto with around 240 Health and Wellness entries to separate, the first task was to sort the wheat from the chaff. A large screen displays the entries and we are furnished with a small ipod with an in, out or abstain choice for each hopeful. First day is no talking, just watching.

After ten hours of tinkling piano and ernest voice overs you emerge in to the desert twilight suffering from compassion fatigue. What might have seemed an appropriate peice of music for a heart wrenching story when you were editing your case film a few weeks ago now seemlessly joins up with the next case film and the next heart wrenching story producing an end result that is like watching a sort of eight hour long, disjointed Swedish Independent film.

Day two comes and some discussion creeps in. The ipods now have a numbered scoring system which you mark from 1 to 10 depending on your affection for the concept.

The cut off point is arbitrary to an extent but we began by looking at everything that got above 60% with the ability to ‘rescue’ any forgotten or overlooked soldiers.

It then becomes clear who has a passion for what. I’d say generally most people agree on the big stuff, the zingers. It gets harder to agree when the work is just really good. Is that animation good but the idea a bit unoriginal? Does that campaign belong in the same gang as the others in its category? Does that endline let it down? Is this just a cool looking film but with a flimsy idea at its heart?

At some award shows you are desperately looking for something half decent to award, here – as in Cannes, the half decent doesnt get a look in.

By the end of day two we managed to get a good shortlist narrowed down. Then the next task was to choose what would medal and what wouldn’t.

It’s amazing how long this stuff takes. Personally, when I judge I want to be my own devils advocate and ask the questions that might expose a leak where other campaigns are watertight.

These tiny flaws are what make the difference between Gold Silver or Bronze. Sometimes it might be whether the intent of a great film is actually met. For instance it might be a stunning commercial but does it work as a fund raising machine as intended? It might be an incredible peice of innovation but does it have a legitimate role. Conversely, does it matter if the idea is hard to detect but the work moves me anyway?

Day three was a totally new experience.

The organisers wanted the aforementioned junior creatives and account handlers ( aged between 21 and 30) to sit in on the session when we chose the medal winners.

So about 30 fresh faced young’uns shuffled in and sat quietly (almost) for the whole day as we debated and voted.

I’ll admit that this was a bit weird for probably all of us. But after a while it became a bit like a viewing gallery in a surgical theatre, you just got on with the work and the debating.

It’s also fair to say that at first these whippersnappers also were not that keen on observing a health and wellness jury. I mean, who on earth wants to join a healthcare agency right?

Who wants healthcare briefs when they could be selling sugar to children?

Well, if nothing else I can honestly say that the work selected as winners in our category proved to be as stunning and inspiring as any consumer category at any show anywhere in the world.

One kiddiwink even admitted at the end of the question and answer section that she felt so impressed at the kind of work that’s possible that she had to apologise to us for her initial, albeit silent, prejudice.

But then that’s how we all feel isn’t it?

From the outside our business just looks like a bunch of press ads with headlines about tolerability and efficacy doesn’t it?

Ok, don’t answer that.

But from the inside the jury room at the LIAs, Health is looking more and more like the most exciting gig in town.

Check out the winners in November and the shortlist published here, and start thinking about getting involved for next year.

Because the LIAs have arrived and for the first time, what happens in Vegas, isn’t staying there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Turning judgemental.

It’s been an interesting year for judging awards shows, from my perspective.

Two down, one to go.

Last November I joined a small band of creatives and clients in judging the PM Society awards. As you may know, these awards guarantee a winner in all categories. Some people find that against the principle of an award, but like sport you can only beat who they put in front of you and I think a show that celebrates the best of the year in the UK still has a valid role.

The only problem is, it isn’t the best, it’s just the best of what was entered because some agencies don’t see their worth.  And for 2018 it appears print categories will be judges by HCPs as well as Creative Directors and we all know where that could lead! so reintroduce graphs in to your ads and up those call to actions and its a shoe in.

For me, this is a slight step backwards and will only discourage the more creative agencies to stay away. Then again, who actually does print ads any more?

Nevertheless here are the other new categories that are helping the show up their game.

A new Disease Awareness category for HCPs, alongside the existing one for patients.
A new category for Film & Animation aimed at patients, alongside one for HCPs.
A new category for the Best Use of Insight in campaign development
Direct Mail material should now be entered into the Interactive Communications category.

The work that wins at the PMs generally, with some exceptions (ahem), is not the kind of work that does particularly well at other more prestigious shows like Cannes or the Clios. But what I like about the PM awards is that they feel honest and reflective of the work we do every day. Plus they’re not cluttered by international agencies muscleing in.

And clients like them and frankly an old fashioned piss up with a client and a chunk of perspex to lose in the taxi on the way home, takes me back to the old days when D&AD was hosted at the Grosvenor house and advertising was still a hoot (and for some a toot).

I recently was asked to join the London Chapter of THE GLOBALS by the one time Bruce Springsteen lookalikey and all round creative superstar Dick Dunford, a partner at Loooped, who had volunteered his services. A little higher percentage of creative top brass here but given that these entries were from a worldwide market, I must say the quality wasn’t that different. Just a little bustier in the budget department and a little gooeyer in the sacarin department.

Hours went by without sight of a decent idea. There were also three campaigns that were so similar, being for a similar type of client, no matter how respectable or worthy they were they managed to cancel each other out by the fact that we couldn’t remember if we’d seen it already and if we had, which client it was for.

All that separated them was a typeface.

When that happens you’ve already lost the room.

The golden rule of being prudent with the number of entries you submit for fear of ‘death by entry’ was totally ignored by one particular agency. Mentioning no names, but by the ninth time it came up we were all ready to confess to anything.

Another entrant added a 70 page PDF complete with the brief and disease background etc. We have five minutes to judge your entry, that document was longer than some pitch decks.

Another hopeful had the client in the case-video saying how great they thought their entry was.

Sorry, but we’ll be the judge of that.

Thankfully a few gems rose to the top and made it worthwhile. It’s funny how just being different in the category can give you a massive head start. An idea is like a gasp of fresh air.

And so to my trip next week to Las Vegas and the inaugural ‘Pharma and Health and Wellness’ categories at the LIA awards.

The cast list looks impressive and I am honoured to be asked, obviously.

I mean, who could turn down a trip to Las Vegas and a chance to hang out with some top creative brass?

As I mentioned this to the chums at the Global judging day, we realised that probably some of these very same entries would be raising their head again. I mean, if you enter a campaign that many times you have to be pretty damn sure it’s wonderful.

How we laughed.

So if you are about to start work on your entries for an awards show remember a couple of things.

I’ve said them before but it’s worth repeating.

Don’t hide your light under a bushel! Jurors won’t sit through a voiceoverless video of someone scrolling through a website if it’s not immediately apparent what makes it great.

Please be prudent with your entries. Unless they are all the standard of the early VW ads by DDB, repeat viewing can strip a half decent idea down to its naked, brutal mediocrity.

Just ask yourself; does this break the category norms? If it doesn’t and is just a decent job, then its probably likely someone else has a similar campaign and all that hard work will be dismissed in a heartbeat.

All juries get excited by ideas, not just execution. And vice versa.

Finally, one of my favourite ads of the day – because it made me laugh – was a short little radio ad. If it’s good it doesn’t matter what the medium, or how tiny the budget, it will shine.

To me at least.

Happy award hunting.