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)

 

 

 

 

 

Cecil the cyber Lion.

So, whatever you think about Cecil’s tragic and untimely demise, one thing is for sure, so-called ‘hunters’ might now think twice about loading up the old crossbow and rifle and heading off to needlessly slaughter our finest and most magnificent species for their own amusement.

Lord knows something needed to be done to stop the constant outraged social media posts featuring men and women sitting on endangered species with a gun and a stupid grin.

So, ironically, it might even be a positive thing.

In fact it’s the kind of thing some Zimbabwean ad agency could submit as a case history at next years Cannes. (Animal health section).

Imagine the case study.

The problem? Rich American businessmen were totally ignoring the plight of endangered species and continuing to shoot much loved wild animals for their own amusement and trophy cabinet in the mistaken belief it was still 1908.

Our strategy? make hunting African wildlife seem not worth the risk.

So we took hidden cameras and a team of ‘actors’ disguised as gamekeepers and agreed to lure a lion from it’s protected park to a place where our ‘mark’ would shoot him, manfully, with a crossbow.

But it wasn’t just any old lion, this was Cecil, the most famous lion in Zimbabwe!

But we didn’t tell our hunter that…one lion looks much like another and what did he care?

Only one day later and we posted the death of Cecil on social media sites.

Twitter and Facebook exploded with outrage!

Next we released the name of the American dentist who we duped in to killing this beautiful creature.

Walter Palmer.

Twitter went through the roof, and our dentist went in to hiding when we organised a demonstration outside his dental practice. Worldwide coverage followed on all the major TV channels.

There’s nothing like a death threat to encourage behaviour change.

Next we started a petition to have our ‘hunter’ deported to Zimbabwe to face trial. 140,000 online signatures and the President has to make a response.

Now ‘hunters’ are thinking twice before considering mercilessly killing endangered species for their own fun.

The case history film finishes to a standing ovation, and the CD & MD from the agency in Harare head for the stage to pick up their trophy.

Those Cannes juries love nothing more than an idea that changes behaviour.

Especially those over-paid, mindless, cowardly dentists.

 

 

A typical day in pharmaland (part 2)

The trouble with satire is that it can be a rather blunt tool.

So I think it is worth writing a short postscript to what has been a rather successful edition, if judged by visitors alone, of my last blog. (thanks for visiting)

It just shows that controversial works. Some people thought it rather harsh, which wasn’t actually my intention. (Well, maybe a little…just for the mischief of it)

And it wouldn’t be the first time an idea of mine has been taken the wrong way.

So I feel it’s worth stating that I categorically love lions health. I think it is inspirational and prestigious and a shot in the arm for our sometimes forgotten corner of advertising.

I am not backtracking.

My point, such as it was, is still valid.

And that point, for those who thought the acidity was somewhat obfuscating, was that the work that won was (by and large) remarkably removed from what we all do day to day.

I know you all know this but you know, some people may not have.

Every conversation I had with agency people in Cannes seemed to revolve around this one point. Great work, but people saw no reflection of the work that they do, day in and day out for Pharma clients.

Now, does that mean we should all feel dejected and give up entering actual product work and only go for the pro-bono cool stuff?

Quite the opposite.

And do I feel the juries at Cannes should reward mediocre work just because that’s what most clients want and that’s what we mostly do all week?

Not at all.

I guess what I was trying to say was that the real challenge is in the mundane. How do we make those detail aids sing? How do we create HCP portals that transcend the ordinary? How can that next banner ad be the next Gold?

Is that even possible?

By all means if that brief to empower women lands on your desk, go for it. By all means if that extraordinarily worthwhile task of helping the health of Mexican communities lands on your desk, grasp it with both hands. There’s your chance to win big, don’t cock it up.

But let’s not forget the real test of whether pharma agencies deserve to sit at the same table as our swanky consumer cousins is whether we can elevate the everyday, the mundane, the boring.

Make that extraordinary and you will inspire an entire industry to improve.

 

(Maybe I should have just written this version instead)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A short guide to Lions Health (not a veterinary category)

The glorious month of June is upon us once more and sur la Croisette the Rose is being chilled, the pavements are being hosed down and the sea is reaching the correct temperature for midnight swims in soggy underwear.

Mentioning no names, ahem..

Dear reader, will you be joining the thirsty adfolk from around the healthcare world in Cannes this year?

If so, and this is your first time at Lions Health, here is my unofficial guide to the two or three days in the sun or darkened hell hole, depending if you are visiting or judging.

1. Firstly, getting from Nice Airport to Cannes: There are taxis at around 75-80 euros one way, and take about 40 minutes, during which you will wonder why your driver is taking you the ‘back way’. That’s because it isn’t the back way, it’s the front way and that’s what roads in South of France look like.

