Confessions of a Cannes Lions Jury President

Over the last week, I have had the remarkable, inspirational and occasionally daunting responsibility of presiding over the jury for the PR competition of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, selecting work from the around the world to award with coveted gold, silver or bronze Lions.

It was a blast.


Much will be said about the winners and possibly the losers, so I’ll leave that to others and share a few headlines from the presidential chair after reviewing nearly 1,300 entries, scoring 900 of those and having two, three or sometimes four discussions about each of the 150 shortlisted campaigns from the around the world.

1. PR is firmly on center stage at Cannes as a showcase for remarkable, innovative creativity that delivers real results to businesses, brands, charities and governments.

We saw – and awarded – work from every corner of the world. And not just ideas that worked well somewhere far away, but also ideas developed far away that worked well here in Europe or the U.S.

We prized content based on a human or social insight, beautifully crafted and cleverly delivered. Often as video, but also as imagery, music and even poetry.

We saw a hundred different ways to earn media and amplify conversations – often in real time and with immediate impact.

We saw creativity that transcended in some cases into ingenuity.

And we saw real results. Not just re-tweets or likes or even downloads, but tangible outcomes in sales, market share, new legislation or reductions in death and injury.

2. The nature of PR is changing before our very eyes.

There was a time when “great content” was a well-written press release. Social media was a fax machine. And success was defined in clips or what we thought the advertising value of a placed article might be.

Those days are – largely – behind us.

So we have a choice. We can look at the Lions and say “that’s not PR,” or we can recognize that, though they do not reflect PR the way it used to be, they’re a pretty good indication of where our business going.

David 23. PR agencies can and do win at Cannes.

It’s gratifying to see the success of PR agencies at Cannes this year (especially here at Ketchum), and I’m confident that the Lions picked up by us or our competitors portend a Grand Prix very soon.

The first step to winning, of course, is to step into the arena. I’m not sure our best work as an industry is finding its way to competitions like Cannes, and that’s a shame; it will win.

The second step is to learn how to package our work in ways that stand out, tell a story and convince a jury. This is in our DNA, and after a little more experience with the nuances of this specific competition, I’m confident we’ll go from strength to strength.

And the third step is to keep at it. The PR Lions are a young competition, and we’re all still learning the ropes.

So let’s celebrate our progress, learn from our success and do it again next year.