Being part of the Lions Health Pharma Jury was both inspiring and educational. The two-day festival of creativity in health was organized by a group that clearly knows how to put together a great show, and it placed health and wellness at center stage at the Palais de Festivals in Cannes.

First Year Results

The first-ever Lions Health was a success; it received about 1,400 submissions and attracted over 800 participants from 50 countries. The quality of the seminars varied, but there were some very strong presentations. For example, the McCann sponsored seminar featured David Nutter, the director of Game of Thrones, who defined success as understanding how to make hearts beat and move an audience. Digitas sponsored another very good session, “Build and Inspire a Creative Organization,” at which P&G’s former CMO, Jim Stengel, discussed how creativity can improve health outcomes. And Peter Matheson Gay from Weber Shandwick moderated a panel on patient-centricity with three inspired health advocates: Renee Nicholas from LiveStrong; Diem Brown, MTV personality and breast cancer survivor; and Christian Kranich from AbbVie Pharmaceuticals.

Awareness campaigns were big winners, but in the Pharma category two product-related campaigns won Gold. In general, US entries don’t fare well because of the strict guidelines applied to healthcare communications in the market. The impact of FDA regulations on product-related information creates many hurdles for creativity. The regulations impact not only the content, but the design and even the size of the font that can be used in work that requires fair balance information.

The lesson for global agencies is to make sure that they are well represented by ex-US markets. It may be more time-consuming for a non-English speaking agency to put together a winning entry, but the results show that they do well. Countries like Brazil, a silver medalist with “Super Formula for Cancer” and Japan with “Mother Book,” a Grand Prix, won medals with campaigns geared toward improving the patient experience.

Why it is Important to Have Lions Health?

Many people asked me, “Why a separate meeting?” Some even implied that it was just a plot to increase Festival revenue. But as a juror and healthcare communicator, I believe that to appreciate healthcare work, a jury has to understand health and science. And who else would understand the value of the Gold Lion winner of 2014, an ad for Sativex about multiple sclerosis? It illustrates “The true cost of spasticity” beautifully, by displaying a woman brushing her teeth. Holding the brush is another's person hand. The ad had to explain spasticity, a symptom that develops late in the progression of multiple sclerosis, causing muscle spasm, weakness and stiffness. Patients lose their independence and are forced to count on family members and caregivers to accomplish basic chores. Nobody else but healthcare professionals would understand the simplicity and effectiveness of that creative approach.

Advertising Still Dominates the Show For Now

Lions Health and Cannes Lions Festivals are both still heavily dominated by traditional advertising agencies. A more integrated jury configuration of marketing services firms would better reflect the changes in the marketplace and the more diverse marketing mix that exists today. With 10 participants in the Pharma jury, only two worked outside traditional advertising. That impacts the selection of the work that is shortlisted for awards. Only campaigns with strong visual elements, high production standards and the ability to summarize succinctly a story are able to catch the attention of the jury.

PR Firms Need to Participate More

If we want to ensure that PR is as top of mind as advertising, we need to make sure that we have a loud voice at Cannes. I was surprised by the number of PR entries coming from advertising agencies. The only two PR networks with visibility at Lions Health in 2014 were FleishmanHillard and Weber Shandwick. There was a juror on the wellness group from Edelman, but by and large PR agencies are not attending or supporting the great Lions Health opportunity being opened to us.

Pro Bono Versus Corporate/Product Work

The other elephant in the room is the number of pro bono entries submitted in each award category. As a professional who has participated in other juries that award work in the industry, I was surprised by the large number of entries honoring work not developed for a paying client.

We all know that when a creative team has a free hand, without the pressure of traditional client approvals, it is easier to be bold and take risks. Although we applauded the idea of leveraging Cannes awards to advance issues that help humanity, obviously mixing pro bono and client work, which competes for votes in the same categories, is not fair to those who have to be creative in an environment that is as highly regulated and risk-averse as healthcare.

Will Lions Health Help Elevate Creativity and Effectiveness in Healthcare Communications?

Of course! It inspires us. I saw some of the best practices in the industry, igniting new ideas and energizing us to do better. Several entries and award winners opened our minds to the possibilities of what creativity can accomplish with very limited budgets. 2014 was just the beginning. Lions Health has the opportunity to influence clients and agencies worldwide to do more, because creativity in health communications is life-changing.

Laura Schoen is s president of the Weber Shandwick’s global healthcare practice and chair of its Latin America region.