While the number of panels and sessions related to diversity and inclusion have increased over the years at Cannes Lions, less than 2% of attendees are people of color or members of underrepresented communities. This year, however, an ambitious week-long activation called Inkwell Beach will shine a spotlight on the topic with an extensive roster of celebrities and industry figureheads.
Led by Cannes Can: Diversity Collective founder Adrianne C. Smith, the impressive list of presenters includes stars like CBS This Morning’s Gayle King, actress Gabrielle Union, and model Naomi Campbell. Additionally, marketing leaders like P&G’s Marc Pritchard, WPP’s Mark Read and Jacqui Canney, Uniworld’s Monique Nelson, Omnicom’s Tiffany Warren, Fractured Atlas’ April Reign, Twitter’s God-Is Rivera, consultant Glenn Singleton, FCB’s Vita Harris and Oberland agency founder Bill Oberlander will present on a wide range of topics designed to inspire action around diversity and inclusion.
“There is so much excitement and great creative energy at Cannes Lions. If you walk down the Croisette at night and take a minute to listen, you’ll hear the best hip-hop and R&B songs being played,” Smith recently told Forbes about the genesis of the idea for the activation.
“You might even get to see a top entertainer/celebrity on the main stage at the Palais but very seldom would you see large numbers of industry executives of color on the main stage. There were also a few talks about the industry’s issues as it related to equality, diversity and inclusion scattered throughout the festival, but unfortunately, those conversations were not translating into any actionable steps.”
“Inkwell Beach Cannes is the culmination of incredible people coming together around bringing true global cultural diversity to the Cannes Lions,” added Laura Mignott, Inkwell Beach executive producer and CEO of Dflash, in a statement. “The results speak for themselves with over 100 speakers, from the world’s leading brands, agencies and publishers … and having Gayle King, making her Cannes Lions debut, is truly an honor.”
For her part, King, who opens the week’s events on Monday with Read and Canney of WPP, sees the festival as a chance to learn.
“I really don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I’m going to take it all in but, certainly, as a woman of color, I know how important diversity is … and I think that quite often what happens when it comes to advertising and diversity is that it’s filled with all sorts of stereotypes. I think the best thing that you can do is show people of color like everybody else.”
While brands continue to make progress in front of and behind the camera—and make more demands of their agencies to hire more diverse talent—the industry’s history cannot be ignored.
King, who will also be covering the week in her capacity as editor at large for Oprah Winfrey’s O Magazine, told Adweek, “I loved what Marian Wright Edelman said years ago: ‘you can’t be it if you don’t see it.'”
“There was a time when you would watch TV and never see a black person in any commercial,” she added. “It’s changed, and the thing that I’m most encouraged about is that at least advertisers are aware of that and I get the sense that they want to do something about it.”
On the media front, an earlier study from the American Society of News Editors indicated that 83% of the news workforce and 80% of leadership is white. King noted that change “has to start at the top … someone in the head chair that also believes in [diversity and inclusion].”
While the data shows a need for change, King did point out some anecdotal bright spots.
“I’ve talked to some CEOs who won’t even move forward on a project if it doesn’t include people of color,” she said. “It really does take something like that, and it also takes including more people of color in the decision-making process. You have to have a seat at the table to weigh in.”
To that point, King is surprised that some problematic advertising ever makes its way into the public domain.
“I look at some of these missteps from brands … whether it’s blackface or insulting imagery, and I always say that they must not have had one person of color in that meeting,” she said. “I’m fascinated by that because [advertising] has to go through so many approvals before it even gets into the public space.”
In terms of her own career, King said she’s optimistic about the newly revamped CBS This Morning, describing the transition period with co-host Anthony Mason and team as seamless. She said the program is still steeped in “original reporting and great storytelling,” adding, “that’s not going to change.”
The appointment of Susan Zirinsky as CBS News president has created an additional tailwind, especially since King had reportedly considered other opportunities.
“It feels like sunshine [having Zirinsky in that role],” said King. “Susan is very well respected both in and outside of our building. She didn’t get to that chair by luck, she’s highly qualified, knows what she’s doing and has a vision. We knew that we had problems, but we all believe in the decisions she’s making and what she’s trying to do.”