Q&A: Cannes’ Simon Cook Promises a ‘Creative Reboot’ With First Virtual Event

Festival's managing director discusses the strategy for Lions Live

simon cook
Cannes Lions managing director Simon Cook on what to expect at the 2020 virtual gathering.

Key insights:

In April, organizers of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, advertising’s largest event, canceled the 2020 edition due to the Covid-19 pandemic, marking the first time in nearly 70 years the festival won’t be held.

While the event is slated to return to France in 2021, organizers were determined provide an outlet to engage the creative community this year, as the industry faces the ongoing impact of the pandemic and heightened scrutiny in response to a lack of diversity.

Over the past two months, festival organizers reached out to industry professionals and content creators to develop Lions Live, a free virtual event running June 22-26, the original dates of the in-person festival.

The online event, whose theme is Creativity Matters, will offer more than 40 hours of content including masterclasses, short films, talks from speakers confirmed for the original festival, networking opportunities and debates with industry leaders on topics related to the pandemic and industry diversity. Content will live on a custom Lions Live site for a few months after the event occurs.

Sessions include a conversation on agile storytelling with Spotify's global head of studios Courtney Holt and The Ringer.
Cannes Lions

Simon Cook, managing director of Cannes Lions, said the goal of Lions Live is to offer a widely accessible event for, and by, the community. In conversation with Adweek, Cook discussed the strategy for pivoting to a digital space, why sessions won’t look like Zoom webinars, and how organizers are already looking ahead to 2021.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

What’s been your strategy for curating and producing Lions Live?
Simon Cook: Once we made the decision to cancel, the idea of Lions Live was pretty instant. It seemed like the right thing to do, to support our community and provide a creative reboot for people to look forward to in place of the festival. We’re all experiencing rapidly evolving times. Creativity is not just a mechanism for business growth, but also supporting industry, societal and organizational change. With Lions Live, we’re putting our community front and center, and the community is actually creating much of the content you’ll see.

We tried to avoid putting together a “Zoom fest,” as we’ve been calling it. We all spend enough time on Zoom on a day-to-day basis as part of our jobs. What we tried to do instead was create a curated experience that was content-led, but also inspiring, engaging and creative. Over the week, we’re hoping to showcase and celebrate the power of creativity in driving progress, which is very topical right now.

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Cannes Lions

Can you elaborate on how Covid-19 and the conversation around diversity impacted program topics?
It’s important we provide a platform to reflect what’s happening in the industry and that we not only think about the future in terms of business, but also wider progress. Recent events have influenced the programming, and we’ve had to adapt accordingly. The Lions Live debates, which take place at Cannes every year, will address the Covid-19 crisis and its economic fallout, and the challenges around representation and equality.

How are you producing the content, on the technical side?
Some sessions will be prerecorded. There are also a number of live sessions and debates, because we recognize people like to have a shared experience. We provided people with filming equipment, and people are being resourceful and using their iPhones. Regardless of where you are in the world, there will be certain moments where we invite people to come together, much like they would at the festival. The only difference is the audience will be much wider.

The What I've Learnt series will include a presentation by Trevor Robinson, OBE, creative director and founder of Quiet Storm.
Cannes Lions

What’s been the most challenging part of putting together Lions Live?
The most challenging thing has been creating something appropriate for the medium and the context. Every aspect has to be thought about differently compared to the physical festival. We’ve tried to capture, in many ways, the essence of Cannes Lions. We hope to bring provocative ideas, global insights, debates, opportunities for networking and some surprises. But we want to keep people entertained and things dynamic. It’s hard sometimes to sit and watch someone speak, which is why we’ve enlisted the help of our community to come up with engaging experiences.

What are you already thinking about in terms of what the 2021 festival will look like and how creativity will be recognized?
I think the creative community will be more than ready to come together in 2021, and we hope we build the opportunity for that in the south of France. But I’m pretty certain it will be complemented by a digital offer, which allows more members of our community to take part in the Cannes Lions experience.

And, of course, our juries will be recognizing not one, but two years’ worth of work at the show. There will be breadth and diversity, but I also think the quality of the work will be quite a sight to behold. Looking back at previous recessions and challenging times, there have been big pushes of creativity following periods of limitation and constraint. I think when the lights go down at the award show in 2021, it’s going to be quite a spectacle.

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