Living at Cannes
By Jane Melvin, Co-Dean, Cannes Lions Media Academy
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.
- A very casually dressed founder who happened to be a programmatic media pioneer talked not just about technology but about the kind of culture he wants to create. He talked about where his ideas came from, how he finds people who can offer alternative points of view and how he thinks about creating an environment where people can thrive. He spilled his coffee and he put us at ease. Right there next to a yacht.
- Two people with “creative” in their titles (who happened to be a white man working for a black woman) talked about how they had spent the last few days conversing about very difficult issues around race, what it takes to have that kind of meaningful debate and how leaders in the industry are trying to grapple with it. They didn’t talk about it as a “marketing issue” — they talked about it as an issue of equality, justice and humanity. The conversation literally had us in tears. Right there next to a yacht.
- A famous creative person watched a bunch of people labeled “media” out-creative them in a presentation. He got caught off-guard… and he learned something… and he was (kind of) happy about it. The competitive juices started flowing and he made us laugh. Right there next to a yacht.
- A group of kick-ass CEO’s (who happened to be female) talked about the times they were interviewed by the press and how they are always asked about what it’s like to be a female CEO… instead of being asked what it’s like to be a CEO. Period. And then, after such an inspiring day, one of the delegates said it wasn’t right to have a panel of women leaders and have them all be white… and to think I had been so happy because I knew five years ago I wouldn’t have even been able to fill a CEO panel with women. A conscience. Past, present and future. In the distance, we saw a yacht.
- A funky agency president talked about how we must make the case for investing in marketing, that if we can’t figure out the ROI we aren’t doing our jobs. It’s no longer enough to just succumb to the notion that half an advertiser’s investment is being wasted. Then he stayed around to talk to the delegates after the talk was over because he had some questions for them. Then, as he walked past the yachts on the way out, he said, “talking with them was the highlight of my week.”
- When asked to do a talk on creativity, the CEO of one of most highly-regarded creative agencies in the world said, ‘I’d rather do a talk on leadership… without leaders making hard choices, there is no room for creativity.” And so he did. No yacht necessary.
- One day was dedicated to discussions focused on “critical issues in media.” We didn’t talk about planning and buying and programmatic and procurement. We talked about creativity, leadership, authenticity, value creation, privacy, data, race, gender, and making the business case, reminding us once again that while we are in the business of commerce, our place in it is the part about humanity and connection. It occurred to me that I don’t even know whose yachts those are.
- Many leaders talked about the future of the agency business… the very people who built the biggest agencies in the world talked about the pressure they face to innovate. They shared their experiences, new initiatives and some of their successes, but then they looked out at the group and asked for help and ideas. And then they probably went off to a yacht to think about the suggestions from the young people who will either help them change, take over for them or replace them. Probably all three.
- A very famous celebrity from outside the advertising industry gave a talk about the importance of craft and focusing on “doing what you do,” without regard for social media or the number of likes you get. He probably owned one of the yachts.
- A very famous businessman who contributed to the outcome of the 2016 election “withdrew” from the Festival. He never should have been invited there in the first place. Shame on the decision that was made to have him and thanks to the creative director in London who sawed his/her Lion in half, sent it back and reminded the organizers that we have a collective conscience, and more important than that, a responsibility. Yachts seem silly compared to the damage that data without integrity can do.
- A chief creative and cutting edge thinker sent us a note on the last day that said as a result of question one our delegates asked about gender, he changed the content of his presentation from the main stage and he acknowledged that he hadn’t pushed himself hard enough to think of the question himself. He probably didn’t have time to go on yacht.
- Conversations happened in line for the Pride party at the Google Beach. They showed us another kind of classroom, one where you reflect on the day and you think about how the world has changed so much that you are waiting an hour to even get into a place where you can celebrate Pride with a group of strangers. There was no yacht. But there were people to glitter-paint your face.
- A group of top executives volunteered their time to serve as advisors to the six teams in our Academy, to help them flex and stretch their strategic and creative muscles to strengthen their work. They sat in beanbag chairs and on tables and on the floor. They just wanted to help. Yachts were the furthest things from their minds.
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.
Jane Melvin and Charles Courtier are the Deans of the Cannes Lions Media Academy. Please get involved. The world needs leaders.