2 of Advertising’s Foremost Female Leaders Discuss Cannes Judging and the Changing Industry

A conversation between Goodby Silverstein & Partners' Margaret Johnson and Ogilvy's Leslie Sims

Sims and Johnson interviewed each other on topics ranging from Cannes Lions to the women's impact in the industry.
Illustration by Paddy Mills for Adweek

In addition to leading two top agencies, Margaret Johnson, CCO and partner at Goodby Silverstein & Partners, and Leslie Sims, the U.S. CCO for Ogilvy, are both multiple Cannes Lions award winners, and both have Southern roots. Johnson went to the University of North Carolina, Sims attended Clemson, and each is an alum of the Portfolio Center in Atlanta. Johnson has been at the San Francisco agency for 23 years and has had a hand in some of the agency’s most significant work, including Cannes Lions-winning campaigns for Nike, Häagen-Dazs, Logitech, Doritos and Xfinity. For her part, Sims, a multiple Lions winner herself, recently began her journey at Ogilvy and has made her creative mark for the likes of Staples, Xerox, Ikea and IBM, among others.

Brandweek got Johnson and Sims together to interview each other on topics ranging from the state of Cannes Lions (Johnson is the president of this year’s film jury, and Sims is on the Titanium jury) to talent, the continued impact of women in the industry and more.

Margaret Johnson: You’ve been on Cannes juries—how have juries changed now that they’re closer to 50-50 male-female?

Leslie Sims: I’ve only been on juries since they instituted iPads for voting, not on one where you had to raise your hand to vote for things. As I understand it, people would get really aggressive and gang up on other jurors to influence their votes. I think that’s a remarkably positive change.

Related to gender … in the past, there were fewer women on juries, and we would take turns calling out some of the more misogynistic work. It was tiring having to do that, and now it feels like there is less of that. Agencies appear to be better at paring that down before it gets to Cannes, and I think we are seeing much less controversial work. It feels like there’s a more evenly represented jury in the room, and the work is coming from a much more balanced place.

Johnson: I agree. I think that’s been the most significant difference. Because you have two different perspectives, the work is more interesting than it has been historically. Looking back a few years ago, it was all very similar, but now we’re seeing much more dimension.

Sims: The [gender tropes] are going away, so it makes for less effort in the jury room to have to feel like you’re representing your gender and you’re able to decide what work you believe deserves to be recognized based on its creativity.

Here’s a question for you, Margaret: What are you most looking forward to being the Cannes Lions film jury president this year?

Johnson: I’m excited because this is my first time being a jury president. But I also feel like this is the most competitive category at Cannes, and I feel like the best storytellers in the world are telling them in this medium. What I’m least looking forward to is being in the South of France and being locked in a dark room for hours … and not on a boat headed to St. Tropez.

Leslie, what’s your best memory from Cannes?

Sims: The biggest learning experience I had was the first one I went to. I had a lot of brand clients there when I was an ecd, and our CEO said, “Your one thing for the week is that you are hosting a cocktail hour on the Carlton terrace. You will be spending time meeting some of your new clients.”

So the party is on Thursday at 5 p.m., and remember, this is my first Cannes.

This story first appeared in the June 17, 2019, issue of Brandweek.

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