After Cannes, Agency Professionals Are Optimistic (but Also Realistic) About the Industry

Creatives, strategists, executives and more weigh in

Many praise the renewed focus on inclusivity, equity and gender issues; many also wonder if it's all talk.
Cannes Lions

Whether you were walking up and down the Croisette or watching from afar, you probably noticed a decidedly different feel to this year’s Cannes Lions. The industry got past Publicis’ well-documented pullout (though people are still talking about it), and in its place came a level of inspiration that some said had been missing among the platforms and ad-tech yachts that previously dominated the landscape.

Though there was some grumbling that the awards part of Cannes (why it was started in the first place) didn’t get the attention it deserved, there were new award categories as well as bubbling action around diversity, inclusion, equality and accessibility.

To get a feel for where heads were after a week in the South of France, Adweek asked industry professionals if they emerged from Cannes Lions more optimistic, pessimistic or realistic. While there was a great deal of optimism, there was also a dose of reality for the broader marketing ecosystem.

The optimists

Ben Jones, creative director, Google:
[It felt] gloomy going in, but [I felt] inspired leaving. [There were] sincere explorations of how to do and be better.

Marques Gartrell, vp, creative director, Deutsch:
Even in the last 20 years or so, the industry has seen swings in what was deemed best in creative—from years where it was pure entertainment, to years it was ads no one could even verify, to ideas that appropriate social causes purely for the purpose of success. It felt like this year’s [winners] struck an encouraging balance of creative that was responsible in cause marketing and how it authentically connects with consumers (Nike), ads that connected with consumers in clever yet functional ways (Burger King) and ads that know we should entertain consumers (HBO).

Eric Moore, CEO, Elephant:
I’m always optimistic, but this year at Cannes it is clear that the shift is finally taking place and the most interesting conversations, and panels were produced, led and participated in by women and women of color.

"What I am utterly bored with about Cannes as a whole is the completely irrelevant crowd and companies that are just there to snap a photo on a boat and pretend like they had something to do with something.”
Mandana Mellano, head of marketing, Thinknear by Telnav

Leigh Browne, creative director, GSD&M:
It’s always inspiring to see so much great work from around the world. So that makes me optimistic. But I’m realistic about the challenges advertising is facing. We still have a lot of work to do around diversity and equality, but we’ve come so far in the last few years. I feel like we’re making real progress. I mean, to see an entire campaign about vulvas? Amazing.

Mandana Mellano, head of marketing, Thinknear by Telnav:
At the heart of Cannes is something very simple: Creativity. And creativity is always inspiring and exciting. Despite all the challenges facing the industry, great ideas still prevail and brave brands who step out of the “safe” zone, still win. [However], what I am utterly bored with about Cannes as a whole is the completely irrelevant crowd and companies that are just there to snap a photo on a boat and pretend like they had something to do with something.

Leeann Leahy, CEO, The VIA Agency:
It seems that we’ve finally turned a corner from talking about the demise of advertising and have shifted to a more optimistic outlook that’s centered around creative partnerships and collaboration.

Pete Kim, CEO, MightyHive:
Following four days of nonstop meetings, at the most senior levels, the need and desire for industry change is crystal clear. This is no longer something that is “around the corner” or “maybe next year.” The time is now.

Scott Harkey, co-founder and managing partner, OH Partners:
My biggest takeaway from this year’s Cannes is that creativity is alive, and agencies are more valued than ever by brands who get it. I feel more motivated and encouraged than ever to do great work in this industry.

Kiran Smith, CEO, Arnold Worldwide:
There is a renewed focus on brand storytelling—and I know there is a lot of debate in the industry about the word “storytelling.” Fine. Call it what you want. What we are talking about is finding creative solutions to deliver messaging to consumers in meaningful ways. I’m optimistic that there is a renewed focus on the importance of creativity in our business.

“I like to think that Cannes is evolving from a rather seedy, greedy and unappetizing cocktail of [the industry] at its worst, to a place of real debate and positive change."
Aimee Luther, managing director, Fortnight Collective

Megan Dahlman, executive producer, PS260:
I am an optimist and inspired. I love the sense of community and all the people that you come in contact from all over the world.

