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Does Cannes Lions need to do better on DE&I?

By Jessica Hargreaves-Paczek, CEO



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June 28, 2024 | 7 min read

In the third diary installment of a mini-series written by Cannes Lions attendees at this year’s festival, Jessica Hargreaves-Paczek of PrettyGreen reflects on her experience as a first-timer – and the issue of inclusion.

Cannes, looking towards the sea

Humor, purpose, and diversity were all themes of this year's Cannes Lions for Jessica Hargreaves-Paczek / Jim Thirion via Unsplash

While attending Cannes Lions primarily in my PrettyGreen hat – figuratively speaking, not literally; agency merch is a debate for another time – I was also there as a mentor, or ‘Auntie,’ for the Brixton Finishing School’s talented alumni.

Seven of its students had won all-inclusive spots to visit the Arise Future Leaders cohort. These alumni embraced every opportunity in their packed schedule, from breakfast briefings to evening beach parties hosted by the likes of Campaign, Google, and Spotify.

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Simone Johnson, head of new business and strategic partnerships at Brixton Finishing School, summarized the week: “It was warming to see diverse talent thrive in these spaces and take up space. There is still work to do in making the space more inclusive, but we had voices, seats and allies and a lot of this was down to initiatives such as Arise, Black Out, Join our Table, MEFA, and the WACL Empower Cafe. There is such power in community and network.”

From our agency and a personal point of view, the goal was to understand the evolving Cannes experience, from the great to the disappointing.

Daily walks past the Women in Advertising & Communications Leadership (WACL) Empower Cafe meant I could stop to see amazing leaders discuss topics including inclusive storytelling, female leadership in media, advertising and tech and how to create allyship in business. Also covered was a very real issue for me attending Cannes as a parent – how working parents can share childcare.

Yahoo hosted incredible panels with the Future of Girlhood and Are We Leaving Men & Boys Behind, while at the Martinez Hotel, The Female Quotient was an inspirational and connected space.

One of our Brixton Finishing School alumni, Munraj Singh Chawla, told me: “My biggest highlight from Cannes has to be the sheer amount of incredible people I met. I can’t tell you how many nights I paused for a moment to look around as it struck me that I was on a beach with creative directors, global executive creative directors and chief creative officers who I had admired for years but would never have had the opportunity to meet, let alone all at once.”

On the agenda

Humor was a theme running throughout the week, with brands that successfully combine purpose and humor in their marketing shown to be outperforming the competition. Examples cited include Specsavers‘ ‘The Misheard Version,‘ Who Gives A Crap and Liquid Death. Expect to see more heartwarming and humorous entries at award shows later on this year.

Elsewhere, we learned rational campaigns need £10m more spent on amplifying them to drive the same results as it would for emotional campaigns. Our homework is to check out the Cost of Dull theory; we recommend you do, too. And to keep pushing clients, as the judges’ panel talks highlighted, because an idea that makes you nervous but is brave will often deliver a greater return on investment (ROI). If it doesn’t keep you up at night, will it have a lasting impact? For this, you need trust.

Marketing’s depiction of male masculinity hasn’t changed much for over 80 years and is an unhelpful one of single-dimensional stereotypes. The Unstereotype Alliance presented a thought-provoking presentation on how marketing has contributed to shocking trends in male mental health and the so-called manosphere. The group shared critical steps that brands and agencies need to take to correct course and create a better future for us all.

Gwyneth Paltrow led an honest and reflective interview at Amazon Port, discussing how Goop’s growth strategy revolves around curation and expansion, which is often led by understanding what isn’t right rather than what is.

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On a panel discussing editorial integrity and fact-checking stories in an age of fake news (roll on the UK General Election), journalist Katty Kay stated: “No one remembers who got it first; everyone remembers who got it wrong.” Words to live by in the PR industry, we think.

Sadly, nothing is perfect. While at Cannes, we heard too many instances of guests being refused entry to beach clubs or having their restaurant reservations canceled upon arrival for one reason: ethnicity. These appeared not to be one-off incidents.

Many of the campaigns showcased at Cannes Lions focused on purpose, diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and change. But, it seems there is an urgent need for a local DE&I campaign about respect and discrimination.

A tougher approach is needed towards guests, the town and the community that benefits so much from the financial investment the Cannes Lions delivers each year.

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