Judging The PR Lions At Cannes: Day 2

Up bright and early today. Walked and ran three miles along the promenade with barely a soul in sight. Though there were lots of men planting flowers, cleaning the streets, keeping Cannes tres beau!

Today I teamed up with four new judges from the U.S., Brazil, Australia and France. Our categories were consumer marketing and social media. In all, there were 40 entries to individually view and discuss.

What is it really like to judge? It’s quite fun, actually.As I have great curiosity about programs around the world, this experience provides a bird’s-eye view into so many varieties and approaches to programs.We analyze one entry at a time, quietly reading, then view a storyboard and usually a 2-3 minute video.

Then it’s not so quiet anymore. We critique, debate, question “where did the idea come from?” and then bounce back and forth regarding its power, originality and results.After a while, each judge seems to have a recurring comment – “solid” said one, (meaning ok, but not great); “boring” said another (meaning really not original and not up to short-list caliber). Other comments included: “Is this all there is?” “Where’s the insight?” “Measurement tells us what?” and “How is it sustained?”

If we need clarity regarding the power of the campaign in a specific country, we seek out that judge and get excellent context. It’s very helpful to separate fact from hyperbole.

Candidly, a lot of the work was “solid” as the best descriptor.Ok, but not good enough and really not great enough to win a PR Lions. Interestingly there is a feeling among all the judges that, as this is the FIRST PR Lions, we have to set a standard for the future for great PR work.Brilliant strategy, fresh creative, thorough execution and real results, not just clips. How did the program increase reputation or sales, change a law, influence behavior?So many of the programs we wanted to like, but they fell down in the results section.

“Really amazing” and “wow” were few and far between.

We had an interesting debate on programs that had “fake” components. For example, spinning a situation and informing the media of something that seems very out of the ordinary, then waiting for buzz to build, then the big reveal to the real client and situation. Not one of us liked this technique. Today “fake” seems so ridiculous, old fashioned, kind of “P.T. Barnum” and directly opposite from the need for transparency and authenticity.

One campaign really got my back up and hair curling more than usual. I can tell you off-line, but not on this blog until after the contest.

Again, campaigns that we liked were on the simpler side, had a direct and understandable link to the client’s business, were surprising in their originality and very well-executed with clearly stated results beyond clips.

There was also great debate regarding the source of the idea. Where did it come from? The ad agency? PR firm? Client? As a jury, we felt that some of the best ideas today come from collaboration. For many of the entries, it was not clear where the ideas originated. When we get down to the short list this weekend, it is likely that calls will be made to entrants verifying the source of the ideas. So, if you feel you have a strong entry, make sure your mobile is charged and in your possession the entire weekend. You may be hearing from the judging committee.

One other note: the Cannes judging organizers are strict about questionable entries. For example, replicating an idea that was entered in previous years is a no-no. Judges that become “patriotic” in their judging – giving inflated grades to their agencies (really bad) or countries (a bit less bad) – are not tolerated. Claiming work that is not really done by the agency – for example, one part of a campaign was, but it is entered as an entire campaign -- that is really bad too. Overall, the Cannes organizers work extremely hard to recognize “real work for real clients with real results,” said CEO Philip Thomas.

That’s it for now. About five hours until my morning workout. G’night.

- Carol Cone


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