How to win a Lion

Issue 21 | December 2011

(and other seemingly impossible tasks)

I know the Cannes Lions were a good five months ago, but following my stint on the judging panel I returned with a wealth of information and insights on the biggest award show in our industry. For weeks afterward, the geeky direct marketer in me crunched the numbers to work out some statistics around the Direct Lions. Which makes this the perfect time to share my findings as we all have just six months left to produce our big ideas to enter them in 2012.

Comparing the past three years, 2011 saw an impressive 29% increase in the number of entries in the Direct Lions – over 1850 entries compared to 1400 in both 2009 and 2010.

After painstakingly inputting the data for all entries into a spreadsheet, I formulated the conversion rates by country, region, medium and industry to discover which combination produces the highest return. It’s not foolproof by any stretch of the imagination, but here’s what I discovered in the search for a formula on how to win a Direct Lion.

The increase in the pool naturally causes a like increase in the number of entries that impress the judges during round one to make it onto the shortlist. This is actually a result of the Cannes Festival judging system – round one is aggregates the judges’ point scores for each entry to determine the top 10-11 percentile. This is a hard cut-off point too, so there are probably a large number of entries that miss out by a mere 0.1 of a point.

In total, 203 entries made the 2011 shortlist (11%). Having now seen the round one process first-hand, you should be honoured to have your work make it to the Lion shortlist.

The shortlist is the trophy you get when you don’t get a trophy. And it doesn’t mean the work that didn’t make the list is bad. The jury saw hundreds and hundreds of brilliant pieces of work that ought make their creators proud, but there can only be so many on the shortlist.

It’s important to remember this 11% figure. Because that’s the benchmark and, all things being considered equal, that means 11% of each country’s entries should respectively make it to the shortlist.

Of this shortlist, 146 remained as a shortlist (7.9% of all entries are close, but no cigar). My fellow judges and I awarded a total of 57 Lions this year – 31 Bronze, 15 Silver, and a mere 11 Gold.

Over half the Direct Lions were Bronze, over a quarter were Silver, and one in five were Gold. This sounds quite generous until you look at the proportion of all finalists. Only 5.4% of shortlists converted to Gold.

But it’s not until you look at what proportion of ALL entries convert to a Lion that you realize just how tough this competition is – only 1.7% of all entries make it to Bronze, just 0.8% convert to Silver, and a tiny 0.6% achieve Gold. A total of just 3.1% of all entries actually get a Lion.

But where are all these entries coming from?

Europe’s 50 countries account for nearly half of all Direct Lions entries. A very high quota considering Europe accounts for only 11% of the world’s population. South America makes a grand effort with 18% of all entries and Asia providing 1 in 10. I’m proud to see that Australia enters almost as much as the mega-economy USA despite being only 1/10th the population. And our favourite neighbours in New Zealand enter as much as the UK. Then I looked at the shortlist (that honoured 11% of all entries) broken down by individual nation. Germany (9% of all entries) is the world’s most represented shortlister accounting for 12.8% of all finalists (larger than the USA and UK combined), which means 16% of all German work converts to shortlist – much higher than that 11% benchmark.

Belgium sits comfortably in second place with almost one in ten of the shortlists. But what makes Belgium truly intriguing is that they only account for 3.3% of all entries, which means one-third of all Belgium’s work makes it through round one – the highest conversion rate in the world.

For years the world has watched Brazil’s creativity shine, with good reason for they claim 7.9% of all shortlists. Unconfirmed, but the story that emerged at the Cannes Festival was that the Brazilian government has long paid for all entries into the Cannes Lions and may even pay for agencies to attend every year – perhaps as a means of championing Brazil’s creative industry to position the country as a South American leader, thus attracting business from across the continent and supporting the country’s economy. But as I said, unconfirmed.

The other country I found fascinating was Sweden. They claim 5.4% of all finalists even though they only account for 3.7% of all entries. And remember how only 3.1% of all entries turn into a Lion? Well, Sweden manages to convert a staggering 11% of their entries in metal – over triple the average. In fact, they get as many trophies as most countries get shortlists.

Matt Batten is National ECD of Wunderman Australia and one of the country’s most awarded Direct creatives.

He was named Creative of the Year 2010 in the Asia Pacific Region at the Digital Media Awards in Beijing, was the Australian judge for the Cannes Direct Lions 2011, and has recently been shortlisted as this year’s Australian Direct Marketer of the Year. Under his creative leadership, Wunderman Australia has become the 8th fastest growing agency in the global network and been shortlisted as DM Agency of the Year three times in a row.

Matt is Directory 21’s Guest Editor and wants to rule the world, one caipirinha at a time.

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