2. Some important new information. This year the awards are on the Friday night, which is preceded by an informal drinks. This ‘pre-lash’ theory, pioneered by British students in order to save money on alcohol when out on the town and thereby effectively precluding themselves from entering any establishment worth visiting, will hopefully add an air of raucous jeering and/or applause to the awards ceremony.

3. The actual awards gala party on the beach bash is still on the Saturday night. This has the benefit of winners not having to lug their ‘lions’ around all night. This is also bad news for winners who like to lug their awards around all night in the hope that people will notice them and be suitably impressed.

4. The seminars all happen in the Palais de Festival. It’s the big white building at one end of the Croisette. My rather obvious advice is to plan which talks you want to attend, it’s unlikely that every session will appeal but you never know. It is obligatory to not pay much attention to them and spend the entire time tweeting on your iPad about how much you are or are not enjoying the talk. The good news is that if you are feeling slightly peeky from the previous night’s Rose, the auditorium is rather nice and cool and with comfy seats so you can have a decent snooze. Make sure you have your iPad on your lap and no one will be able to tell you apart from the tweeters.

5. Just so as you know, whichever talk you choose to attend you will inevitably be a little ho-hum about and the one you didn’t fancy – well, let’s just say you will stand by helplessly as people stream out, gasping for breath at the wonderousness of the insight and the sheer dazzling genius of the inspirational talkers…claiming it was a life changing experience.

There is no way round this, it’s just cleverly planned that way.

6. A couple of sessions that caught my eye are these two. This first one should be interesting to see if they have the magic solution.

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Secondly, it seems Mr Perrot always likes to get a degree of Hollywood blood and guts in the McCANN sessions. Count me in.

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7. If you are in a big party, or you have colleagues from different worldwide offices you will spend most of the time asking ‘where’s everybody going’ or ‘what’s everybody doing tonight?’. The only thing you can guarantee is that the gutter bar will be the final destination before crashing at 3am.

8. The gutter bar isn’t actually called the gutter bar but it’s outside the Martinez and is essentially a small aluminium fronted cafe that has room for about 12 people. Don’t ask me why it has become synonymous with Cannes advertising festival, and particularly the London contingent, it just has and it’s the law to show up there. No buts.

9. If you are a judge, be prepared to not see any daylight for the entire time and then, rather ungraciously, be lambasted for the final decision on the awards by hundreds of disgruntled creatives. Although the honour of being asked is compensation enough for this.

10. Lastly, the ladies on the croisette, as you stagger back from the gutter bar at 3am, are not COOs asking if you want to buy a company.

Enjoy.

The emoti-con.

It seems that clients in Pharmaland are beginning to get the taste for a bit of emotional content in their communications, which is always nice to see.

I get emotional just thinking about it.

But often the word is used to describe such low level concessions as having a person featured somewhere in the materials. Yup, that should do it.

Er…oookay.

Granted, possibly more emotionally engaging than a graph. But actually emotional?

Just placing a typical patient in your communications and calling it emotional is like putting a pair of football boots on and calling yourself a footballer.

What clients really mean (or what they should mean) is they want something that hooks the reader, HCP or patient, on a deeper level than the data alone would permit.

And I agree that that is a worthy goal, people will always have an emotional response first, but emotional can mean a lot of things. And if you are limiting yourself to just one aspect of emotional IE: Sad, heart-wrenching etc you are eliminating a major part of what an emotional engagement actually means or can deliver.

What we really should be talking about is resonance.

To me putting more ’emotion’ in to a brand is about understanding the target market more and hitting upon the trigger which resonates with them most effectively.

The human effect.

This could effect me…or my patients in a way I hadn’t even thought about before has to be a stronger reaction than simply this is really efficacious.

I was lucky enough to pop down to Cannes last year for the inaugural Health Lions awards and my favourite talk by far was from David Nutter, the director of the Red wedding episode of Game of Thrones. At that time I had only just started watching the first series and as he showed the scene in all its gory glory, it was hard to fathom the impact it had had on the legions of fans as they sat, hands over mouths, in horror at the bloodletting.

Why? because the blood was spilling on people I had no attachment to. These were mere outlines of characters at the stage I was at in my viewing journey.

So recently when I came to actually watch the famous scene again, (yes, it has taken me that long) now that I had reached it chronologically and grown attached to the characters,  I knew what was to come but the impact, even so, was almost double the first time round. My emotional attachment to these characters was the difference.

Not a major surprise, of course, but an interesting experience none the less to witness it with and without emotional engagement. The resonance was so much greater, the sadness so more poignant. The blood so much redder.

