What 2 Young Creatives Learned During Their First Trip to Cannes

A pair of Young Lions on awards, sexism and doing great work

Each year at the Cannes Lions festival a group of creatives under the age of 30 from all around the world are invited to attend and participate in the Young Lions Competition. A winning entry in one of the seven categories gives creatives a pair of tickets to the festival and a chance to compete in a second round of the competition. The Young Lions are given a brief and 24 hours to create a brilliant creative idea.  

This year a duo from Deutsch's New York office, Lauren Cooper and Erika Kohnen, had the opportunity to attend the festival after their entry into the print competition for non-profit Variety was selected as the U.S. Print winner. Cooper and Kohnen arrived in Cannes, and while their 24 hour brief did not win them a Young Lions, the duo managed to leave the week with three Lions (one bronze, one silver and one titanium).  

Adweek caught up with the duo a week after the festivities to discuss what it's like being a young creative at one of the industry's biggest events of the year, why sexism is still very much apparent and what it was like walking on stage to accept their very first Lion.

Adweek: Looking back, how would you say your first Cannes experience went?
Kohnen: It was cool to meet all the people from the other countries that won. Even being at Cannes, that was a big thing just to meet super talented people from all over the world …

Cooper: Especially meeting people who are young, because it's really unusual to meet juniors who are in Cannes, so to meet all these people who are under 30 and otherwise probably wouldn't have been able to go, it's really nice.

How did you prepare for the week?
Cooper: There's just no solid way to prepare. The Young Lions competition started the Saturday before everyone gets there. We were there for an unusually long amount of time. We were there for 10 days, most people go for four or five.

Kohnen: We did everything too, from going to some really good talks, to seeing all the work, to parties to meeting people. I think we definitely had a full experience.

Cooper: The one thing we did every day was go down and look at the short lists. Every morning they post all the short lists for the day so we spent at least a solid two hours every day there.

How do you think having this experience so early in your career will benefit you both in the long run?
Kohnen: It's nice in some ways to see what's possible. It makes you think about how far you can go yourself and the kind of work you want to do.

Cooper: I think it's also interesting that there are several things we saw that were based on the same insight, but went in different directions and both won. We did a lot of talking about how it's possible to land on one insight. That's one thing we're afraid of all the time. One of our ideas that we were super excited about before Cannes we saw in Cannes. We just came back and killed it on Monday.

It's a thing though. You're always afraid that someone is going to have your idea and there's this rush to produce work that's great before anybody else thinks of it. We saw several things based on the same insight, both were great and both were still awarded. It's not a crime to have the same insight, but you can have a zillion great executions.

How do you deal with that concern when you're new to the industry?
Cooper: I think we have really good mentors at Deutsch and that's the reason why we love working here. Every day we're free to bring ideas to any brief. There are people here who will nurture that and make sure that we're always free to explore. They always tell us "Don't you ever censor anything you bring to us. Bring us everything and we will tell you if it's bad or if it's been done." We benefit from the people's experience around us.

Kohnen: Which I think, as a junior, having mentors that you admire is one of the biggest and most important things.

Did you find it challenging mixing it up with some of the more seasoned creatives that were in Cannes?
Cooper: We had the benefit of having our senior team there with us … they did a really good job of introducing us to everyone they know. We were more lucky than other juniors who were there for that reason. Our mentors were like "Have you guys met Lauren and Erika? They just won a lion. Talk to them!" When your ECD introduces you that way, everyone stops and talks. There's no way anyone can ignore you at the point.

So no one blew you off?
Cooper: Frequently we found ourselves standing in groups of men unable to get a word out. It wasn't necessarily people from this office, it was just big groups of people … We are both pretty outspoken people and we don't normally enter conversations where we don't talk. For us, there were a lot of moments in Cannes where we learned that's something that we're never going to do when we grow up. It was just situations where we can see ourselves being marginalized that were kind of upsetting. In addition to that though there were plenty of people that did want to hear what we wanted to say and were super excited for us. 

