How Cannes Lions winners are chosen: First-time juror Shivani Maharaj goes under the hood

Shivani Maharaj
By Shivani Maharaj | 15 June 2023
Shivani Maharaj.

I’m leaving on a jet plane. Don’t know when I’ll be back again… 

Okay, I do know when I’ll be back, but as I board a Qantas A380 to Cannes for the next leg of what has already been a gruelling judging experience, I wanted to offer a glimpse into the process. 

And can I tell you, as a first-time juror, I had NO IDEA the amount of work that was involved! It made me appreciate just how prestigious the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity really is.

Of course, once the winners are announced we see the amazing work plastered across the internet, presented by media vendors, showcased on prestigious sites across our industry and press. And before that, we see our global colleagues year after year sipping rose and sunning themselves beachside at all the tech-platform activations. 

What we don’t hear about or see is what happens behind closed doors while the work is analysed, discussed and debated.

1500+ entries to judge: Your time starts now!

I’ve spent the past few weeks judging the Social + Influencer category of the Cannes Lions – which attracted a total of 1500+ entries! Within this one category, there are six sub-categories and 35 individual sectors and pillars.

I had four weeks to judge 330 entries in round one to construct the first shortlist. To do this, I had to dedicate the hours of 9pm-midnight to get through the sheer volume of work (and yes, my Saturday nights were also consumed by judging). 

Add to that the 1am calls with jurors and colleagues from around the world (goes with the territory when the majority of jurors are dialling in from the northern hemisphere); stereotype training; unconscious bias training; and DE&I surveys, and that gives you an indication of what it takes to be a Cannes juror. Oh, and still doing our day job with the same dedicated attention and commitment.

This initial round of independent judging is where the shortlist was built and established. It’s an opportunity to familiarise yourself with the body of work and make your initial assessment.

Jurors got one vote per entry considering the execution, using the following voting range:

1 – 3 Not a shortlist candidate

4 – 6 Probably a shortlist candidate

7 – 9 Definitely a shortlist candidate, and possibly a winner

At the end of this round, the awards team calculated the shortlist by establishing the average mark. This shortlist was made of the top 10% of each category.

To ensure fairness, the awards team analysed the “global report”, which showed all of the marks given in the first round of voting, regardless of category. Using this, they added work to the shortlist that had missed the cut-off in the category calculations, but which had very high marks.

Inbox alert: another round of judging

With round one down, another 250 entries arrived in my inbox on 2 June to get me to the main event – the IRL four-day judging process in Cannes, which begins tomorrow, Friday 16 June.

For round two of voting, the awarding jury voted on the work that made it to the shortlist. Although jury members had already voted on some of these pieces of work, there was also work that the judges had not seen before.

Each entry received four marks which made up the total vote and these marks were weighted as follows:

Idea 30%

Strategy 20%

Execution 20%

Results 30%

The range for the second round of voting is:

1 – 3 Shortlisted only

4 – 6 Possibly a winner

7 – 9 Definitely an award winner

In this round of judging, the highest and lowest marks given by the jury are discarded, before the average mark is calculated.

So, what was the work like, I hear you ask

I can’t talk about any specific work yet, but I can tell you this: EVERY single piece of work submitted was amazing!

In round one, I found the biggest challenge to be ensuring that the correct entries were in the correct categories. I had to keep thinking about the fact that this is a social and influencer category. It’s about celebrating work in this space not media, not film, not activation, not OOH. 

The Social & Influencer Lions category celebrates creative social thinking and strategic influencer marketing solutions. Entries need to demonstrate how levels of engagement, social reach and the creative use of social media, brand ambassadors and influencers led to commercial success.

Without giving away anything I shouldn’t, here are my thoughts on the entries:

  • Social Media + Influence for good: We often hear about the negative aspects of social media, but it was great to see a celebration of diversity, equity and inclusion in so much work, and also social media being used for positive behaviour change.
  • The best work was Integrated campaigns = Social Media + Physical world (OOH, merchandise, gift boxes, stunts, activations etc).
  • Great examples of celebrities and athletes used a lot as influencers (particularly from the US).
  • APAC markets tended to use local micro- and macro-influencers more.
  • There was plenty of Made Media.
  • Paid social amplification seen as ‘bad’; lots of organic ideas.
  • Examples of product innovations being amplified on social media with social influencers and creators.

Above all, the judging has really made me appreciate the country I call home, Australia. My eyes were opened to cultural nuances I didn’t even know still existed (or were legal) in today’s society. What brands were doing and are doing to stand up and progress the world in a positive and equal way was truly inspiring. This has been a career highlight and a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me. I can’t wait to get to that jury room.

The Cannes Lions winners of the Social & Influencer category will be announced on Wednesday 21 June.

Shivani Maharaj is Chief Content & Partnerships Officer at Wavemaker ANZ.

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