Lions Health to remain separate after Cannes revamp

Some decried the lack of full integration.

CANNES, FRANCE: Lions Health moved a step closer to integrating with the main Cannes event, but some said the show's owner, Ascential, missed an opportunity to make healthcare a larger part of the festival.

That made Monday's sweeping revamp of the international confab a mixed bag for healthcare marketing.

"Part of the goal at Cannes was always to try and elevate work in healthcare so a special show was completely unnecessary," said Rich Levy, chief creative officer at FCB Health and a member of the 2016 Lions Health pharma jury. "That remains the goal."

Nine "tracks" will guide all festival content going forward—both the programming and the awards: Reach, Comms, Craft, Experience, Innovation, Impact, Good, Entertainment, and Health.

Entertainment and Innovation, two of the three specialist event verticals, were folded into the main festival. These two specialist areas will retain their own physical presence at the event, and delegates will be able to move easily between the two.

Yet Lions Health returns as a separate two-day event in Palais II.

Some decried the lack of full integration. "It's a pity that Health is not part of the main festival," Zuleika Burnett, executive director of creative and innovation at Havas Life Medicom and member of the Lions Heath + Wellness jury in 2016, told MM&M in an email, calling it a "missed opportunity."

Why didn't organizers see fit to integrate it? "The healthcare sector has very specific requirements that are best served by a self-contained event," Louise Benson, executive festival director for the specialist verticals, explained via email.

She added, "In recent years, it became very clear the vast majority of visitors to Lions Innovation and Lions Entertainment also wanted to experience the rest of the festival."

Has the Lions Health audience demonstrated the same appetite for a more integrated festival experience?

"An increasing number of healthcare agencies have moved from buying the two day specialist pass to full week," Benson noted, "and we fully expect and encourage that to continue—just providing a two day pass for those who want it."

That's not to say Ascential didn't try to make Health delegates feel less isolated. Starting in 2018, Lions Health will shift from the weekend before the festival to the first two weekdays of the streamlined Monday-to-Friday gathering, with the overall Cannes festival reduced from eight to five days (Monday, June 18, to Friday, June 22).

Levy, who said organizers have consulted with him on the changes over the last few months, said he feels this brings the health stream a step closer to integration.

"The [healthcare] work will be accessible for people to see from all over the world," he said.

In addition, Health delegates will be able to visit Lions Innovation during the same period, and all Cannes Lions Complete Pass holders can visit Lions Health, but not the other way around. Health delegates will still need to buy a ticket to other parts of the festival.

Among other changes impacting Health, pro bono work will be reviewed separately from brand-led work. Since the inception of Lions Health in 2014, jurors in the Pharma category have often had to toggle between different types of work with different sets of regulatory and commercial demands.

That practice will end, organizers declared.

Starting in 2018, all genuine charity or public health work will need to be entered into new specific public health, charity or not-for-profit subcategories of Health & Wellness, Benson explained, and these entries will be judged separately by the Health & Wellness jury. Only work created by a pharma client will be allowed to enter in Pharma.

"They heard us," said Ogilvy CommonHealth Worldwide's EVP, global chief creative officer, Scott Watson, reacting to the announcement that charity work will be removed from the Pharma jury room.

Watson, who has yet to judge the Health Lions, said the need to separate the two has been a topic of conversation he's had with creative leads at other agencies. "We've felt this level of frustration, because it's not an apples-to-apples showing of work."

Organizers also cut about 120 subcategories and placed a cap on the number of categories into which the same piece of work can be entered. And three of the awards—the Cyber, Integrated, and Promo and Activation Lions—were retired and absorbed into the rest of the show.

Ascential had felt more pressure to change since Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun's bombshell, dropped during the 2017 Cannes Lions, that the holding company would take a hiatus from all marketing conferences and awards for a 12-month period, and would divert savings into developing an AI-driven enterprise collaboration tool.

Following Monday's announcement, Publicis quickly confirmed that it will return to Cannes Lions in 2019, following completion of the investment in its AI tool, dubbed Marcel, according to Campaign.

Other network bosses have openly criticized the Cannes model, including Martin Sorrell. The WPP chief executive said the event "has lost its focus" and had "become too much about making money," Campaign reported. WPP has already pulled out of Ascential's Eurobest awards in London this November, with worldwide creative director John O'Keeffe describing them as an "expensive distraction."

Ascential seems to have taken the criticism seriously. Organizers said they're reducing the cost of a delegate pass by €900, giving away 656 free Young Lion passes, and expanding access to content online and at open-air screens along the Croisette. In cooperation with the city of Cannes, the festival also created a suite of money-saving offers that includes fixed prices for taxis and hotel rooms, and price-fixed meals at area restaurants.

"For many healthcare clients who have been on the sidelines, said Levy, "hopefully some of these changes, and the shorter duration, will make it an easier sell for them to go."

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