Joyce King Thomas, Press

Joyce King Thomas, Press juror,

CCO, McCann Erickson, New York

June 16: Woke up a bit jet-lagged and hazy for the first day of judging. Nothing 45 cups of coffee couldn’t cure.

Judging began with a welcome from David Droga, the Press jury president. He encouraged us to set a high standard, resist nationalism and agency network allegiances and to avoid looking at entries sent to our hotels. (Who knew agencies sent work to judges to lobby to win Lions?) The computer software is set to catch anomalies in the judging. For example, if you consistently give your country higher scores than any of the other judges, you will be busted.

Our group of 18 judges includes six women—the other five run their own agencies—plus a Brazilian and an Argentinean (which makes for interesting soccer discussions) and the amazing Jeremy Craigen of the U.K., who has won a mountain of awards for VW and other clients. He sets the pace, giving an ad the once-over, gauging his gut reaction and scanning in his vote instantly.

Speaking of scanners, this is how the work is judged: All the ads are divided into large portfolios—the kind writers and art directors used to carry in the ’80s. (Not that I would know.) Each judge gets a portfolio of ads and a scanner. We scan the UPC code on each ad, then scan in our vote. It’s not easy at first. The scanners are a bit glitchy until you get used to them. Four hours of scanning, and I’m definitely ready for a gig at Safeway.

June 17: According to the Cannes people, there were 10 percent more entries in the print category this year than last. Not bad for “old media.” The medium is alive and well and being art-directed to within an inch of its life—at least the good stuff. I do get the feeling print is ready for some kind of reinvention.

The surprising visual is still king, which can make the work a bit formulaic. I’ve seen at least four campaigns shot from the point of view of a camera inside the mouth. Not pretty.

Great writing is scarce. Some of my favorite work so far includes witty ads for Wonderbra and a stunningly written tourism campaign with the best headline of the day: “We apologize about the crowded beaches. But try asking 5,000 lovesick turtles to get a room.”

We’ll see if the other judges agree when we learn what makes it to the shortlist tomorrow.

I’ve gotten to know a few more of the judges. By my count, seven run their own agencies—the five women, plus Andreas from Stockholm and a charming cd named Hors from Germany. Hakan is from a small agency in the Netherlands. And the rest are from the large multinational alphabet soup: DDB, TBWA, JWT, O&M, FCB—plus McCann and Euro.

June 18: Saw all the shortlisted ads today. Some great work. We spent the morning giving each of the shortlisted items a score from one to nine.

This afternoon, each judge had the option of bringing back an ad or campaign that didn’t make the shortlist. The work was then reconsidered by the jury. I brought back a quirky campaign from the U.S., but did not manage to sell it to 12 of the 18 jurists. Jeez, these guys are tougher than clients. Only three campaigns clawed their way back on the shortlist. It was just a taste of what’s to come tomorrow when we debate which of the ads will get Lions. We’ll discuss more than 100 ads. One by one.

June 19: Today was like a French version of 12 Angry Men. OK, nobody was really angry. We weren’t all men. And we were talking about ads and not someone’s life. But it was hard.

Each person on the jury comes from a different country. We don’t speak the same language. Or have the same cultural perspective.

And it takes a two-thirds majority to award a Lion.

So we’d vote. And debate. And vote again. And debate again. And vote again.

Nine judges (myself included) wanted to raise one campaign from a silver Lion to gold. We voted 10 times. Still, we could not convince the other members of the jury. And it did seem like cultural differences were the real issue.

Despite the chaos, David Droga remained patient and focused. And always ready to give an insightful opinion on the work when asked.

A couple of times during the day, the Cannes staff came in to tell David that an ad we had just spent half an hour debating was disqualified. (For future reference: The Cannes people call each client who wins to see if the ad actually ran. So, save your money if it didn’t.)

After we agreed on exactly which ads would get Lions, we debated which would get the Grand Prix.

In the end, it was a tie (of course) that took forever to break. I think the best ad won. (Unless you count the silver Lion winner we just couldn’t get two-thirds of the group behind.)

It was an incredible experience and a great honor.