Lions Health preview: 2019 attendees scouting for edgy tech, new ideas and a little respect

Cannes Lions Health kicks off its sixth year Monday, and this year’s attendees are looking for some breakouts. As in breakthrough technology, creativity that breaks barriers, groundbreaking global ideas and a chance to finally break with the backhanded compliment that Lions Health work is “good for pharma.”

The creative celebration of pharma and healthcare advertising runs for two days with panels and talks by global advertising agency and industry experts, capped by the coveted Pharma Lions and Health & Wellness Lions awards.

For 2019, there are 363 entries in the pharma category, down slightly from 376 last year. Health and wellness counts 1,186 entries this year, down from 1,482 in 2018. Pharma Lions award categories include disease awareness and understanding, healthcare professional engagement and patient engagement.

RELATED: Lions Health preview: Consumer ad agency for Absolut, Audi talks up creative risks for pharma

One experienced Cannes creative looking for incredible ideas and maybe some industry parity is Rich Levy, chief creative officer at Klick Health and former chief creative at FCB Health. Levy has served as Lions Health judge, jury chair and speaker, so he has plenty of historical references.

“This year, I'm hoping to see work that finally puts to rest the phrase: ‘This was really good for pharma.’ The best work being done in our industry can stand up to the best work being done anywhere in the world," he said via email. "In the past six years, I've seen some amazing improvement in the level of the ideas, the craft and the risk-taking."

Matt Eastwood, McCann Health global chief creative officer, is also a Cannes veteran, although this is his first year as a chief creative in the health space. He was named to the McCann Health role in January.

Eastwood, who is kicking off the festival with the first talk on the Health Inspiration stage, expects artificial intelligence and voice integration to be big themes at Cannes Lions Health this year, noting that his team has "been talking about it" but is "now beginning to see real examples emerge.”

“Cannes is about pushing creative boundaries. It’s such an important event for not just health and pharma creatives, but for all creatives," Eastwood said in an email. "I never fail to return from Cannes inspired about the opportunities that lie ahead. In particular, I think the Health Lions have played a major role in accelerating creativity in healthcare and pharma. Awards stimulate both creatives and clients to aim higher."

Kevin McHale, executive creative director and managing director of FCB Health’s Neon, attended the inaugural Lions Health Festival and two subsequent events, and he's returning this year to the now maturing confab.

“Cannes is a rush to the senses for inspiration and generates a swell of excitement for those that attend, and for those at home. We always walk away truly inspired and humbled from the experience,” he said in an email. “Given the shortlist for the Innovation Lions, you can already see a trend where agencies have focused on making work that impacts patient lives on a day-to-day basis, through more meaningful use of technology for practical and life-changing purposes.”

RELATED: No pharma Grand Prix—again—at Cannes Lions Health, but record number of awards for drugmakers

Megan Rokosh, newly named global chief marketing officer at Havas Health & You, returns to Cannes this year to listen and learn again.

“Cannes is a cool opportunity to stop in your day-to-day work and get a general heartbeat of the industry and see where people are innovating and what boundaries are getting pushed,” she said. “It sets the pace for where we are and where we’re headed on an annual basis.”

Even the newbies have expectations for the festival. John Harrison, managing partner at Publicis Groupe's Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is a Cannes first-timer.

“I think I am most excited about meeting and hearing from people with different and challenging points of view. I’ll be disappointed if it’s a collective backslapping shindig,” he said.