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Judgemental

by Rory Hamilton, Chief Creative Officer

I have been lucky enough to judge a number of advertising awards. If you’ve never done it, it’s an interesting process. You fly to somewhere sunny (think Dubai or Las Vegas)  and then spend a week frustratingly locked in a dark room with no windows alongside a dozen strangers, for 12 hours a day, to argue over some of the best work in the world. It’s tiring, occasionally confrontational (the jurors are opinionated people whose profession revolves around building convincing arguments) but it’s also genuinely life changing. Something about this pressurised environment coupled with the enforced exposure makes you friends with these people – you can build relationships that’ll last your whole career. All in all it’s a privilege, you can learn more in a week’s judging than you might in a year of work.  

Judging Cannes is arguably the high point of this judging circuit, so 2 years ago when I was invited to judge at Cannes Lions, boy was I excited. The prospect of a week surrounded by some of the most inspirational creatives in the world, all in the South of France was an enticing one. It would be fair to say that, during those 2 years, more important global events transpired (no need to fire up those tiny violins for me) so when the Cannes festival was postponed and eventually cancelled in 2020, it was inevitably replaced by a remote festival in 2021. I was still invited to judge, only this time from the “comfort” of my house.

Remote judging is a different animal entirely. For Cannes it involved a pre-judging section, for which you had approximately 40-50 hours of films to watch over a few weeks, followed by an “in person” Zoom judging, which took 5 hrs a day for 8 days. The jurors were selected from all over the world, making time zones a massive issue. We Europeans got lucky, so that my sessions were 2-7pm. Spare a thought for the jurors from LA or Buenos Aires whose sessions started as early as 5am, and for our friend from Tokyo, his day started at 10pm.

The thing about judging remotely is that it brings all of the argument, but little of the conciliatory coffee breaks or boozy dinners together in which you get to heal the wounds of battle. You never really get a handle on your fellow jurors, you never see where they’re coming from, save a small section of their bedroom wall or blurred office – their whole backstory told across a few feet of backdrop. And instead of real discourse, instead of real debate you sit muzzled, on-mute until it’s your turn to make a case for, or against a piece of work. I sat on my hands so long they developed “pins and needles”.

Worse still when you’re judging remotely you’re “available”. Somehow being in Cannes seems out of bounds, but when you’re “upstairs” – surely you can mind the baby, let the electrician in, settle your children’s sisterly dispute – after all you’re right there. Same goes for the office, little meetings get “popped in diaries”, “just a catch up, to keep you in the loop”. Try squeezing an extra 5 hour zoom call into your day – it’s not easy.

However by the end of the 8 days the work became second nature, no need to view an entry for the 400th time, I could recite the scripts as I judged them. Through that fog, with the pressure of an impending deadline, we found our rhythm. Somehow this band of strangers had become a group, even a team. We settled disputes, we supported opinions, we leaned on each other’s individual expertise (shouldn’t the professional grader have the casting vote when we are judging grade?) It only took 40 hours of zooming together but we became friends. Spending that amount of time, not just among the best work in the world, but surrounded by some of the best people was just as inspiring, just as much of an honour as it would have been from the South of France.

But at the end of it all, would I consider judging Cannes again from my house? Not remotely.

Postscript.

Not only did I judge Cannes for the first time, but we also won it. Yes you may have heard, I’ve been trying to casually shoehorn it into conversation for the last few weeks, a Gold and a Bronze. It’s incredible in its own right. But I do think that experiencing the process of judging makes the result even more gratifying. So to whatever jurors sat and argued for our work, from whatever bedroom or office around the world – thank you! I know it wasn’t easy.