Fernando Vega Olmos dishes on winning, learning and judging at Cannes Lions

In just ten days, creatives will gather to celebrate their best work at the 2012 Cannes Lions Festival. Glinting in the industry’s eye will be the prestigious Titanium Lions, which awards the most groundbreaking and innovative creative works. JWT’s Worldwide Creative Council Chairman, Fernando Vega Olmos, has his own history of creative achievement and will return to Cannes this year sitting on the Titanium & Integrated Jury.

Fernando Vega Olmos has a long history of creative achievement that spans back to his early career. He became the first Argentinian to win a Gold Lion at the 1992 festival, then went on to found the heavily awarded Vega Olmos Ponce, which won Lions in Cannes every year for more than a decade, totaling more than 30 Lions, including the first ever Integrated Grand Prix in 2007 for Axe 3. In 2005, while at Lowe, he won a Gold Lion for his work on Rexona’s “Stunt City,”– and that’s just a smattering of his accomplishments. This year will mark his fifth time on a Cannes jury. We met with him to talk about the high honor from Cannes and what it’s like to judge the year’s top caliber work.

You’ve attended Cannes both as a delegate and as a juror several times. Can you tell us a bit about your experiences and what you’re most excited about for this year’s Festival?
I started going to Cannes in 1985, back when it was just a film festival. In 1992, it was the first year they introduced Press category and I sat on the jury. Then in 2005 I sat on the Film Jury, and was the Outdoor Chair in 2006. This year, I will be a part of the Titanium & Integrated Jury.

I really enjoy judging. Yes, of course it is long days locked in the room and debating over the work, but it is all about the learning experience. Sitting on a jury you learn a lot through the rest of the judges. It is such a diverse group of people, you discover so much and see some things that you wouldn’t normally see. When you strip it of the parties and the celebrations and the networking, Cannes is really a place to learn. It is a truly rich experience judging at Cannes.

What constitutes a Titanium Lion? What qualities must the work possess?
Titanium is the most prestigious award. So we are talking about the really good work. We do not have as much to maneuver and work with as in other categories. Integrated is more clearly defined. Work that spreads across media in the best way. But Titanium, it is not as easy to define. How do you decide what is industry changing? It is definitely something to debate…

For me, it is a personal thing: utility and romance. The work must possess both of these. It is about a powerful idea that romanticizes a product and helps people interact with it in a new way. You have to have both in order to qualify for a Titanium Lion. For instance, a good example of a Titanium-worthy work is last year’s “Decode Jay-Z” by Droga5.

Do you think you will find yourself comparing the Titanium works to “Decode Jay-Z” this year?
Well, that is exactly the question: where do we set the bar? This is the most interesting thing. We will need to define what the bar is amongst the jury at the beginning.

You see so much work throughout the course of judging at Cannes, how do you come to a final decision with so many strong personalities in the room?
The nice thing about being a part of the Titanium & Integrated Jury is that we are a small group. Compared to some juries of 20 people, we are able to have a better debate. Many times, decisions are made on politics, good and bad. Bad politics, we all know, are when people push for a piece of work for personal reasons: either the work is from their network or their country. But then you get the good politics when people speak toward local nuances that the campaign is based on because as an outsider, sometimes we are not aware or don’t understand the cultural significance. That is the good part of being on a jury: learning so much from your fellow jury members.

What work have you seen this past year from outside JWT that you feel is a top contender?
Of course there will always be the ‘favorites’ and ‘potentials’ each year. The interesting thing is that your perception is different when you are there in the jury room. You need to be open and consider the works in a different context. You will come across a piece that really is a huge idea if you are open to this. I want to be open-minded as I go into the judging room. I want to be in the ‘here and now’ and put all pre-conceptions aside. The beauty of Cannes is that it serves as a Reference of Quality, for you as an individual, for your agency and for the industry at large. I truly believe that good ideas come from everywhere. We are more familiar with work from big cities (most times Western cities), but I want to find work from new places and I believe I will find this through being open.

Be biased, what is your favorite JWT Cannes Contender this year?
If Cannes were like the Olympic Games, I would say JWT has good athletes in every discipline. This is new for us. For the first time since I’ve been with JWT, it is the most work that we have had in all categories. The hardest part is getting on the shortlist. If you get on the shortlist, that’s a huge accomplishment. I can’t say one piece overall, but we have strong contenders in each category. I think we will have a very good year.


— Don’t forget to take a peek at JWT’s weekly Cannes Contender Roundups.  During the festival week of June 17-24, we will be covering the stories that unfold on the ground, right here, so be sure to check back for the latest updates.