Cannes media juror Nick Waters on cutting out block voting, why ad agencies are better at entering, and Asia’s Achilles heel

Nick WatersNick Waters, the APAC boss of media agency Dentsu Aegis Network, sat on the jury of the Media Lions at Cannes this week.

Waters, who is six months into the role running the region for DAN, caught up with Robin Hicks, the Asia editor of Mumbrella, after the Media Lions results were revealed to talk about how the jury has been reorganised to eliminate block voting, why media agencies who complain about ad agencies winning in the media category are “feeble” and why India is better at strategy than anywhere else in Asia.

Matt Seiler, the jury president for the Media Lions, said there was “no voting for self interest” to quash any suggestions of block voting between holding companies, which has happened in the past. What was your take on proceedings this year?

This is my second time judging at Cannes. My first was five years ago, and things were different then. There were 30-plus people sitting in one room all together for the duration of the judging process. I was irritated because there were definite attempts for blocking voting going on. It got progressively worse until the bust up between WPP and Omnicom went public. This meant Terry [Savage, the Cannes Lions chairman] and his team had to really think about to changes things.

The jury no longer sits in one room, we are split into eight groups of five. These teams are rotated, so there not the same five people every day. This makes it impossible to form alliances. Then there’s the final awarding jury of nine people to go through the shortlisted work. With this smaller team, it’s much easier to spot block voting attempts from either holding companies or countries. Five years ago, it was the Latin American guys who were trying to vote together. That didn’t happen this year. There was not one occasion where there was promotion of self interest.

When we were voting on the work, if there was a submission by your agency, your vote was stripped out by the computer. Then when you get to stage where you’re discussing work, you’re not permitted to vote for your own agency. A sign comes up on an iPad [which is used to cast a vote] that says “Juror interest”. Also, the president will sometimes asks you to leave the room if work from your agency comes up. You’re not allowed to hear the discussion, and that happened a few times. We wanted to keep the process as transparent as possible.

Was there much disagreement among the jury over the winners this year?

There was some good healthy debate and opposing views, but things never got spiky.

Was there any discontent among the jury that the Media Lions Grand Prix winner went to an ad agency (McCann Lima won the Grand Prix with a campaign for Coke) and not a media agency? 

Personally, I really didn’t mind. If media agencies complain about ad agencies winning awards, they’re being a bit feeble. It’s up to media agencies to write up and package their case well to win awards, and there is an inherent bias towards ad agencies being able to do that. It is their day-to-day job to tell stories and package stuff. They do this for brands all the time. This is not in a media agency’s DNA.

There are also economic factors at play. Ad agencies operate at much lower margins than media agencies; media agencies are on about double the margin of ad agencies. They are comparatively overstaffed, with higher head counts, which gives them more manpower and time to put together awards videos.

What’s your impression of how Asia did this year in the Media Lions?

My impression over the course of the judging was that APAC was relatively underrepresented in the category. Latin America was very well represented. The UK and the US featured as heavily as would be expected, as was Europe. Latin America came through strongly with entries from the likes of Paraguay and Puerto Rico. There were not enough entries from China and Japan, when you consider their scale, and only a handful from the likes of the Philippines and Thailand. India fared better. Australia usually does best, and the work from Australia was generally good.

But what do you make of how Australia fared? The Australians won ten lions last year, but only five this year.

I don’t think they should feel disappointed. There was a lot of good work there, and to win a gold lion is very, very difficult. The work has to be truly world class to win.

At Spikes last year, an entry was excluded by the jury president because he didn’t believe the results presented in the case study. Where there any dodgy entries like that this year in the Media Lions?

We did have a number of cases where we asked people from that country to verify the entry. We asked them, “this seems very good, but what does the industry in your market think? Is it really of the scale and stature that the entry video made it out to be?” On occasion, the video was hyping up the idea that actually wasn’t that big. But there were very few cases of that.

What do you think the entries at Cannes this year say about the state of media?

I think it’s looking really good globally. I was heartened by media coming from different angles, in both traditional media and new media, and from different geographies and the quality of the ideas. That was the overarching impression. One other positive thought was the amount of ingenuity and creativity that the industry is putting into supporting good causes.

But don’t you think that the motivation behind work for good causes is to win awards?

That’s possible, but I prefer to think that there are a lot of people with good hearts who want to dedicate their thinking to support worthy causes.

From what you’ve seen of the work from Asia, where would you say is the region’s Achilles heel?

Probably in strategy. Asia is never short of good ideas. There is a lot of creativity and innovation across Asia, but strength is needed in upstream strategic thinking.

Why do you think that strategy is a weakness for the region?

I’ve worked in Asia and also in Europe. Everything moves faster in Asia. It’s often praised for its dynamism, which is true. The pace is relentless. Agencies have less time to think; it’s bang bang bang. It’s a bit of a generalisation, but clients and agencies would rather execute quickly than sit and ponder on how.

When I first moved from Asia to the UK, I was immense frustrated with how slowly things move – I thought, no wonder the economy is in the toilet, because everyone sits around thinking about things. In Asia, it’s ‘have an idea and execute it’. There is a Chinese trading mentality that’s broadly true across the region – with the exception of India, where debate is a national pastime and a sport. If an idea is continually challenged, this leads to a higher quality of strategy. In other parts of Asia – and again, forgive the generalisation – it’s more the master servant relationship, which is an cultural issue. And as a result of that cultural issue, strategy can suffer.


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