ESSAY: With the 2021 edition of Cannes Lions at a close, Niamh O’ Connor Head of Creative Communications shares her thoughts about the event and details the awards process.

See you next year.

Well, that’s a wrap on Cannes Lions for another year. It was a bit of a strange one which was no great surprise considering it was an online event. It didn’t seem quite right to be sitting in front of a screen instead of walking the Croisette 10 times a day, trying to find out the latest news. I have to admit finding out we had a Grand Prix for our Lacoste film the day before it started made for a more relaxed start to the week. The anticipation and interest were still there of course, from scanning the shortlists every morning hoping to see our name to waiting for the official winner’s email from Cannes Lions every evening.

I felt a bit sorry for the winners who had to celebrate online instead of onstage. That would have been one hell of a party. Judging was dense with entries from 2020 and 2021 being judged together. A total of 35 Grand Prix was awarded in 30 categories. This was exceptional as juries were allowed to award a Grand Prix per year and sometimes even two. 

A common theme once again this year was purpose. Brands feel the need to do better and to do more. With everything that has happened in the past 18 months it’s hardly surprising and was reflected in the winning work in almost every category. It will be interesting to see if this will remain the case next year or if there will be a return to more classic advertising. Most of the work had won in previous awards but some agencies prefer to invest only in Cannes Lions so there were a few surprises.

Why all the fuss?

Agencies invest a lot of time and money in awards with no guarantee of getting anything back in return. Only the elite were lucky to get lions, of the 29 000 entries this year, only 3 % of them were rewarded.

So why do we bother? For recognition of course. Awards showcase the best work and so help build the creative reputation of an agency. This helps with winning new business, keeping and attracting talent. It’s worth noting that a lot of the work that wins awards comes from long-term brand agency partnerships. The mutual trust makes for stronger more creative work which in turn leads to awards.

But maybe the most important thing about winning awards is the pride and pleasure it gives to the teams who not only put their heart and soul into making the campaigns but then have to turn around and make a case study about it.

Behind the scenes.

Speaking of which, before we can even to hope to win a pencil or a lion, there is a ton of work to do first. Picking the campaigns that can potentially win awards is the first step. Easy enough when you only have a few campaigns a year but a real headache when you have loads to choose from. Next it’s the categories, I love a niche category as much as the next person, but it wouldn’t hurt to streamline a bit more. The choice of what work to send and in which categories comes from a lot of research, by this I mean a benchmark of what work from other agencies is winning and where.

Once this is done, it’s time to make a case study. This can be a long and arduous process. It’s not easy to summarise a campaign that took months to produce into a 2-minute film. Case studies should be simple, brief and entertaining. It’s hard to get the attention of juries that have to watch hundreds of cases. It’s really important to take a step back and get the tone right. The 27th version with the smaller logo and bigger results isn’t necessarily the right one. All of the entries and case studies have to fit within a defined yearly budget, not an easy task when entry costs go up every year.

Winning awards is a huge team effort and the best part of this job is being able to share the good news with everyone.

Congratulations to all the winners. We can all stop talking about shortlists and lions and get on with our lives. Have a great summer!


Niamh O’Connor

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