Brian Salzman, founder and CEO, RQ:
[I am] ultimately an optimist because I believe in the power of what we do. But Cannes this year was overflowing with programming and content about inclusivity and women’s equality, and I thought, “When are we going to stop talking about it and [start] doing it?” I was frustrated to see the incredible minds and creative talent present, and there was a lot of talk. We have a responsibility as an industry to lead cultural change. Let’s stop talking and start doing. I know we can do it.

Aimee Luther, managing director, Fortnight Collective:
I like to think that Cannes is evolving from a rather seedy, greedy and unappetizing cocktail of [the industry] at its worst, to a place of real debate and positive change. And maybe the folk at Extinction Rebellion are thinking along these lines too? The very fact that they turned up and unfurled their supersized banner at Cannes shows they too believe in our positive power to change the future.

The realists

Laurel Rossi, co-founder, Creative Spirit:
There were many important topics and judging by the attendance at some of the sessions at the event, I’m guessing that while there was plenty of programming, there was less engagement than I expected.

Chris Breen, CCO, Chemistry:
I was encouraged that the talk of the festival was around change and diversity, but I left feeling hollow. On the biggest stage in the world, we were celebrating the bare minimum. We need more strides made for change and diversity in our industry.

Camillo LaCruz, chief strategy officer, Sparks & Honey:
On one hand, my experience as part of the Creative Data jury was incredibly rewarding, as it’s easy to see an industry growing more comfortable with very sophisticated data collection and processing technologies. On the other hand, we still have significant work ahead when it comes to defining data privacy and ethics standards ahead of regulators/policymakers who have demonstrated a limited understanding of the data and technologies we are starting to incorporate in our work.

Alex Brezzi, associate strategy director, Carat:
We’re talking at a high level about many of the challenges facing our industry (and potential solutions). Bringing the learnings back into our respective workplaces? That’s sometimes where the next steps feel unclear with a lot of the topics. While I am feeling inspired and optimistic about the general discussion that’s been had, actually transforming business practices is going to take time. As one of our presenters mentioned, “We’re trying to solve the world’s problems in a 48-minute panel.”

Mae Karwowski, CEO and founder, Obviously:
Usually at a conference like this, the industry’s big issues percolate under the surface. You hear people whispering at events about troubles and controversies, and the drama is hidden from the main stage. Here this year, there was a surprisingly open atmosphere where the big topics were discussed out in the open.

The optimistic realists

Jaclyn Ruelle, managing director, Cultural Impact Lab at The Martin Agency:
I believe there is always inspiration to take away from what is powering the world’s most interesting and talked-about work. I’m a realist in that we still need to do a lot as an industry to be better diversified, be better collaborators and to find ways to give back. A lot of these conversations feel like we’ve been on autopilot for [a while], so let’s move toward progress. Less talking, more doing.

Abbey Klaassen, president, New York, 360i:
I’m optimistic because we are reinventing old channels and ways of working and that are incredibly exciting; I’m a realist because doing so is hard work, can sometimes be a little painful, and requires perseverance.

"Short-termism has been taking up an increasing piece of the marketing communications pie. This short-sighted context that creativity is forced to operate in makes it harder to create long-term business growth."
Eric Zunich, chief strategy officer, DDB North America

Amanda Richman, U.S. CEO, Wavemaker:
Advertising’s impact in shaping culture, inspiring activism and motivating change was on stage this year at Cannes—we’re a force for good, and we’re using it.

Shane Ankeny, president, North America, Havas Media:
I think this is an incredibly exciting time for our industry, so I’m an optimist. But I understand that it won’t be easy to take full advantage of all that is in front of us, so I’m a realist. The potential is great, but the task is daunting.

David Eastman, CEO, BSSP:
I’m realistic about the present and optimistic about the future. Realistic to realize that change isn’t going to happen overnight, but optimistic that the most important issues in our industry are now getting the oxygen of airtime, and the commitment from key organizations, that they need to create and sustain meaningful change.

The realistic, pessimistic optimist

Eric Zuncic, chief strategy officer, DDB North America:
[I am] optimistic because of the depth of conversation around the importance of creativity and, specifically, emotion in driving brand and business growth. [Yet], short-termism has been taking up an increasing piece of the marketing communications pie. This short-sighted context that creativity is forced to operate in makes it harder to create the long-term business growth [the industry is] so good at. And my pessimism stems from our collective acknowledgment of this shift, with little discussion during the week on how to overcome it.

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