To Cannes and beyond… Interview with Jose Papa
Posted on 2017 Mar,14  | By Iain Akerman

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity remains the most important advertising festival in the world. ArabAd caught up with Jose Papa, the new managing director of Lions Festivals, to talk tech, categories and scam


On 1 September last year the US-educated Brazilian Jose Papa took over as the managing director of Lions Festivals. In doing so he took on what is one of the biggest and toughest jobs in the world of advertising festivals. 

He replaced Philip Thomas, who had been chief executive of Lions Festivals for almost 10 years, with a remit to dig deeper into the organisation’s newer events and to remain as important and as significant as possible in an age when tech, innovation and digital are becoming fully embedded throughout the industry. 

“My main focus is to ensure that we remain relevant to the changing industries we serve, while always retaining our core value of creativity,” admits Papa, who is placing sizeable emphasis on diversity within the creative industries. “My aim for the festival is to keep providing world-class content with unrivalled networking and learning opportunities, while showcasing and awarding the best global creative work. But our work won’t stop at the festival. We’re focussing on collating trends and industry insights and developing our archive, where we home a collection of creative work that’s won awards over the years. We want to support the industry year-round.”

His scope of responsibility covers the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity and the three mini-festivals within it – Lions Health, Lions Innovation and Lions Entertainment – but also the Dubai Lynx, Spikes Asia and Eurobest. 

The Middle East, of course, has witnessed a surge in both interest and success at Cannes since the launch of the Lynx, with Papa thrilled by the standard of work coming out of the region. His priority, however, is Cannes, where Lions Innovation and Lions Entertainment are undergoing an evolution, with the former launching a dedicated area for start-ups and the latter entering its second year with a new focus on storytelling.

There are arguments, however, that Cannes Lions has become too techie, or too geeky, and has strayed too far from advertising. Jeff Goodby, the co-chairman and partner at Goodby, Silverstein & Partners, called Cannes 2015 the equivalent of a roof tilers’ convention because he could not even describe to a layman what he saw. Is this criticism justified?

“We’re not just about advertising,” responds Papa. “We’re a festival celebrating the breadth of creativity and we represent all those working across branded communications. The industry is changing rapidly as technology transforms how we work, live and communicate and we want to remain at the forefront of technological innovation.”

He adds: “My role as managing director is to meet the challenges faced by the industry and ensure we serve and represent branded communications as a whole. Because the media is changing, we now have to understand how to navigate the many platforms that exist. The market is interested in how you communicate through Snapchat, Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook and other new channels, alongside traditional media.”

How much of an increased emphasis is being placed on effectiveness? 

“It’s been proven that creatively awarded work is more likely to be effective,” he replies. “So in terms of driving business results, a company like McDonald’s, for example, has claimed that their return on investment was 54 per cent higher with creative work that won Lions than creative work that didn’t. Creative effectiveness is one of our fastest growing Lions and it’s the only global award to recognise the link between award-winning creativity and business results.” 

The number of awards categories has proliferated over the years, meaning the strain on agencies financially has increased. Have these categories being added because they are justified, or because they are a source of new revenue? Even though no new categories are being added this year, the financial burden remains high for agencies who wish to embrace the awards merry-go-round.

“We always introduce new Lions in response to industry demand – to celebrate and honour a diversity of the very best work,” says Papa, who was chief executive at WGSN, Ascential’s global fashion trend forecasting service, prior to his move. “This year, we’ve decided not to launch a new Lion. That’s not to say that the industry is stagnant. On the contrary, we’re experiencing a period of mass disruption and exciting development. But it’s about timing; some Lions are in incubation for up to three years before we introduce them – in line with industry developments. This year, we’ve deliberately focussed on our existing awards and have redefined categories across the following Lions – innovation, media, creative effectiveness, promo & activation and creative data.” 

Scam ads continue to be a big problem, particularly in Asia and the MENA region, and only lead to the industry being held in disrepute. How is the issue being combatted? 

“We work year-round with entrants old and new to remind them of what constitutes ‘scam’ and the consequences of submitting work that is not legitimate,” Papa replies. “The vast majority of entrants are as concerned as Cannes Lions is to keep scam work out of the festival. All entrants actively accept the Cannes Lions terms and conditions of entry before their work is formally submitted. This is a formal commitment – all entrants agree to abide by the rules at the point of submission. 

“The festival’s rules dictate that a client must have approved the work and paid for the majority of its implementation (media costs) in order to be eligible for entry. Every entry bears the name of the individual in a client organisation who commissioned the work and their contact details. This is our first port of call for any work that is called out as suspicious, either at the festival or beforehand.”