Interview with Philip Thomas, Chief Executive Officer of Lions Festivals

Philip Thomas, CEO Lions Festivals

Q. So PR agencies had their best showing yet at the Cannes Lions, but the top prize still seems elusive. What’s your read and what’s your advice?

It’s strange, for the last two years the Grand Prix at Cannes has come down to being between a piece of work from an ad agency and a piece of work from a public relations (PR) agency. Everyone on our jury is pure PR. They want a PR agency to win the big one at Cannes. But both times, they went for the ad agency because, well, it’s all about the very best work, and bless them for only being interested in that. PR agencies are getting there though and are improving their haul all the time. Compared with when we launched PR at Cannes, there really has been a huge leap, but they can win more. How? Enter more. (He would say that wouldn’t he?). But it’s true – about 25% of the winners are from PR agencies, and guess what, about 25% of the entries are from PR agencies too. It’s a numbers game. Second, just keep watching the winning entry videos, over and over. It’s an art, it’s almost a science.

Q. The festival has had a PR competition for five years now. What have you noticed about the entries and how does the category stack up to others at the festival?

I am really delighted with the way PR has developed. We have fantastic relationships with many of the PR agencies. They understand they need to be in Cannes in order to be in front of the clients and showing what they can do. Are we ever likely to have hard core corporate PR and crisis management honoured at Lions? Not sure. Probably not since we skew consumer, and that’s fine. I think the PR category has added massively to the richness of the Festival. Some of the best winners are in that category.

Q. The idea of a PR element of the Young Lions competition is getting a lot of buzz. How will it work?

This competition is addressed to teams of two young PR professionals, aged 28 years old or younger, working for PR agencies/consultancies. The contestants need to have a proven record working with brands and/or organizations and creating and implementing PR campaigns. The brief will be set by a charity or non-profit organization that will act as the ‘client’, and the teams will have 24 hours to create their campaign. The competition will show how PR is effectively used to engage audiences with an organization or a specific topic that the ‘client’ is dealing with. The competition will allow some elements of the creative to be produced by the contestants, so that their strategy takes shape in front of the jury. Each team will need to prepare a 10 slide PowerPoint presentation, as well as a written submission. I am so glad we’re doing this, as it will be a fantastic addition to the festival.

Q. You and I have spoken about the power of marketing and communications to do good in the world, and you have a great partnership with the Gates Foundation in the form of the Chimera Prize. How’s that going?

It’s amazing. The Foundation set a brief and anyone can put an idea down on a piece of paper. 10 are given $100,000 to develop the idea and also attend a workshop in Seattle at the Foundation, where they are mentored by the Cannes Lions Grands Prix winners. We have had two so far and another one takes place in March. We had 900 entries for that challenge and hundreds from agencies, which was fantastic.

Q. Anything new or cool you’re working on?

Our big new launch is Lions Health, of course – a bespoke two-day festival on the Friday and Saturday before Lions kicks off. It will have its own content programme, jury and award show. It’s been two years since a delegation of healthcare comms people called me up and asked me to put something together. As with most things we do, we respond to the industry and try to give them what they want. Lions Health is really exciting and we’re looking forward to it.

As a Senior Partner, CEO of Ketchum’s European operations and Chairman of the London office, David Gallagher brings more than 20 years of public relations experience, both as a client and as a senior agency adviser, to some of the world’s leading brands and companies. Interested in PR, politics, Texas Longhorns and life with two labradoodles. Follow him on Twitter @TBoneGallagher.