Every year, PR pundits and assorted media experts recycle the same tired stories about ad agencies winning ‘our’ Lions. They miss the real headline: Hardly any of the work entered is from PR agencies. In 2009, only about 30% of entries came from PR agencies; 10 years on, it is a woeful 10%. If you don’t participate, it is impossible to win.

People in the jury room – I was honored to serve as a judge this year, more on that later — are from PR agencies around the world. We debated every detail of shortlisted and other campaigns. The one thing we didn’t discuss, nor even know, was where the idea originated.

Winners + Trends
For me, the purpose-driven work this year was a true standout. It was also a sign of our times. There are serious world issues right now, and brands sometimes need to take a stand. That said, you must also provoke thought, powerfully and creatively. Our job was to judge the case, not the cause. Or as we kept saying in the jury room: “Tears are not enough.”

Our Gold Lions included a crush of wildly creative campaigns: beer becoming water in America, Coke becoming Fanta in Brazil, and a chicken crisis in the UK. To my knowledge, 2018’s Grand Prix winner is the first to come out of the “Public Affairs and Lobbying” category; its “Trash Isles” campaign made plastic pollution its own nation. This entry also won the Design Grand Prix, and rightly so – the execution was exemplary.

Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity conjures images of iconic yachts and beach tents set beside the sparkling Mediterranean Sea – and there was plenty of that, to be sure. But to truly understand Cannes, you must remember that it is, at heart, a global awards show – the only one of its size and scope on the planet. What matters, above and beyond all the glitter, is the work.

Jury members get the rare treat of spending a concentrated time debating and discussing excellence.  Criteria for the PR Lions category are co-written by senior PR executives and reviewed annually. Each entry is scored in four key areas: the creative idea, strategy, execution and results. As judges, we looked for ideas that earned attention and delivered results that exceeded clients’ KPIs. To ensure fairness, the jury only sees the brand, never the agency; if the entry is from your own network you must leave the room while the case is discussed.

I was especially privileged to be on the jury this year, which marked the 10th anniversary of PR Lions. Sequestered in a small room deep inside the Palais, far away from the buzz of the historic Carlton terrace, this was the most intense judging I have experienced, with 12 and 15-hour days stretching from Sunday morning to Wednesday at midnight. I loved every minute.
Reflecting on this experience, I would say that the process is like a pitch in reverse. Only in this case you get to judge the campaigns after long days and late nights, with plenty of strong opinions and an unblinking focus on the ideas. Our group bonded over too much pizza and a shared respect for the brilliant work before us. Being on a Cannes Lions jury is a career milestone. In parting, we joked that the 10 of us would be the perfect agency: multi-cultural, skill-set diversity, with deep passion for communications that can change the world.