Q&A: Dubai Lynx festival director Thea Skelton

As the Dubai Lynx festival opens for 202 entries, PRWeek Middle East chats to Thea Skelton, festival director of Dubai Lynx, about why women empowerment is at the heart of this year's awards.

Thea Skelton, festival director of Dubai Lynx.

Dubai Lynx, an annual festival and awards for MENA’s creative branded communications industry, has now launched for 2020 - with a new focus on female empowerment and industry bias.

This year, Dubai Lynx, in collaboration with the UN Women Unstereotype Alliance, has implemented new guidelines across all categories to encourage jury members to consider whether the work perpetuates negative stereotypes and inequalities.

PRWeek Middle East spoke to Thea Skelton, festival director of Dubai Lynx, about why the awards have undergone a revamp this year and what creativity looks like in the region today. 

What we can expect to see from the festival this year?

The 2020 Festival will bring together expert opinions from industry-leading CMOs, CEOs and creative directors based in the MENA region. Our new festival layout will create a space within a space and allow our delegates to explore all the Festival’s stages with ease, network freely and take in a unique atmosphere. The festival’s content themes are designed to explore creativity in all its forms. Attendees can expect to discover the cutting-edge technological and digital transformation that’s influencing the industry, and reflect on emerging trends, such as the growing importance of brand purpose. 

Why is the time now to ramp up the conversation about gender equality and diversity?

The conversation about diversity and gender equality has been growing in force globally and the new guidelines the ‘unstereotyped judging criteria’ were introduced at the Cannes Lions Festival in 2019 and were hugely successful. The branded communications industry around the world must ensure it’s considering the impact that stereotypes have on gender equality when producing creative work. It felt like the right time to roll out the guidelines in the region and place the issues of stereotyping at the heart of the creative process, and ensuring our juries are more conscious than ever when judging work.

Tell us about the Creative Strategy Lynx Award which is new for 2020? 

We continually evolve the awards in line with the industry. The Creative Strategy Award was launched for 2020 because it was the right time to elevate and define the importance of strategy. It recognises the essential role that it plays in the vision, direction and success of creative excellence for agencies, consultancies and brands. The award celebrates how strategic planning can redefine a brand, reinvent its business, and influence consumers or wider culture. As traditional agency structures are disrupted and audiences become more fragmented, the ability to identify business challenges, understand consumer behavioural insights and define transformational thinking has become integral to creative and commercial success. With more competition than ever coming from outside the agency model, the companies that achieve success through strategy will dominate the creative space in the future. 

How does creativity in the region look today? 

The MENA region is incredibly exciting creatively. Creativity transcends the borders of any one industry, or nation, in the region. We are seeing more galleries and cultural centres opening to meet the demand for creative spaces for artistic expression than ever before. From the Louvre in the UAE to Ithra in Saudi Arabia, these creative spaces act as a hub to nurture talent in design, art and fashion. This ecosystem has produced an exciting opportunity and environment continuing to attract global talent. Creativity has evolved, with more mediums to elevate local stories to wider audiences. Creative agencies are demonstrating excellence across regional and global platforms, spotlighted through their wins at award shows like Dubai Lynx and Cannes Lions, and are producing commercial success for brands and businesses in the Middle East and North Africa."

How does the region compare to others for creative talent?  

I believe that MENA just can’t be compared to any other region. Defined by its multicultural society, unifying different ethnicities, religions and backgrounds, it provides a truly unique opportunity to experience and enjoy creativity developed locally and internationally. In today’s connected world, the lines between regions have been blurred and creativity has been developed by the merging of different backgrounds and experiences. What’s interesting is how and where people draw their creativity from and the many disciplines at play. For example, the Blank Edition, by Impact BBDO Dubai, in Lebanon was a creative campaign that drew directly from a political situation. Last year’s Grand Prix winner- the highest accolade you can achieve at the Festival – in Mobile, went to Qibla Finder by Google Dubai, which incorporated augmented reality. 

What are you looking for when you benchmark creative excellence? 

It is dependent on the award, as we benchmark and honour a broad range of disciplines at Dubai Lynx, from PR and Film to Creative Effectiveness and Print & Publishing. The benchmark for every Award is that the winners will shape and inspire the MENA industry. Our juries are looking for the very best creative ideas, demonstrating excellence in execution, craft, strategy and reach. Excellence is also about the value of creativity – not just does the idea cut through, but can it demonstrate real, tangible value for a brand. The juries also look for the creative work that sets the future-focus for the MENA region. 

The Dubai Lynx Festival, taking place from 8–11 March 2020.

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