Senta Slingerland — Director of Brand Strategy for Cannes Lions for 8 years shares her story

Chainy continues to bring you interviews with people who shape the world in terms of understanding the importance of creativity, sharing their story and just generally giving a valuable advice to everyone who is working in the creative industries today :)

This time around, Barbara spoke with Senta Slingerland — Brand Strategist & Social Enterprise Consultant about her experience working on the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity brand for 8 years, being a woman in (any) industry and what she thinks the real education is.

Barbara: Could you tell me more about what you currently do?

Senta: I left my job at Cannes Lions in October after being there for eight years, and decided to leave everything for a little while and come to Rio de Janeiro, where I am currently based, consulting a number of social businesses. And I am working with different social enterprises that deal with a variety of interesting things, for example: there is one fashion brand, that is trying to change the perception of black creativity in Brazil, looking at how black culture is represented in media. This is a new, completely different area for me — I am helping them with business & marketing strategies, at the same time learning the language and exploring the ways organizations are constructed and run here.

B: What was your role as a Director of Brand Strategy for Cannes Lions?

S: There were two major sides to my role. On the one hand, I was responsible for setting the brand strategy of Cannes Lions itself — it is a huge company that has lots of different brands — not only the Cannes Lions Festival, but also other festivals around the world — for instance Eurobest and Dubai Lynx. You have to get it right — the mission, the values, the tone and the language of the company, that speaks to the public. Furthermore, I published a book aiming to make Cannes Lions more established in the consumer industry — it was really trying to find ways to expand to different audiences — for instance we were also trying to get the startup community to get brand, and really clarify the reason of existence for Cannes Lions and get people involved in it.

And on the other hand I have also done brand strategy for our clients — we have a lot of companies working with us — Google, Twitter, Facebook & more, so I would work with some of them to bring out their value. Those were very interesting, interactive things like having a technological badges during one of the Cannes Lions events that allowed people to interact with them and «like» things in real life that are immediately published on their Facebook account, allowing constant communication to emerge. Because Cannes Lions is so saturated with brand presence I would work with out clients to stand out and bring valuable, innovative experience.

B: Touching on a hot topic: As a woman in the industry, was a hard journey to take upon?

S: I worked in a corporate environment within a creative industry. My job at Cannes Lions was to lead creativity within a company, and my background before was journalism. 
But the thing that I found was that when people ask me «is it hard being a woman in the industry» it is hard for me to tell because I have only ever been a woman, right?:) So I don’t know what it would be to be a man. But what I can say is that when I was younger (and you hear this from other women too), I almost didn’t want to see problems that women could face, telling myself «I have never been not promoted, I am strong, I can do this», thinking that maybe if I were to acknowledged the issue, it would make me weaker.

However, once I started opening my eyes a little bit and really saw those difficulties that women face in business in general, I decided to do something about it. Most difficult thing about that is once you start calling out the bullshit, you become «that woman». But, in time I decided not to care and be proud of who I am.

Someone has to speak up about the issues.

And this realisation made me more free and actually allowed me lots of great friendships and mentorships. So as a woman, down the road you most probably face the usual issues, but I believe that unless you see it — you can’t do much about the problem. And to see the truth you need to be a little bit brave.

B: About a year & half ago you gave a lecture at the London College of Fashion called «Sell Yourself: self promotion and marketing». What are your main tips and tricks on how to do that?

S: First of all, there is no shame in branding yourself.

It is the industry you are in — if you can’t even sell yourself, what can you sell?

The important thing to remember is that you can’t sell yourself on a value that does not exist — people see through that, and you really have to spend some time with yourself and ask yourself «Who am I?». What is genuinely important to me? Sometimes it might be trendy to believe in certain things that may contradict your own principles and beliefs, and that is not the way to go.

It is also fine not to know the answers to that. Or to change your views over time. As long as it is authentic — which I think sounds a bit cheesy — it is really a core to branding oneself.

Mentorship is also a very important part of it. I want to address the previous question and say that, especially in the creative industry, the reason that men have sometimes «had it easier» is because it can be simpler to find advocacy and mentorship, and I will give you an example:

A man starts working in an agency, the director of which is also a man. The director sees himself in that younger employee, he likes him, he feels like they are similar. 
For a woman it is not always that easy because, first of all, there are fewer women leaders, so it is harder for a man to relate and find similarities with younger woman. And secondly, it can be challenging for a woman to ask an older man «lets have dinner» without getting a stigma or unrelated assumptions attached to it.

I really do think that for a female, to get advocacy and mentorship can be challenging, yet it is extremely important to have someone either in your organisation or from the outside who can advise you. Regardless of the challenge, be brave enough to talk to people, because most of the time when you ask somebody for help — you will get a yes.

B: As a frequent speaker, what are your main tips for staying confident, not being afraid to speak up?

S: I don’t really know how I do it. And I also think that when you get older you start realizing that no-one knows what the hell they are doing. We are all born on this Earth equal and we are figuring out what we do while we do it.

You have to believe in yourself and trust yourself in your knowledge.

Always keep in mind that you deserve being where you are right now as at some point we have all thought «I cannot believe everyone thinks I know this, but I don’t», when in reality — you can do this. That is how the world works. So just keep in mind that whoever in your audience is scared as well and the best you can do is be an example. Moreover, whenever I give talks I only ever say things that I really believe in, because the second I don’t — people will smell it. I would never sell something I don’t believe in and it helps a lot with my confidence.

Also, some people say that whenever you are doing a talk imagine everyone being naked or something, but I have never done that. :) But it is the same kind of psychology.

B: And a final punch line:) What advise would you give to the younger-self?

S: The life experiences that I had — things like loosing your passport in the jungle or being at the dinner table where no-one speaks your language — have taught me so much more than any course I have ever been to. And the best training you can possibly get is actually living. I am not saying that education is not valuable but sometimes it tends to get overrated while

the real education starts the second you’re born.

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