NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Every year for the past four, digital agency AKQA has run a student-focused contest at the International Advertising Festival at Cannes whose winners have gone on to land jobs at top agencies such as R/GA, Tribal DDB and Farfar.
AKQA CEO Tom Bedecarre and Global Creative Director Rei Inamoto will present the winners of this year's FutureLions contest next Friday in a seminar that will also feature content from past winners as well as an interview with Rick Boyko, managing director of the VCU Brandcenter at Virginia Commonwealth University. The rules for the competition, open only to students, are simple. Students must create an advertisement -- in the broadest sense of the word -- for a global brand. The work can be in any medium, traditional or new. Last year's winners included an interactive billboard for Sharpie and a customization site for Starbucks.
The winners, chosen by AKQA's creative council, are given free registration at the festival, where they'll appear onstage to accept their award, as well as an Adobe software package and a Flip camera they can use to document their time at the festival.
With more than 700 submissions this year, a Facebook community 2,000 strong and more direct support from the festival organizers, FutureLions has gone from being just another seminar to a festival institution in short order. And while competition host AKQA has a "standing agreement with itself" not to snatch up any of the young talent, the digital agency benefits from being associated with the content, Mr. Bedecarre said in an interview this week. (AKQA has hired a couple of past winners after they passed through other agencies.)
Agencies That Have Hired FutureLions Winners
Crispin Porter & Bogusky, Boulder, Colo.
St. Lukes, London
Saatchi & Saatchi, Singapore
Pereira & O'Dell San Francisco
R/GA, New York
Info on the seminar:
Friday, June 26
10:00 a.m. to 10:45 a.m.
The program's goal
"We're a company that's focused on innovation," he said. "So it's natural for us to help inspire students." He added that it's also an excuse to get out in front of ad schools helping to keep up AKQA's profile in the eyes of talent just entering the business. He said that a goal isn't necessarily for FutureLions to become an awards category but rather a high-profile festival fixture not unlike the Saatchi & Saatchi New Directors Showcase.
The payoff for the winners is much more obvious.
"Having that little FutureLions emblem in my portfolio was massive," 24-year-old Andy Pearson, one of last year's winners, wrote in an e-mail message. "When people looked at my book, they were really impressed. I mean, you can work in this business for years and years and never get to see Cannes. So for me to have been there, not even out of school yet, it instantly grabbed people's attention."
Mr. Pearson and his partner, both of whom went to Atlanta's Creative Circus, came up with an application for the Toyota Prius. It used GPS and Google Maps to enable users to see the fuel savings of driving the hybrid. After the team was notified of the win, they and another team from Creative Circus held a bake sale to fund the travel to France, charging $500 per cookie. "We figured that way we only needed to sell 20 cookies, which didn't sound too hard. Insanely enough, it worked, and we raised all the money in a matter of hours."
At Cannes, they rubbed elbows with global ad talent and started to collect leads. A month after going home, Mr. Pearson got a call from Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., and ended up leaving school early to freelance there as a copywriter. He later landed a full-time gig at Crispin Porter & Bogusky's Boulder, Colo., office, where he is an interactive copywriter. This year, he created a promo video for the competition.
"The entire thing was the best experience of my life, and I feel unbelievably honored to have been chosen," he said. "It kicked off the craziest, most exciting year of my life."