Of course we struggle with creating characters within advertising that can ever compete with dramas, there are cute bears and puppies and Meerkats but if they get canned, nobody really complains or is that sad.

No, there is only one character in any ad campaign, one that you really can care about. One that you know inside out as if he was Hamlet himself and that any message can effect directly if done with enough resonance.

You’re way ahead of me, aren’t you?

Yes, little old you – the punter.

 

 

PMs Question time.

Here in London the PM awards are almost upon us and people are frantically dry-cleaning their shiny suits and their not-too-glam-for-lunchtime-frocks and preparing to cut short, by a day, Dry January.

Now:

This won’t come as that much of a shock but these annual awards have rather a low level of credibility within the creative cognoscenti, but like all creative shows they maintain a distinct brand and that, if nothing else, is important to acknowledge.

Charlize Theron

A guest arriving at the PM Society awards luncheon at the Grosvenor house

A few months back a group of Creative Directors from every county of Pharmaland were all invited to the IPA to discuss, over some wine and good food, how the Best of Health awards could maintain it’s integrity and raison d’etre now that Cannes had loomed in to frame as the benchmark for excellence and international debauchery.

Did the Best of Health still have a role?

This displayed at least an understanding of the fragile credibility that all award shows have.

Almost unanimously the feeling was that it did still have a place, but that the dynamic had to change a little. The end result of much Merlot fueled (by the end of the evening) debating was several good ideas, (some terrible ones too) one of which was to move the date of the event so as not to compete with Cannes head on.

While we were chewing over the general status of the awards spectrum the subject turned to our old friend the PMs.

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The same guest four hours later

As I said, within the creative community they are almost universally regarded with a degree of disdain. (creatives are such tarts)

But there it is.

Creatives generally prefer a system whereby if the standard of work isn’t good enough, no award is given. This has to be coupled with judges that have credibility too, otherwise all is lost. Together this makes an award all the more coveted and it has worked well for D&AD and the other top shows.

Because if you have to vote a winner then potentially you have to pick the best of a bad bunch. But the PMs are alone in standing by the ethos of awarding the best of what was entered that year and having a mix of client and creatives as judges.

And you must award a gold, silver and bronze for each category. Because people pay a lot of money to enter and there’s nothing worse than an awards ceremony with no winners. From an awards show point of view I have some sympathy with that, I must say.

Imagine if you showed up to the Oscars and they just agreed that no one made the mark that year. Rather stuffs the after show parties doesn’t it?

And there you have it. To me, the PM’s focus is almost entirely around the event itself. You could pretty much have a luncheon at the Grosvenor House and have no awards at all and a couple of comics with much the same result, albeit with less of a budget for the organisers and not as much gnashing of teeth from the disgruntelcenti.

The point is not whether the PMs serve creative director egos or reward creativity but whether they have a business value or not.

And undeniably, for most agencies, and especially the ones aiming to get a foothold, they do. They still get you noticed within our overall client base.

Creatively excellent or not.

So, like it or not, most agencies still want to win one. With some notable exceptions.

By now it is no secret that Langland have withdrawn from entering this year.

There are several, understandable, possible reasons.

1. It could be that the PMs have just become too small and that their individual worth to the most awarded Healthcare agency in the world just isn’t worth enough. Cannes is now quite a glittering bauble and by comparison the PMs are like a parochial non league football trophy.

2. It could also be because if you are the most awarded healthcare agency in the world that takes a lot of cash to spend every year entering every show going and sometimes you have to prioritize.

Fair enough.

3. They’re simply letting someone else have a go.

But whatever the reason, the PM awards are poorer for Langland’s absence.

And they’re not alone, Frontera also choose to exclude themselves from the PMs.

Only the awards themselves will prove whether the standard has slipped dramatically with the top teams absent.

So the PMs tread a fine line.

On one hand they need an element of creative credibility, to keep the entries coming. On the other hand, they need to not be so up themselves that smaller less creative agencies and bigger less creative clients think it’s still worth entering work and showing up for the lunch.

But the question remains: No matter how good your work, who wants to win Wimbledon in the year that Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal didn’t bother entering?

So, will Langland continue it’s success without the PMs? undoubtedly.

The bigger question might be what is the PMs without Langland, Frontera et al?

Back at the IPA dinner we all agreed on one thing.

The PMs don’t care about newcomers like Cannes, they’ll carry on regardless because what they offer is popular and has a clear role within the business – and like those comb-over comics from the 70’s, doing gags about mother-in-laws, they couldn’t give a flying fuck what the trendy alternative comics are up to in that there London.

And we all know what happened to them.

See you all on Friday. Chin Chin!