Creativity Agency Culture Business Leadership

What was Cannes Lions like for the ad industry’s creative leaders?


By Sam Anderson | Editor, The Drum Network

June 29, 2022 | 9 min read

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Cannes Lions is over for another year, having completed a full in-person event for the first time since 2019. But what was the week like for the ad industry’s leaders? We asked four industry stars about their experiences – from a veteran to first-timers, and one person spreading their wings away from the Croisette.

Parasols on a beach at Cannes

What was Cannes Lions like for the industry’s leaders and rising stars? / Dominic Spohr via Unsplash

Camilla Kemp, chief executive officer, M&C Saatchi London: the unlikely newbie

I had always been put off by the idea of Cannes. “No way, no thank you,” I’d say. “It’s full of those advertising people.” But this year I realized, given how much my work has always been a huge part of who I am, perhaps I am one of those advertising people? So rather than be rude about it (and them), I decided I should take a look.

I had preconceptions of excessive drinking, egos, cliques, one-upmanship and self-congratulatory hype, So, what did I actually discover?

First, Cannes welcomes newbies. I was apprehensive that, being new, I’d ‘Cannes badly.’ I wouldn’t have the inside track on the best talks and events to attend, the restaurants to be seen in. But it didn’t matter at all. I quickly found lots of fellow first-timers to join my newbie gang and share tips and advice with.

Second, ‘those advertising people’ aren’t dickheads. I met so many brilliant, interesting and inspiring people I wouldn’t have had the chance to meet any other way. Agency folks whose faces are so familiar from industry rags, who are so much nicer and less scary than you might imagine. Incredible clients across industries, generous with their insight, including our own clients from The Department for International Trade who really advocate for the UK creative industry globally. Production companies, platform owners, intermediaries, campaigners, past colleagues, friends... my black book is bursting with joy, and I’m excited to rekindle and start new relationships.

Lastly, the FOMO is real. A bit like a festival with several stages, it’s a nightmare when you hear a great tune in the distance, but you’re a mile away at a different gig. There’s far too much stuff to do, so don’t try to do it all. Absorb everything and anything you can, but don’t panic. It’s supposed to be fuel for your creativity, and soul too.

I’ve come back exhausted, and a little rosé jaded, but also so optimistic about our future as an industry. I’m feeling blessed that it has so many smart, passionate and brilliant people. Thank you, Cannes.

Tamara Littleton, founder and chief executive officer, The Social Element: the reinvigorated veteran

At the industry’s first year back at Cannes, I wanted to focus on doing three things well rather than trying to spread myself too thin: lunch with the DLL (Digital Leading Ladies group), The Social Element’s own lunch on an island (co-hosted with Nurture, which was truly incredible) and speaking on a panel with Creative Equals on Thursday, looking at whether diverse casting is just hiding a problem.

The panel was remarkable. I was joined by Efrain Ayala, global diversity and inclusion director at Reckitt, and it was moderated by Ali Hanan, chief exec of Creative Equals. It’s the first time that I’ve experienced people in the audience interacting with the panel without being asked, and it turned the whole thing into an interactive workshop and people sharing stories and feedback.

This ‘three things’ focus left me lots of time to do what I wanted to do, such as seeing Evan Spiegel, chief exec of Snap, talk to Sara Fisher on the Axios yacht. Or dinner with Giles Ivey, chief exec of MiQ, along with his team. The magical thing about having dinner outside at Cannes is that you bump into people just passing by and connections are made.

I took some time for JOMO (the joy of missing out) while my colleagues enjoyed Fatboy Slim and the Captify party. However, I will shout out one amazing party: the Google Pride party. I met so many industry friends and contacts from the LGBTQ+ community, and it was definitely a welcome space for allies too.

This year at Cannes, I decided it’s OK to do Cannes my way. Never one for a glamorous floaty dress, I’ve finally started to see other people like me there. I chose to do less and be more focused, took away the stress and allowed for more moments of serendipity – as well as lots of visits to the fabulously air-conditioned Drum Arms.

Christie Clark, marketing manager, Found: the rising star

This was my first Cannes Lions experience. I was selected as one of 25 young marketers under the age of 30 to attend the Cannes Lions School’s Brand Marketers Academy. Along with my international group of peers, I got to sit in on the biggest talks of the week and be a part of intimate sessions with the most influential creatives and marketers in the world.

The best moment of the week, for me, was when I got nominated by my peers to be one of the five young marketers that spoke at the CMO Accelerator Program – talking to some of the most influential leaders in our industry as a representative voice for my generation is something that I’m never going to forget and appreciate so much.

I have left Cannes Lions so inspired, so invigorated and so passionate about what I want to do next – it wouldn’t be insane for me to claim that being selected for this course has literally changed my life.

Kate Cox, chief executive officer, Bray Leino: the US explorer

While many of us were at Cannes, I was in the US. I was there to learn, plan and re-charge my creative juices. But I went on an accidental emotional rollercoaster.

I started with an inspiring event hosted by The Experiential Designers and Producers Association at Area15 in Las Vegas. Unbounded by conventional thinking and led by artist and designer Michael Beneville, it brings together artists, creators and visionaries from all over the world, inviting them to collaborate to create wonderment. Area15 is full of multi-sensory exhibitions and activities, blurring boundaries among mediums. Michael, talking on creativity, asked, ‘how do you try to compete with Vegas, arguably the biggest agglomeration of the greatest shows on Earth?’ His answer: you don’t. You use asymmetric tactics and fight in a way that makes the opposition irrelevant. I loved it.

Then a quick trip to Chicago generated unexpected, extreme emotions. Views on abortion are personal, but I found the overturning of Roe v Wade devastating. Women being in control of their bodies, without judgment, should be a basic human right. I found this a shocking, regressive step for a great country. The reassuring counterpoint to this was Chicago Pride. The parade was full of individuals, brands and businesses celebrating diversity. One of Chicago’s biggest events this year, it showed a beautiful, colorful world of belonging. The streets were lined with people out in force to support the LGBTQ+ community. Wholly uplifting. The true spirit of the land of the free.

Creativity Agency Culture Business Leadership

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M&C Saatchi Group

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Bray Leino

We drive growth through creativenergy®, by going beyond, to find the most powerful way. It’s the way we began back in 1973. Before email, before mobile phones, when London was still 6 hours by road, our founders set up shop in a gloriously rural part of the UK. It’s how we grew into a full-service global agency. And it’s how we still look at the world now.

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