Rethinking the Publicis Pullout: Awards Shows Like Cannes Are About More Than Just the Awards

Exposure to people and ideas that differ from our own can bring inspiration

Aftershocks from Publicis’ decision to take a year off from major conferences and awards shows are still reverberating through the cafes and nap rooms of top creative agencies around the world.
It’s about more than rosé and parties, we say. It’s even about more than the best global creative talent and ideas all in one place, we say. Better creative means better business results, we say. It’s not about the awards, we say. Well, sometimes it is, but not always.

Tracy Brady

Publicis Groupe chairman and CEO Arthur Sadoun dutifully held an open Twitter session to offer transparency and address questions surrounding the budget-cutting measure. But questions, some vigorous head nodding and no small amount of indignation remain. As many thoughtful pieces have pointed out, it’s not just about the awards (or the yachts or the networking). It’s about the global exchange of ideas, talent, efficiency of partner meetings, creative integrity and seeing the best, most effective work our collective minds are capable of.
But actually, that’s not it either. It’s about something else.
It’s about everything else that travel, access and listening to people who are vastly different from us do for our minds and ultimately for our work. It’s about exposure.
We can all agree that Cannes is the ultimate global exchange for the best creative work, ideas and minds in our industry. It’s great to win a Lion or 10, but, as Epsilon CCO John Immesoete pointed out recently, all the Lions (or Clios or Pencils) in the world don’t matter if you haven’t moved the growth needle in the client’s business. Your CMO really doesn’t care how many awards your CCO has won. And why should she?
What Cannes—and One Show, and the Clio Awards, and SXSW, and CES—offers is access to ideas, people, culture and thinking that just doesn’t come at a brainstorming session in the creative director’s office. Or the nap room. Or even the creative off-site team-building camping trip.
Where else can you hear Pussy Riot school marketers about politics, brand activism and Russian narratives?
Where else can you watch the world’s most successful businesspeople talk passionately and personally about the importance of failure?
Where else can you witness a hilarious, disabled American Muslim comedienne of Palestinian descent make a roomful of mostly white executives laugh and open their minds about bias, diversity and opportunity?
Where else can you see the CMO of a global consumer-packaged-goods company demonstrate how changing attitudes about gender stereotypes improved their sales?
Where else can you have a meal with a German planner, a Korean designer, a Somali-British newscaster, an African director, an American rap star and an Argentinian strategist? This is perspective you don’t get commuting on the F train.
Where else can you meet 15 talented, ambitious, intelligent young women who fought harder for their creative careers than you’ve ever fought for anything?
All these moments offer inspiration, empathy and connection to humanity. Which we (and by we I mean we global citizens, not just ad industry folk) need like never before. Look around. Exposure not only forces us to think and solve problems with a different mindset, it makes us ask different questions. It enables us to create better work, be better colleagues, better leaders, stronger parents and better humans.
Take a year off, if only to remember how lucky you are and to make sure you are looking for the right things when you go back. Inspiration can come from anywhere, but most of the time, it strikes not when you’re winning, but when you’re listening.

Tracy Brady is vp of communications Hill Holliday.