British publisher and conference organizer EMAP plc purchased the festival from French businessman Roger Hatchuel for a reported £120 million. Terry Savage is the current Executive Chairman of the festival.
Entering its 55th year the annual event is attended by more than a thousand advertising, media and technology executives from 80 countries submitting more than 25,000 ads for recognition in TV, print, outdoor and online advertising, called "the Oscars of the ad industry.
Lions juries are drawn from leading experts in each field, judging submissions in a number of categories, including cinema/television, print marketing, outdoor advertising and direct marketing. The festival introduced an award category for online media in 1998, known as the Cyber Lion. More recent additions include Radio Lions, Promo Lions and Integrated Lions, added through 2006. In 2007 Unilever, Burger King and Dove won the top Grand Prix awards.
The festival also includes categories for overall advertising campaigns and technical achievement. In each case a Gold Lion is awarded to the top entrant in that category. A final "Grand Prix" for best advertisement of the year will then be awarded to one of the Gold Lion winners. Additionally, Lions are awarded in various subcategories, such as for specific market segments (eg. charities) or for specific attributes of the advertising (e.g. "Best Use of Music".) The festival also awards an annual "Palme d'Or" to the top agency for the year.
Advertisements are generally entered by the agencies that created them, although technically anyone can enter any advertising creation. Judging is then conducted by juries composed of advertising creative directors from around the world, and the jurors are instructed to reward the advertising that is most creative both in idea and execution. Each jury is headed by a jury president. Recent jury presidents in the film category include Bob Isherwood (Saatchi & Saatchi) and Dan Wieden (Wieden + Kennedy). Jurors are disqualified from voting on entries from their own country.
The festival is also a destination for marketing and design students invited to the Roger Hatchuel Lions Academy, a well-regarded one-week course in advertising and communications. Advertising agencies pay attention to standouts from the course as potential hires upon graduation.
The Young Lions competition (previously Young Creatives competition) is open to advertising professionals up to 28 years old in teams of two, with the winners attending Cannes. The competition takes place during the Festival week at the Palais des Festival in four divisions: Print, Cyber, Film and Media.
In the Print Competition, an art director and a copywriter are given 24 hours to create a print ad to promote the same charity or organization, chosen by the Young Lions Competition. Print teams consider the "brief" overnight and work between 08:00 – 20:00 the following day to create their ad. The Cyber Competition is structured in the same way, with teams comprising a copywriter and web designer. In the Film Competition, teams of two are given two days to create a 30-second commercial using on a Nokia Nseries mobile phone.