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A feminist guide to Cannes Lions 2017

By Candace Kuss | director of social media

June 14, 2017 | 20 min read

If you are lucky enough to have a delegate badge for the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity, you have hundreds of official seminars and talks (not to mention the fringe festival) fighting for your attention, in addition to the all-important award shows.

feminists at Cannes

The Cannes Lions team keeps making real progress toward gender equality in their selection of judges. In 2017, 43% of the juries are women. This marks an increase from 40% on 2016 and over double the 21% five years ago in 2012. Well done to Lions Festivals for this commitment — which far outstrips the dismal and static percentage of female creative directors in ad land by the way.

However, the agencies themselves programme most of the seminars. And there is no escaping the fact that women are greatly outnumbered on all the main stages. The manel is alive and well inside the Palais. As my past posts show (2016, 2015, 2014). the agencies sadly aren’t making the same progress towards equality as the organisers.

So in an effort to gender balance your week, I’ve highlighted top sessions featuring talented women sharing their insight, experiences, wit and wisdom.

Saturday 17 June

Early birds in Cannes will learn something from the intriguingly named:

Win, Work, Sell Out, Repeat

Hosted by: heat | 12:00 - 12:45, Debussy Theatre

Joyce Chen and Emily Moore will no doubt make some of us feel like slackers as they tell the story of creating their award winning documentary short film ‘Refugee’, while working full time day jobs.

Sunday 18 June

Lions Health continues on Sunday, but you don’t have to work in that industry to check out:

Communication, Connection, Personalisation

Hosted by Facebook | 10:00 - 10:45, Inspiration Stage

Speakers Meredith Guerriero (Facebook), Carey Reynolds (Allergan), Christine Lindquist (FCB) will discuss how pharma companies are taking a more connected and personal approach to communications. I always like sessions with client, agency, and media viewpoints mixed together.

I’ll be judging the Young Lions for PR on Sunday, but wish I could sneak out for a peek at:

Innovation Lions Shortlist Presentations

Hosted by Lions Innovation | 10:00 - 18:00, Screen Two

Note: this is also happening on Saturday.

Innovation is the only category where the shortlist gives a live presentation to the jury. I love that these are public. So put yourself in jury president Susan Lyne’s shoes and go see first-hand now what we all will be talking about next year. Susan is also the president and managing partner of BBG Ventures, an investment fund focused on women-led tech startups. Get her card!

Monday 19 June

My first day loose in the Palais and there’s a lot on my list. This guide strives to highlight women talking about creativity, rather than talking about the lack of women in creative industries. That said, I’m eager to see acclaimed director Gillian Armstrong and friends discuss:

Women and Cinema

Hosted by: SAWA | 10:00 - 10:45, Lumière Theatre

Speakers Kate Stanners, Gillian Armstrong, Kathryn Jacobs OBE, and Claudia Gonzalez Romo will share some depressing stats, but hopefully offer some solutions as well.

Next up, do some trend spotting with:

Cool Hunting

Hosted by: WGSN | 11:00 - 11:45, The Forum

Carla Buzasi is a past speaker at H+K’s own event series, so I know her talk will be lively and insightful. Predicting trends is what we all do to a certain extent and this is the kind of useful session with news we can use.

My can’t miss of the day is:

#MAKERSMen: Two Sexes – One Mission

Hosted by MAKERS | 14:00 - 14:45, Debussy Theatre

The impressive Emmy Award-winning filmmaker and founder of MAKERS, Dyllan McGee, shares the stage with engineer activist Leland Devon Melvin, a former Nasa astronaut and wide receiver for the NFL’s Detroit Lions. Wow. This is the kind of Cannes-only pairing that makes the festival so special. They’ll be discussing MAKERS Men, a new video series profiling men who have taken concrete actions to help make the world a more equal place for women.

If you’ve ever day dreamed about founding your own startup, don’t miss:

A Closer Look at Entrepreneurship: What It Takes Today

Hosted by Brit + Co | 15:00 - 15:45, Inspiration Stage

Brit Morin is a much-awarded entrepreneur noted for her success in a landscape that’s noticeable hostile to women. Plus, you have to admire someone who names her company after herself. Female names on the door are depressingly rare in ad land.

