The Cannes Lions Media Person of the Year is SY Lau, a former ad exec who helped transform China's Tencent into an internet powerhouse on par with Silicon Valley's giants.
Mr. Lau is the first executive from a Chinese company to receive the honor, which comes as China's presence at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is growing fast. He worked for Publicis, BBDO, Dentsu Young & Rubicam and McCann Erickson before joining Tencent in 2006, according to his LinkedIn profile. Since then Tencent has become China's all-purpose internet behemoth, with services including online video, blogging, games, e-commerce and mobile app WeChat, with 468 million monthly users.
This week, Tencent was ranked No. 1 on Millward Brown-WPP's list of China's most valuable brands, just ahead of e-commerce giant Alibaba.
Mr. Lau is senior executive vice president of Tencent and president of its Online Media Group, a division that runs news and video portals as well as a microblogging service. In 2011 he was one of only two execs outside the U.S. to be profiled as part of Ad Age's list of 21 influencers in marketing and media (the other was Brazil's Nizan Guanaes, chairman of Sao Paulo ad holding company Grupo ABC).
"SY is typical of a breed of driven, smart and visionary leaders that have emerged in the tech space in China," Terry Savage, chairman of the Cannes Lions, wrote in an email. "Tencent's Online Media Group under SY's leadership has evolved from a single internet portal into a highly integrated media matrix with a pre-eminent position in China."
Former internet execs to receive the honor include Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google, and Mark Zuckerberg, founder of Facebook.
Tencent is smaller than Google and Facebook in terms of its market capitalization (about $163 billion), but it's bigger than Amazon.
Mr. Lau will be formally given the Media Person of the Year award at the Cannes Lions festival in June. At least year's festival, one of the seminars was an interview that Maurice Levy, Publicis Groupe's chairman-CEO, conducted with Mr. Lau.
Mr. Lau's honor comes as the festival has been attracting more attention from China and vice versa. In 2010, Chinese agencies sent 358 entries to the festival and won nine Cannes Lions. By 2014 those numbers had more than doubled, swelling to 951 entries and 21 Lions. The festival had its first Chinese jury president in 2012, when JWT's Lo Sheung Yan presided over outdoor judging.
"To be clear, China is not knocking at the door, they are well and truly through the door, and that will continue to grow," Mr. Savage said. "I think the awareness of the importance of Cannes Lions in China is strong and growing, as is the understanding of the importance of creativity."