When you're but in a situation like that, what does it make you want to do?
Cooper: We get the opportunity with every single brief, no matter the client or product, we take a minute and say what are the ways that could specifically help women on this? There is always, on every single brief, a page of ideas that are only about women. In that way we get to be a really unique addition to any team.

Kohnen: One of the cool talks we went to at Cannes was for the 3 Percent Conference. They had this panel where they had five women from around the world who talked about their experience in their particular countries. It was cool to hear their experience and listen to the Q&A where people asked questions about how do we solve those kinds of problems.

Cooper: One of the panelists said something the really resonated with us, she said sometimes you sit down in a meeting to come up with a great idea and 10 minutes later you feel like you've got it. That's great, but she made a really great point that in those situations it means you weren't challenged enough. If everyone at that table agrees it means you're not doing a messy enough creative process. And the creative process should be messy. The way you get that is by having people at the table who don't look like you, who don't have the same background as you. We have fights with people that sit at the same table as us all the time, we have fights with each other. That's what makes the creative ideas come. We had some nice talks with some of the men that were there too about what can we do as juniors to fix this.

Kohnen and Cooper's Print work for Variety, which scored them a ticket to Cannes this year.

And what did you learn?
Kohnen: We didn't really get any clear, concise answer about what juniors can do, a lot of it was that it has to come from the top. People who are in power need to make sure that it is a messy creative process, and they're making sure they hire people that are diverse along all lines.

Cooper: The thing we try to do is make sure that we are very vocal whenever we do get an audience with anyone who is up top. I had a really nice conversation with Pete [Favat] our global CCO. He happened to be sitting next to me at the awards and we were watching the Film Lions so everything that came out that I felt was not racially representative or gender representative I was like, "Hey, listen to me." He messaged me the next day and told me that after our conversation, "my eyes are really open now and I've seen some things that you were talking about that I didn't see before and I want you to know I'm speaking out against them."

The poor guy, for three hours I kept saying "Hey! People of color are not represented in the commercial; we're never doing this. Hey! Look at that woman right there. Why does she have to look like that?" He received it really well. I think that's what we bring to the table. Not only are we young and women, but we're super outspoken. We don't think anyone is too big to talk to.

Kohnen: It's a combination of that and bringing ideas. In our ideas we try to think about how advertising can portray women or people of color and making sure that's always a thought in our creative process.

You may not have won the Young Lions competition at Cannes, but you did walk away with some hardware.
Cooper: Our first project ever in this office, and in life, was the first-ever Pinterest Yard Sale. We had a bit of an existing strategy for Krylon, which was this notion that spray paint can turn old, ordinary items into treasures just by giving it a fresh coat of paint. We were tasked with coming up with an activation or an event that could extend that campaign. We found this world's longest yard sale that goes up Route 127, it's through six states up the middle of the country. The designers here made this really beautiful branded van that was all hand drawn calligraphy and we drove up the route and bought 127 things … and spray painted them. When we got back here to New York we put them all on Pinterest and launched Pinterest's buyable pins feature. We sold everything for a massive profit and we donated everything to charity.

What was that moment like, winning your first Lions?
Kohnen: I honestly don't really remember it. I think both of us were focused on not tripping.

Cooper: We went up there and I was just fully engaged in not tripping. The cool thing was we went up there in a big crowd, the whole team. They were all closer to the stage than we were. They all stopped and flattened themselves against the wall, saying no one is going up there before Lauren and Erika.

Kohnen: They let us accept the award, which was really cool.

Cooper: We ended up walking past every one of them and they were all saying "good job, go get em girls!" Some of the Young Lions that we met earlier, we didn't realize, but they were all there. They instantly started messaging us pictures of us from random spots in the theater.

What's next on the agenda for you two?
Kohnen: We want to go back to Cannes. We want to make some good work. For the next year our biggest goal is to make good work.

Cooper: That's our favorite thing about the Krylon work. In addition to it winning all these great awards, it was just really good for our client. Frequently creatives are criticized for wanting to make award-worthy work and that's a bit self-serving. This only was award-worthy because it performed so well for Krylon. The more people who do that, ads that also translate into great performance for the product, the more great award stuff we will see.