Kickoff to Lions Health: New chances for pharma in awards, exposure and recruiting

Lions Health
Cannes Lions Health 2018 begins Monday with pharma creatives looking at ways to take advantage of new-style programs. (Tracy Staton)

CANNES, France—The fifth year of the Cannes Lions Health opens today with big changes—and big opportunities—for pharma and healthcare. For the first time, the health-oriented confab will run during the same days as the broader, consumer brand-oriented Cannes International Festival of Creativity, offering pharma marketers and agencies a wider audience and a chance to scout new talent and find new partners from outside the industry.

“I think it’s great to be more integrated, but still be a standalone and discreet topic, because the challenge of creativity in health & wellness and pharma is different. It’s not just about commercial enterprise,” said R. John Fidelino, executive creative director at Interbrand Health and the head of the health & wellness jury at Cannes this year. “Impact and outcomes are really the defining features of this work.”

RELATED: Cannes Lions Health: Merck, Novartis, Pfizer and 15 more pharmas nab shortlist honors

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The show’s merger isn't the only change pharma marketers and their agencies will see this year, though. Clearer and more distinct lines have been drawn between the two Lions Health categories—pharma and heath & wellness—to screen out pro bono work and public health efforts.

And that could mean more awards for pharma companies. In fact, the pharma shortlist of finalists announced Sunday features an unprecedented 16 pharma companies vying for top awards.

Integrating with the broader creativity festival also means a bigger audience. While pharma differs from other types of marketing because of its regulated environment, it's also different because its goals go beyond selling sneakers and snacks. The added exposure to a broader array of creative talents and festival attendees across all industries might mean more interest from potential business partners and creative recruits.

RELATED: New rules for Cannes Lions Health could mean more pharma winners

Seeing high-quality creative in pharma and healthcare may spark interest from creatives working in other industries, Fidelino said.

“[T]he integration does raise awareness of this work and creates visibility into the creative mindset and creative challenges that we tackle,” he added.

He’s not the only executive who sees this week as a chance to show off good work to potential recruits. Andrew Schirmer, CEO at OgilvyCommonHealth North America, said he is at Cannes, in part, to look for new talent. Mixing it up with consumer brands gives health and pharma a chance to show off to creatives outside their own fields.

“When health was the weekend before the ‘real’ event started, I don’t think that was great from an overall spirit standpoint for the folks who came to represent our industry,” Schirmer said, adding that the appeal of working in the health field has grown as people—including young people coming out of college—seek meaningful work that can make a difference, he said.

But not everyone is excited about the merger of Lions Health and the broader Lions festival. It could bring more recognition for health creativity and recruitment, but at the loss of the intimacy of a smaller, distinct show.

Sloan Gaon, CEO of health adtech company PulsePoint, is one of those who thought the two should have remained separate.

“Health has an entirely different mission than the rest of the Lions Cannes festival and having it have its own separate two days where you can actually talk about issues that exist within the world … They’re going to lose some of that mission-based marketing that comes from the health vertical,” Gaon said.

RELATED: The big picture: Can pharma creativity compete at Cannes? Can it afford not to?

Still, no matter which days on the calendar Lions Health occupies, the Cannes health creative crowd is unanimous in its quest for innovative and transformative ideas.

“What I’m hoping to get out of this is what I’ve gotten from other OgilvyCommonHealth creatives who have attended in the past, and that’s the great work and being inspired by it and applying that to our pharma brands,” said Brenda Molloy, creative director at Ogilvy CommonHealth. “Our audience expects as much innovation and creativity in what we’re doing, whether it’s a prescription drug for cancer or allergies.”

And that’s what the festival can do: help inspire people to raise the creativity bar in their work back at the office.

"There is still ‘wallpaper creative’ in the healthcare industry, but the needle is definitely moving in the right direction, and the Lions Health is no doubt helping with this change,” Cherie Davies, creative director at Sudler Australia and a judge in the health & wellness category, said via email,

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