Cannes Lions: a lesson in culture and leadership

By Joanne Wunder

June 21, 2019

This year was my first time attending the Cannes Lions International Festival for Creativity, so it has taken some time to digest the volume and variety of inspiration I absorbed over the week. There was creativity in abundance – the Pharma Grand Prix winner, McCann/GSK’s Breath of Life app was a beautiful intersection of deep patient insights and cultural relevance. There was no shortage of entertainment – attendees could enjoy pop gigs at Spotify Beach and cocktails at Pinterest beach (I admit, I had my share of rosé during the week). But what struck me most was the significant red thread running through the talks, panel discussions and the campaigns being showcased – equality, diversity and inclusion. Senior executives of tech, ad agencies and big brand houses all agreed on one thing – the pressing and fundamental need to ensure that the creative industries recruit and empower a more diverse and representative and workforce.

The fringe programme at Cannes embraced this theme. The Diversity Collective hosted a packed series of talks throughout the week, every day tackling a different “ism” – racism, ageism, tokenism – with the take home message, “where inclusive creativity begins is where brands win.” The Female Quotient Lounge was also a dominating force in the fringe programme, hosting a series of sessions on inclusive leadership, creating a culture of belonging and tackling gender bias. The Female Quotient CEO, Shelley Zalis was particularly eloquent when discussing how women can be effective by leading with empathy. On the flip side was a talk with Mark Pritchard, P&G Chief Brand Officer and actor Justin Baldoni, exploring whether some men experience gender equality as an attack on masculinity, and how to address it.

So how can this translate into creativity for brands? One breathtaking demonstration was the Dove partnership with Girl Gaze and Getty Images, #ShowUs. Advertisers are being encouraged to show more authentic and non-stereotypical versions of beauty by using this library of stunning images of female-identifying and non-binary individuals. The Health and Wellness Grand Prix winner, IKEA “ThisAbles” from McCann, worked with disabled people to co-create hacks making the most popular IKEA products more accessible.

Most impressive to me was the #TouchofCare campaign, which expressed the Vicks brand values through extraordinary stories of family bonding, covering transgender parents, disabilities and serious disease. Not only does #TouchofCare engage audiences around human stories to tackle discrimination, it also acts as a community force for good, supporting an orphanage in a deprived community in India.

I was amazed, inspired and moved by the wide variety of creativity on display at Cannes, but the main thing I took away was an important leadership lesson.  Creating a culture of inclusivity at work, and recruiting and empowering a diverse workforce is critical to success in the creative and communications industries. And it is the only way we can create campaigns that truly resonant with our audiences and that act as a force for good.