PJ Pereira, CCO, Pereira & O’Dell, a novelist who writes about evil cults, and president of this year’s Entertainment Lions jury, is a man with a mission. During his last presidential stint, on the Cyber jury in 2005, he missed an opportunity to predict the future of film online. But, he tells Samuel Spencer, the responsibility isn’t all his – jury presidents should be servers not leaders, helping fellow jurors figure out their thinking, not dictate it.

In the lead-up to taking on the role of president of the Entertainment Lions jury, PJ Pereira, CCO at Pereira & O’Dell, embarked on a book tour for his fourth novel, The Mother, The Daughter and The Lady’s Spirit. When shots spoke to him just before he set off, he described the book as “the story of an evil cult leader”. Did he get inspiration from his time on the juries of advertising awards?


“The president of the jury is more of a server than leader. You just stay back and serve people food and drink and help them get somewhere.”


Pereira laughs at this. “The president of the jury is more of a server than leader,” he says. “You just stay back and serve people food and drink and help them get somewhere.” Putting our minds at ease that his jury won’t emerge from the judging room in monastic hoods, having pledged allegiance to Pereira, he continues. “A president isn’t there to tell people what to do, they’re there to help people figure out what they’re trying to do. It’s been 12 years since I chaired a jury [at Cannes]. The biggest thing that I’ve learned since then is that the jury is not there to teach a lesson, it’s there to learn and share what they’ve learnt through the judging.”



The true adventures of Cannes juries

The idea that he’s coming back to a Cannes jury as an older and wiser figure (although he’s gone to the festival for each of the past 20 years,) is partly true, but he’s also back for a reason that sounds as though it’s come straight out of one of his books – he’s out to right a past wrong.

Last time he was on a jury was 2005, when he was president of the Cyber jury, and he felt that they made a mistake. “Half of us,” he explains, “went there with a very clear idea that we needed to show that the difference between Cyber and other categories was interactivity. We went there and started to judge, and we had to give out two Grands Prix.”



The first choice was obvious: Reality Show, created by DM9DDB for superglue brand Henkel Loctite, in which the agency glued a monitor that viewers could send messages to onto a wall, and set up a live camera in front of it so people could see their messages appear and also watch as the monitor remained glued to the wall.

The second selection, however, was where the trouble started. One piece, Come Clean, by Crispin Porter + Bogusky for soap brand Method, was “a very attractive website where you could write something like a confession on a digital hand, then wash it off, and people could make live comments on it. Very impressive tech for the time.”



The other option was a video series, The True Adventures of Chad, created by Mekanism for videogame Super Monkeyball Deluxe. It was a funny piece of work, and the jury kept coming back to it in the four hours of debate, but it was not interactive.

The jury plumped for the Method campaign, the interactive choice. Cut to a few years later and, Pereira explains, “We found out that the future of Cyber would be video. We could have been the prophets that told the world that video was a big part of the internet! Why didn’t we? Because half of the jury got there with a very clear perspective of what the message was that they wanted to tell the world.”

This lack of foresight has completely shaped how Pereira is now approaching his Cannes comeback. “I want to make sure that when we get there we don’t have that thing in our minds that says ‘Branded Entertainment should be this.’ No, at this stage it shouldn’t be anything. We should allow the work to speak and tell us what it should be, so we can voice it back to the rest of the industry.”



Cannes juries shouldn’t live in La La Land

One thing Pereira is already convinced of, however, is that there will definitely be an Entertainment Lions Grand Prix given out this year. He looks at the situation in a similar way to how he sees the Academy Awards. “Do you know what never happens at the Oscars?” he asks. “Someone goes on stage and says, ‘The Oscar for Best Picture goes to… Oooh, well, we didn’t think there was anyone worth it this year.’ I want to make sure we respect the hard work that people will have put in.” Hopefully, there’s one thing they won’t copy from the Oscars – picking up the wrong envelope and announcing the wrong winner on the night.



Pereira is adopting a totally open-minded policy and going to Cannes with no idea as to what he wants to see in the dark basement jury room. He does mention, however, a number of areas he is “curious” about: “Anything great on video games, or anything great on long-form content. Also, VR. I’m curious to see what the VR entrants will be like this year, because, for me, technology powers entertainment.”



Are there any particular VR projects that have caught his eye? “I'm still looking for someone who will crack the code of how to tell a story using VR,” he explains. “I think the Grand Prix last year [The New York Times’ The Displaced by, above] was a great example of using VR to create presence, but I want to see if a story can actually be told. Is that going to happen this year? I'm not sure.”

One thing he is sure about, however, is that people who say that Cannes is getting worse, and that it has too many categories, are wrong. “When Cannes opened all these categories and created festivals within the festival, it broadened the perspective of what creativity can be.” How? “Whether they want it or not, [creatives] are influenced by the definitions of creativity that come from Cannes,” explains Pereira. “When they say there’s way more ways of being creative out there, that inspires people to be creative in more ways, which is what we need as an industry.”

As for this year’s festival, he says he is most looking forward to seeing people being totally wrong with their trend predictions. “This is the festival where trends are established. And every juror knows that the beach is outside but they can’t go, and then they start to see every agency in the word trying the same formula.”

He continues: “No matter how successful the formula was in the previous year, it doesn’t work anymore, so Cannes destroys the trend from the previous year and establishes new ones.” He gives as an example the 2015 festival, where “things that make people cry won a bunch of awards.” Following that, he anticipates “way too many ideas trying to make people cry” this year, with the judges getting “desensitized” to the tear-jerking and heartstring-pulling. His advice for entrants who want to avoid being judged by a jury who has become emotionally numb? Unleash your inner John Hegarty: “When everyone zigs you zag.” There’s nowhere that shows that more clearly than Cannes.


So 2018, in his view, is anybody’s guess. One thing that is for certain, however, is that unless he suddenly gets indoctrinated by an anti-Cannes cult leader, you can guarantee that PJ Pereira will be there for his twenty-somethingth time.  

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