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How to win a Lion at Cannes 2016: Insights from the inside

It's been exactly one month since the dust settled on Cannes Lions 2015.

Here, Phil Thomas, chief exectuive of Lions Festivals offers some insider tips for agencies planning to enter their work next year.

How do you select the juries?

We take each entry category and look at countries we feel should be represented based on which have won awards over the past three years. We aim to have a balance of holding companies, networks and independents.

At end of the process, we have a matrix that we can refer back to and monitor regularity and quality.

What the best way to get picked for jury duty?

We have representatives all over the world. The Guardian undertakes this role in the UK.

We ask them to nominate three individuals for each category and stipulate that one should be female. Often they send three male names; getting women on jury is a real challenge.

​We try to make sure jury members are Lions winners but this is difficult with new categories. Although, every jury member has definitely scooped prizes at other international award shows. Some networks will give us names and apply direct – we like that – and if they say why then we take that into account.

How do you ensure that the juries act honestly?

About two years ago we had fun and games with the Media Lions – there were accusations of cheating by Omnicom and WPP. After that we developed real-time system that measures every single vote and compares them to the competitor set and own agency to see if there are any unusual voting patterns.

This highlights inconsistencies and means that jurors can concentrate on judging the work on its merits. It’s much more difficult to police in the jury stage so we ask jury presidents to look out for it.

It’s an issue that we are aware of but we try our hardest to make sure it doesn’t happen. We rate every jury member using a report and a 100-word précis on their performance. This helps us decide whether to invite them back or if they are president material.

How do you win a Lion?

I have absolutely no idea – I’ve never won one.

The juries say that one essential is that entry videos adhere the to two-minute rule; the shorter it is the better. You have to get to the idea across really quickly – the preamble can be a real waste of time; juries hate hyperbole (for example claims such as ‘Twitter had to closed down because we were so successful’). They want honesty.

Also, most of the jury are non-native English speakers so put subtitles over the entry; its amazing how few people do this.

People have said we give Lions like confetti but fact is that the number of entries has increased and percentage of Lions given is the same as ever. It currently sits at around three per cent, so the difficulty of winning a Lion is the same as it has ever been. We don’t force Grands Prix on people – we like it if they are given – but this year the Branded Content and Creative Data categories had none.

How do you choose content for the festival?

This year we had 523 speakers across 13 stages.

People write to us with their suggestions in the autumn.

We want a blend of content. Our research shows that attendees are intrigued by creative celebrities who come from other fields. Where it goes horribly wrong is when we have a celebrity who has nothing to say about creativity.

We like really interesting thinkers or speakers such as Al Gore.

Thirdly, and most popular, are rock stars from our own industry such as John Hegarty and Chuck Porter.

How do you counter accusations that the festival has got too big?

I used to be the editor of Empire and go to the Cannes film festival, so Cannes Lions does seem big after experiencing that.

The event used to feel as though the industry was simply talking amongst itself, but changes in the advertising space have ensured that the festival has become really big and important.

This is because the ecosystem has got so much bigger. The industry needs to consider if it wants it to be big and important or small and not.

If your feeling nostalgic about Cannes 2015, visit The Drum's Cannes Lions hub to watch the news and interviews from this year's festival.

Phil Thomas spoke at Hair of the Lion, a Cannes Lions recap event organised by Persuasion Communications and Dirty Soup held at Soho House, Dean Street.

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