My personal choice for that time slot will be:

Talent Without Prejudice

Hosted by Mindshare | 15:00 - 15:45, Debussy Theatre

It is hard not to be in love with Charlotte Beers, and how often does a Grand Prix winner – 6 Pack Band – show up live on stage? Nilufar Fowler, Mindshare, and businesswoman Maggie Semple OBE FCGI, join them to discuss how the equality debate is evolving from a focus on gender statistics to be about talent spotting. Hallelujah.

Before gearing up for the awards show, I want to see:

Daughters of the Evolution

Hosted by: Goodby Silverstein & Partners | 17:00 - 17:45, Debussy Theatre

Moderated by award-winning documentarian Lauren Greenfield, this seminar features a panel of kids of top creative directors talking about their mothers’ jobs and the advertising industry. Love the concept and I look forward to meeting Sophie Lefebure, Vivian McHugh, and Kia Medlock. I have a feeling this will be one of the most talked about sessions for 2017.

If you’d rather network than watch the awards, head over to:

Creative Women Change the World

Hosted by Cannes Lions | 18:00 - 20:00, Cannes Lions School

This open gathering for all female delegates is a lovely idea Inspired by the See It Be It initiative. If lack of role models is a barrier, this is the cure. Note: there is also an earlier Meet Up: Women in the Creative Industries at 15:00-15:30 on the Terrace, hosted by Cannes Lions' own amazing Louise Benson.

Tuesday 20 June

I’m admittedly excited about the H+K seminar:

China’s Age of Ambition

Hosted by Huawei and Hill+Knowlton Strategies | 15:00 - 15:45, The Forum

Our contribution to China Day earns its place in my guide as the panel features a female chief marketing officer. Huawei’s (and H+K client) Glory Zhang, joins H+K chief creative officer Simon Shaw, and Fast Company’s Jeff Beer to talk about Eastern ambitions for Western markets. This is a huge and fascinating topic and a must attend for anyone interested in how brands grow.

After being inspired by Glory Zhang, I’m rushing over to see two more female CMOs with dream jobs:

How Athletes and Brands Can Change the World

Hosted by Translation | 16:00 - 16:45, Debussy Theatre

Pam El, chief marketing officer of the NBA and Dawn Hudson, chief marketing officer of the NFL, join Steve Stoute, Translation, and reporter Alexandra Bruell to explore how sports leagues are building innovative partnerships. (I’m just hoping for tips in case the MLB job ever becomes vacant.)

Wednesday 21 June

Some big names will be lighting up the Lumière stage on Wednesday. Worth lining up for:

All Worth It: L'Oréal and Dame Helen Mirren Redefine Diversity

Hosted by McCann Worldgroup | 12:00 - 12:45, Lumière Theatre

It will be a treat to see the mega-talented Dame Helen Mirren in person, although I’d rather hear her talk about life lessons. While it is an issue close to my heart, simply talking about diversity and inclusion can get quite boring.

Building Community through Creativity on Mobile

Hosted by Facebook | 14:00 - 14:45, Lumière Theatre

Speakers: Sheryl Sandberg, Jonathan Mildenhall, Colleen DeCourcy

This is a powerhouse panel and I’m a big fan of all three. But I wouldn’t expect to hear anything unexpected from these media trained pros who will be discussing a theme straight from their own marketing materials.

To really learn something useful about mobile creativity, you’d do better to attend:

Inside the Jury Room - Mobile

Hosted by Cannes Lions | 13:00 - 13:45, The Work & Awards Hub

I think the inside the jury sessions are the golden nuggets of all the Cannes content. Creative excellence is what the festival is all about after all. Plus, you can ask questions and the juries tend to be quite candid. These talks are scattered through out the week, so attend as many as you can to get the most out of your delegate pass.

I have tons of respect for the Geena Davis Institute, so will head over to:

'Skewing Females': the truth about gender stereotypes in ads

Hosted by Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media | 15:00 - 15:45, The Forum

Most ads are targeted towards women. But that doesn’t mean that they understand women. Join Madeline DiNonno, and Brent Choi as they dissect 10 years of Cannes winners.

