Mesmerized by the photogenic yachts and rosé bottles sized to match, it is easy to forget that the real value of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity happens in dark windowless rooms inside the Palais. Not only on the main stages, with Cannes’ unique parade of world class talent from the creative industries and beyond, but deep down on the lower level in the Young Lions zone.

There are seven Young Lions competitions: Cyber, Design, Film, Marketers, Media, PR and Print. This year roughly 450 people from 69 countries won the career enhancing chance to go to Cannes and compete on one of the charity briefs. PR is still a relative newbie. Cannes added it in 2014 but not every country rep offers every discipline, as you can see in this pdf. Happily, the Young PR Lions are supported by The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) and participation grows significantly year on year. (H+K is super proud that our team from H+K Poland, Marta Zienkiewicz and Jakub Kiraga, won their country round and got to experience the 2017 Young Lions.)

I’ve been privileged to be on the jury since the start, for the UK (2014, 2015, 2016) and for Ireland in 2017. So I have seen first-hand that creativity can be nurtured through competition. 
This year, I was honored to also judge the final global round in Cannes. We had teams from all over the world, including China, Japan, Russia, and Columbia. Costa Rica won the Bronze, the UK won Silver, and the 2017 Young Lions Gold winners were a talented team from a small agency in Hungary. During the debrief with some of the teams after the competition, I was curious as to how similar the process was to the way they work in their own agencies. And I uncovered three key factors that agencies can bring to everyday client work.

The Discipline of the Creative Brief
The jury members got to see the brief beforehand and offer suggestions to the client in terms of narrowing the target audience, providing insight into their behaviour, and choosing one primary goal. This helped the winning Young Lions, as the top ideas were specific to the key target. The teams told me that they don’t usually get this kind of focused brief from clients, which is why agencies themselves must translate client input into a simple powerful brief.
Good creative briefs are hard to write as they are both direction and inspiration. It is a natural fact that the tighter the brief, the better the creative will be. To develop impactful and original ideas, we have to fight back against a target audience of ‘everybody’ and objectives that include ‘everything’. I was also intrigued that a few of the participants were planners. The Bronze winning team from Costa Rica were both psychologists. At H+K we know this kind of thinking is critical to impactful solutions for brands.

The Five Minute Pitch
The Young Lions have one day to work on the brief and just five minutes to present their idea to the jury. The five minute pitch is a common format in the start-up world, where entrepreneurs explain their inventions to potential investors.
I’m a big Ignite fan and know just how much information can be delivered in a short time. It is a wonderful discipline to crystalize your thinking, and hone the pitch via rehearsal. Given that the Cannes Lions entry videos themselves must be two minutes or less, agencies should practice the five minute pitch when selling creative to clients. If you need longer to explain the concept, it probably isn’t very good.

Owning the Idea
The Young Lion teams that most impressed me were visibly passionate about their idea. In day-to-day client work, agencies might bring a laundry list of tactics to a client, but in Cannes, they need one big idea that must wow to win. Working intensely as team of two — debating, arguing, building and crafting — gives an ownership and intimacy with the idea that no brainstorming by committee can match. The top teams believed in their idea with all their heart, because it came from their heart, as well as their brain. Like entrepreneurs pitching to investors, owning the idea is the most compelling way to sell it to clients.
Talent and passion are the twin attributes needed for Lion winning creative. I think all agencies should take advantage of the Young Lions program in PR and the other categories as well. Encourage your staff to enter and they will emerge stronger through the experience. The Bronze winner, Christian Gomez, said for him Cannes was like seeing the future. I totally agree.