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Sustainability Creative Works Cannes Lions

Cut the bullshit, not the creativity


By Jenni Baker | Senior Editor

June 29, 2023 | 5 min read

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The Drum caught up with Porter Novelli’s Sarah Shilling in Cannes to explore why it’s time for marketers to cut the bullshit and instil confidence in teams and partners to unleash creativity.

Cut the bullshit, not the creativity

Cut the bullshit, not the creativity

There’s a lot of ‘corptalk’ and not enough ‘corpwalk’ when it comes to creativity, especially with sustainability and purpose-led creative. True creativity comes from keeping a long-term purposeful commitment alive, says Sarah Shilling, EMEA executive vice-president at Porter Novelli and WACL member.

With tighter budgets, new data and privacy rules, a cost of living crisis, pressure on driving purpose-led ambitions and an artificial intelligence (AI) revolution underway, Shilling believes that the industry has lost its confidence.

Speaking to The Drum in Cannes, Shilling said: “What we see at Cannes is always the brilliant shiny tip of the iceberg excellence and not the hidden underside of stuff that never sees the light of day. There’s pressure to prove value for every dollar and put purpose at the heart of a creative idea but a creative idea doesn’t have to be purposeful to be brilliant. It’s time for the industry to call time on politics and power plays, leave egos at the door, and have a creative confidence overhaul.”

Hard-wiring creative confidence

Today’s audiences are quick to call out brands when they are inauthentic – and that’s where many brands get caught out, when they are seen as being tokenistic or jumping onto a trend.

“You need to look at the brand culture first – it’s right under many companies’ noses how best to appeal to customers, while attracting others,” says Shilling. “A creative idea needs to be authentically hard-wired to your values, not just purpose for purpose’s sake. Powerful purpose-led and sustainable creativity is a long-term commitment, not a campaign.”

Porter Novelli has been cutting through the #corptalk and closing the ‘say do’ gap by putting honest communications at the heart of business. Shilling believes that the best creative ideas have four elements to them: values-based, human-first, insight-led, data-proofed. “We’ve been approaching data like a deer with clients as many are still overwhelmed by it,” she says. “By us helping to interpret data in turn gives us and the client creative confidence. If creative is hard-wired to an insight and backed by data, it will fly.”

Curiosity as a catalyst for creativity

The problem, according to the Lions State of Creativity Study 2022, is that only 12% of clients feel ‘extremely confident’ convincing their CFO to invest in creativity. A huge challenge for CMOs, Shilling says, is to stay on top of trends and have the ability for agility.

“TikTok trends break in minutes. Digital has no walls. Social breaks in seconds. You can spend six months creating an ad, but creatively responding to a trend or news needs to happen in six minutes (or hours),” she says. “The creative window is getting squeezed, which is requiring a new kind of creative talent. When companies struggle with agility, that impacts creativity.”

For businesses to breed a creative culture, they need to first define creativity. “It’s not the big idea, it’s having the mindset to want to do things differently or find a better way,” says Shilling. “In many ways curiosity is the catalyst for creativity.

“Clients look to agencies for cultural relevancy, to be all over the trends and have their finger on the pulse. There needs to be space to drive that. Creativity needs to be learned in many ways.”

Making creativity everyone’s business

To unlock creative confidence within client and agency teams, creativity needs to be taken out of the creative department to empower everyone in the business. That starts by redefining what it is.

“A bit like new business, creativity is everyone’s business,” she explains. “It’s everyone’s responsibility in the agency to drive growth. The same with creativity. You need everyone driving the creativity agenda swell and then it becomes truly amazing.”

“Collaborativity is key,” she adds. And while she admits she’s stolen that line from Pepsi’s CEO speaking last year in Cannes, she believes it will continue to be a theme: “There’s no space for egos – which, as we know in agency life, is often hard.”

Shilling shares a final word of advice: “Close the say do gap, cut the bullshit and if you are looking for a sustainable or purpose-led idea, back it up. Be in it for the long-term, not the campaign, and be bold.”

Head over to The Drum TV for highlights from the interview, and to explore how creative confidence was reflected in award-winning work from Cannes Lions.

Sustainability Creative Works Cannes Lions

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Porter Novelli

Porter Novelli is the strategic communications company built on purpose to do business better. The way we bring this to life in EMEA is by closing the say-do gap - to create deeply authentic influence and advocacy campaigns. Our key capability areas are; brand growth, corporate counsel, employee engagement and purpose & impact.

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