We haven’t solved gender balance in adverting (yet) but the seminar line-up shows the influence of the Entertainment Lions, with quite a bit of chat on women in the movie business.

You Can’t Win without Women: Female Filmmakers for the Win

Hosted by Refinery29 | 16:00 - 16:45, Inspiration Stage

Cheers to Refinery29 for launching Shatterbox Anthology, a short-film initiative supporting female filmmakers.

Speakers: Amy Emmerich, Gabourey Sidibe,, Kevin Reilly

Thursday 22 June

Cannes is an amazing place to spot talent. If you ever work on film or video projects, check out:

Future Five: Female Directors to Watch

By SheSays and The Voice of a Woman | 13:00 - 13:30, Future Fives

NOTE: This is the inside the Palais part of the VOWSS showcase from SheSays and The Voice of a Woman celebrating the best short films created by women. This excellent fringe event is Wed, 21 June 2017, 14:00 – 18:00 CEST and free tickets are here.

Back inside the Palais on Thursday, I predict all eyes will be on this session:

Creativity and Responsibility: Using Our Voices to Promote Gender Equality

Hosted by P&G | 13:00 - 13:45, Lumière Theatre

Madonna Badger, this year’s See It Be It Ambassador, was the overwhelming standout of the 2016 festival, earning standing ovations and new recruits for her #WomenNotObjects movement. She also won brand projects from client P&G, so it is fitting that Marc Pritchard, P&G’s chief brand officer, invited her to share his stage, along with Tina Brown and Sheryl Sandberg. And while this session may be (mostly) women talking about women, the commitment and participation of P&G makes all the difference. (Proud to add that P&G is a H+K client.)

Now, normally this guide doesn’t showcase the popular star-powered sessions. But I have to make an exception for:

11th Annual Grey Music Seminar

Hosted by: Grey | 15:00 - 15:45, Lumière Theatre

This year Grey brings Russian punk rock group Pussy Riot to Cannes. In a change from the mature icons of previous seminars (Iggy Pop, Marilyn Manson, Yoko Ono, et al), this band and what they stand for couldn’t be more relevant to today. Famous for anti-Putin protests that resulted in prison sentences for a couple of the members, these feminists can teach us all what standing up for your beliefs really means.

Plus, the session is co-hosted by Alice Ericsson, executive creative director of Grey New York. Which in my memory is the first time Grey has put one of their own women on stage for this high-profile event. About time, my friends.

Get there earlier, as this session will be packed.

Friday 23 June

Friday is a perfect day for serendipity on the Croisette. Have lunch with someone you really admire. Then go hang out at:

YouTube Beach

Hosted YouTube / Google | 09:00 - 21:00, Plage Gray and Royale

This is one of my fave spots anytime to be honest. On Friday it is hosting #PrideForEveryone day, celebrating diversity and LGBT+ inclusion.

There are quite a few worthy seminars on Friday, but sadly none that fit the model for this guide. I’ll be lining up with the rest of the WPP family (and a few fellow Patriot fans) for the annual Cannes Debate with Sir Martin Sorrell, Robert Kraft, and Ron Howard. While impressive, it’s predictably another manel.

Saturday 24 June

If you make it to Saturday, my advice is take a wander through the winning work on display, or check out one of the local Cannes-do ideas from Pinterest. Enjoy the glow of a week of inspiration and make notes for the presentation you’ll give to your team back at the ranch.

The seminar schedule gets predictably light on the last day of the festival. And while I am a HUGE fan of the See It Be It program, I am not at all tempted by Facing Our Fear: Live (13:45 - 14:15 in the Debussy Theatre) which seems more a cliché feeding exercise than a step forward for women in the industry. If the inspirational stories of Madonna Badger or Pussy Riot isn’t enough to send you back to your agency with renewed bravery, this won’t be either.

Have a must see seminar lead by an amazing women that I missed? Or an awesome fringe event? Tweet me @CandaceKuss.

Candace Kuss is director of social media at Hill+Knowlton Strategies. Find her on Twitter and Instagram

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