Living at Cannes

By Jane Melvin, Co-Dean, Cannes Lions Media Academy

Cannes Media Academy 2019

For the fifth consecutive year, I partnered with an industry media guru to walk alongside a group of thirty or so young people at the Cannes Media Academy (one of four Academies at the Cannes Lions Festival). Each year we curate an intensive week-long program for these incredible, hungry, smart young people in the marketing industry. We share inspiration, explore perspectives, challenge each other, and work to encourage the media and marketing leaders of tomorrow through an experience to help them accelerate their ability to make a positive difference.

What we do could only happen at Cannes.

Because Cannes is the place where so many from our industry gather with so much content and so many opportunities for people to come together, there is

an underground and growing movement around education and the future leadership of the industry: it’s no longer a time to simply look back and celebrate the way it used to be.

And so Cannes Lions provides the platform. Every speaker at the Academies is a volunteer.

We don’t work for the Festival. We donate our time to organize and execute the week. We ask our colleagues and friends to come talk about important things. Every year we are surprised and happy at how our friends grew up and got so clever. And every year, we bring new people into the fold… and we realize how many smart and clever people there are in this business.

As a free service to those of you who didn’t attend, here’s what you missed.

All of this took place in the midst of the excesses of Cannes — yes, the yachts, and the villas, along with the hypocrisy of its own exclusivity as it calls on the industry to care about diversity and inclusivity… and of course all those the bottles of rose you don’t know who paid for… but all of this also took place in the spaces where some of the most gifted craftspeople and leaders of our time share their perspectives, their questions, their fears and yes, their hope. Somehow, the yachts faded into the background. It was the exchange of ideas that made it feel like we’d landed in Oz.

We had Lions of the industry sitting in front of thirty-three young people. They tried in an incredibly human way to provide some wisdom from the decades they’ve spent in an industry that is as messed up as it can be beautiful.

They told their stories — of failures, of truth, of racism, or lessons learned and of what it takes to find those perfect moments when together a team of people can create work that speaks to our hearts and reminds us what it is to be human — and they looked into the eyes of those who will take the reins of our industry in the years to come and they felt humbled…. and challenged…. and tired… and hopeful.

The young people did not let up. Their questions forced the industry veterans to think about better leadership, more responsible marketing, how we talk about race and about how we define gender. Their questions brought up the things we’re all wrestling with — where is the balance between the use of data to create value and invasion of privacy? What are the red lines that leaders must define as technology risks going unchecked and creates hurt and pain? How can we ensure brands are not actually contributing to stereotypes instead of helping break them?

Because we spent the week with the next generation, for us, this year’s Cannes Lions ended up being more raw, more divided, and more controversial. But isn’t that the heartbeat of Cannes — that it reflects the world we live in, it celebrates what we’ve done and it gives us a place to look out, a bit clumsily, at the dark clouds on the horizon and try to figure out how to steer our collective ship out of the storm?

By the end of the week, the one thing every single person there could probably agree on was that we were exhausted. We are exhausted by the world, by division, and by data… but after a week in Cannes, we also felt alive.

We felt gratitude for the deserving work that was celebrated. We were infuriated by the parts that felt overly commercial. We secretly wished we were the clever ones who decided to crowdfund Droga5. We felt love when we ran into old friends. We felt equality when we connected so simply and easily with strangers. We heard our own voices amplified when Sleeping Giants and the kids from Parkland were held up as champions, not victims. We felt like we were part of a team when we watched people go up on stage and collect the trophies for ideas that connected with people and made us think and feel. We felt inspired to do more work like that.

In the Media Academy — the hidden gem of Cannes Lions — a younger generation of leaders of our industry listened and learned and created. As we rushed from one talk to the next, as we furiously scratched out our notes so we wouldn’t lose the nugget of an idea, as we thought about how big the problems are that we have to take on, as we watched these voices emerge and strengthen, we were humbled by how quickly a group of strangers can become comrades. For life.

And then they stood up to claim their space.

“I do not want to be on the wrong side of history in this industry, “ said Jessica, “and I’m going to do something about it.”

Connection, hope and self-belief. Thirty-three young people from all over the world found that they can and should raise their voices.

Thank God they are willing to do this on our behalf. Otherwise, Bob Hoffman is right. We’d be dead.

Thank you to Bob Hoffman and his piece called “Dying at Cannes” which inspired this response.

Photos: Strategic Innovations Group, Inc.

Jane Melvin and Charles Courtier are the Deans of the Cannes Lions Media Academy. Please get involved. The world needs leaders.

Strategic Innovations Group, Inc.

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