Even the most experienced Cannes Lions attendee doesn't really know what to expect when she or he is a judge for the first time. I'd heard the stories, of course: long days, locked away in windowless rooms, headphones on, reviewing hundreds of entries. Would it be exhilarating? Would it be fun? Would I be glad I'd done it?
Fortunately, my answer is "yes" to all three. We saw a lot of wonderful work, and we saw some missed opportunities, too. Here's an insider's perspective on what it will take to win a Media Lion in 2017.
Make the subcategories work for you
This year's Media Lions offered five main categories and 30 subcategories. By the time I'd reviewed the "longlist" for the second day, I had already seen some cases that had been submitted in three or even four different subcategories. The problem was that the write-ups weren't always tailored to each subcategory (and fellow juror Ashish Bhasin kept us on point in that regard). It's true that judges look at hundreds if not thousands of cases, but our jury took great care to score based on each subcategory's exact criteria. Therefore, my advice to anyone entering a single campaign in multiple media subcategories: Be sure to write each submission to fit. It may not be a lot more work and will definitely increase your chances of winning.
There were also some campaigns that won in specific functional subcategories but hadn't been entered or weren't short-listed in their own "sector" subcategories. Take autos, for example. We short-listed only four entries that resulted in one bronze Lion for Renault Italia's "Business Booster," but BMW, Volvo and Audi all won in other categories (Outdoor, PR and Print). I did not judge the auto submissions on the long list, but it is possible that some brands didn't enter in their own sectors and missed out on achieving even greater success.
Be clear on the definition of media creativity
What is creativity in media? In my mind, the entries could be divided into two camps: creativity in the use of the medium itself (or creating a new medium), and creativity in the craft of media planning and buying.
Creativity in the media channel would mean the idea and execution were intrinsic to the channel itself. Wonderful examples of creativity in a medium included 89FM's "Truth Detector," GFR Media's "Pepito" and Henkel's "Breaking News." All three took what some now refer to as "old media" to new and inspired heights.
Campaigns that were less effective were those that seemed forced rather than feeling like an intuitive, natural fit for the channel(s) used. When discussing such entries, Nick Waters, our jury president, remarked that teams must "think about what should be done rather than what could be done." Sage advice.
One last flag regarding creativity in the use of a medium: when solutions seemed overengineered for the problems they were trying to solve. Pushing creativity can sometimes compromise practicality. Apologies, but Mosquito Killer Billboard comes to mind. I also applaud the intent of the dedicated folks from WaterAid, but the "hope locker" donation system seemed too complex and expensive.
When it comes to creativity in media planning and buying, we looked for whether a campaign told a story over time, whether it used media channels at each step in ways that truly leveraged each channel and whether the campaign truly laddered across channels (e.g., McWhopper print, then OOH, then social, then experiential), rather than just appearing in a lot of places.
A fellow judge, Chris Stephenson, articulated a way of thinking that many of us applied during our time together: assess the work in terms of whether it was "of" or merely "on" the media channel. It's the difference between using the same creative and type of execution across paid, owned and earned media channels versus crafting unique work that takes advantage of each individual medium. The best work had been created uniquely for the channel used. A great example was Oogachaga's use of disappearing messages in "Snapchat from the Closet" for gay teens in Singapore, where homosexuality is still illegal.
Make sure the end-frame visual tells the unique media story
The very last visual is key. The end frame is what lingers on screen when judging decisions are made.
Here are two things to consider: First, it's worth remembering that although this is a creativity festival, campaign effectiveness is still important in the Media category. My thanks to Maria Garrido for keeping us focused on the weighted criteria: 30 percent insight and idea, 20 percent strategy, 20 percent execution and 30 percent results. Too many end slides used tiny, illegible text to recap the elements, if they did so at all. And second, many ended with a key creative image that didn't summarize what made the campaign's media thinking truly worthy of a Lion. Make sure you finish with the media story, not just the creative idea. "House of Little Moments" from Taiwan did this particularly well.
On to 2017!
In the end, only 266 of the nearly 3,000 Media entries were short-listed, but this doesn't mean the remaining 2,734 lacked merit. Far from it. In some cases, these entries lacked specific media thinking and may have been better suited to other categories. Although they failed to medal in our category, Netflix's "House of Cards – FU 2016" won gold in Integrated, for example, and HP's "Magic Words" won gold in Cyber. The list goes on and on—and acts as a reminder of the importance of tailoring submissions to each category and subcategory.
Finally—to answer the question I am still getting weeks later—my personal favorite was This Bike Has MS from Australia. I learned that it's hard to raise funds for multiple sclerosis because those with the disease may not "look sick." Fueled by this insight, a nonprofit in Australia created a special bike whose rider would experience the debilitating symptoms of the disease. The MS bike became its own media channel and was integrated into relevant content and events. Even better, the original idea sparked teams in 40 nations to create MS bikes. Excellent.
So my overall advice for next year? Anyone can say "Get motivated! Get inspired! Do what has never been done!" All true. But from deep in the judging room, scoring tablet in hand, I would also suggest watching as many of the winning and short-listed videos as possible, and when it comes time to enter next spring, think about this insider's advice: Be bold with your idea but simple and native in execution. Keep your entries grounded in the category's scoring criteria and tailor each entry to the subcategories. And, of course, create a great video—no nonvideo entries were short-listed!—and close with an end frame that ticks all the boxes.
Phil Cowdell is the CEO of MediaCom North America. He was a member of the final Media jury at the 2016 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.