A Festival for the Future: How Jose Papa Plans to Keep Cannes Lions Relevant

The managing director talks programming, diversity and more

Jose Papa prepares for his first Cannes Lions as the festival's managing director.
Facebook: Cannes Lions

Next week marks another year of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. For some it’s another trip added to the books, for others it will be the first time experiencing the glory that is Cannes. For Jose Papa it marks his first year at the helm of the festival as the Cannes Lions managing director.

Papa took over the role form Philip Thomas last April. Ahead of the festival next week, Papa spoke to Adweek about what he wants to accomplish in his new role and what the Cannes Lions festival means to him.

Adweek: Your first festival as managing director kicks off next week. How are you feeling about it? 
Jose Papa: It’s definitely an exciting time. Imagine the journey of being here for nine months and discussing all the exciting and fun stuff that makes this place so unique without actually experimenting and living it, despite myself having been there as a delegate but ultimately never in operations. So I am probably the most excited person here in this organization.

When you stepped into the role, what the first thing you wanted to accomplish?
I think it’s a combination of really understanding what we stand for and keeping the essence of what makes Cannes Lions so unique and really praising the sanctity of the Lion, the inspiration that the work drives. At the same time we want to be very honest about the present and really pushing ahead an agenda that shows we are not just about celebrating retrospect, but we are innovators who really look ahead and look into the future and boosting the value proposition that the Cannes Lions brand. Looking at how it can build much more presence within the community that we engage with. I think it’s a combination of honoring our past but being honest about our present challenge, but very hopeful and excited for the future.

What do you make of people who say that the festival has become too big and that industry awards have lost their value?
The fact that we are big is what makes Cannes so interesting and unique. By bringing diverse groups, diverse industries and people from more than 100 countries and by bringing many relevant sectors together, this is what makes this place so magical. Really delivering on the expectations that people have when coming here. The bigger we got the more interesting we became and the more purposeful our proposition is. I think this is really powerful. And I say this with no bias on the second point, we do not recognize such views on the validity of the work because it continues to be the essence that defines the Cannes Lions value proposition. The sanctity of the Lion is quite unique. When we see the volumes and levels of entries we get and engagement, the global engagement we have, I would definitely question the validity of such remarks because there is no such place as Cannes around the true recognition and rewarding of creative journeys. I think it’s become more and more clear to organizations how innovation and creativity intersect and how much value it drives. The awards are a piece of the realization of why creativity is so important.

You mentioned the diversity of the festival. Let’s talk about the representation of juries. This year women have a better representation on Cannes juries. What was that process like to make that happen? 
We work very closely with the industry and we work very closely with our partner agencies who represent over 90 countries. This has been a journey. Today we have more than 50 countries represented in our jury. Since 2012 we have progressed from 20 percent female representation in the juries to this year being 43.5 percent, so I think that it really showcases our commitment. When we engaged the industry we made sure to highlight the criticality for them to bring diverse groups of talent. This is one of the core principles that we follow.

In your opinion, why is it so important to have diverse juries?
We live in a diverse world and talent can be found anywhere and everywhere. We aren’t just talking about ethnicity or gender. We are talking about industry diversification and regions, geographical diversification, the more diverse we get the more representative we are on a global perspective and that creativity can be found anywhere and everywhere. Creativity cannot flourish where there is no diversity.

When it comes to programming for this year, what did you want to focus on?
One of the things that makes Cannes so magical is we usually cannot anticipate what things will arise and this is why this place is so unique. The themes are dependent on the debates that are set there. We do see a lot of discussion on the evolution of technology, what it means and the impact of artificial intelligence, virtual reality, how it changes society and ultimately what diversification means. We love in a very diverse world so what is the impact and how can creativity collaborate to improve diversification. We cannot anticipate the themes because this is actually what makes us so unique.

With so much going on during the week of Cannes, what’s your advice for people to get the most out of the experience?
We have invested a lot in creating a better journey for the delegate. You will see this year our revamped app, which is much more intuitive and it gives in detail all the sections and what you can get from them. It has live content and you can use the app to be much more aligned with what your needs are. We create different experiences for different motivations. You see people who go to be inspired by the work, those who are looking into the networking piece. You create your profile and define what is the value you can add in terms of shared knowledge to someone there and then the platform connects people in a highly purposeful way and creates potentially lifelong relationships. This is a big piece that we are pushing ahead this year. I think we are really obsessed with customer journey and really expect to deliver more and more in order to really reflect our delegate’s expectations.

What are you most looking forward to about this year’s festival?
First again is myself experimenting and materializing the plan for the first time. Taking from the planning sheet and ultimately materializing the various efforts that we deployed. Seeing and making it tangible is something that is exciting me. Seeing this continuation of ourselves setting the tone not just on how we celebrate in retrospect but also how we are defining future trends and really kind of engaging the industry in a way that is not just on celebrating creativity, but what creativity means as you look forward and how much it drives as we look forward. This forward thinking approach that we have is something that I get very excited to see, that we are progressing a lot but given that it is going to be my first one I think it is going to also be a journey of learning, learning how our delegates relate with us, their needs, their expectations, their frustrations. I think it will be a fundamental experience with us continuing to set an even broader tone on our strategic progression in 2018. Our journey this year will be an investigative one as well.