Cannes Lions as a ...


Our European managing director, Mike Sottak, made the trek to the French Riviera to attend Cannes Lions. I believe this is where we cue the audio, “Hey, it’s tough duty, but someone has to do it.”

If you haven’t heard of this event, here’s the description straight from the horse’s website:

We believe creativity is the driving force for business, for change and for good. 

That’s why we are campaigners for creativity: we inspire creative bravery that changes the course of communications.

Our awards set a global benchmark for what good creative looks like, and our annual Festival connects those with a similar vision.

As someone who comes from a writing orientation, I might quibble with the phrase “what good creative looks like.” Still, the idea of honoring creativity in business communications is a good thing.

Mike was good enough to share his reactions to the fête:

Mike Sottak, Managing Director, Hoffman Europe

CANNES, France – The annual Cannes Lions Festival has established itself as a premier communications industry event to honor its own. It’s where the who’s who and beautiful people from advertising, PR, design and media annually converge to drink overpriced drinks into the wee hours in the same decadent hotels, sun drenched boulevards and beach front clubs at which the film industry gathers for the slightly more famous Cannes Film Festival a month earlier.

But with all due respect to the organizers and participants of Cannes Lions, it can all be a bit much.

In an industry that is all about promotion, it’s not surprising that there is no shortage of self-aggrandizement in the lobbies and clubs where bidness gets done here. In between some relatively informative sessions on communications trends and best practices (some even delivered by legitimate experts … umm … Kim Kardashian? Pharell Williams? Monica Lewinsky?), much of the week-long back-slap-a-looza is filled with congratulatory atta’ boys.

Which is why the particular session I attended stood out a bit.

It was put on by Microsoft and Fast Company and showcased three charitable organizations/NGOs that the two companies had selected as part of a jointly initiated program called Create Good. The program is meant to identify and help promote worthwhile causes, aided by the marketing muscle of the software giant and the promotional reach of the uber-cool publishing house (in addition to having their expenses paid for the Cannes workshop, the three selected charities also receive advertising support from Fast Company).

The concept of the workshop involved representatives from each NGO presenting their story and then proposing a marketing-related challenge to the audience of communications pros. The attendees then broke up into three teams, each assigned to one of the NGOs with a goal of crafting a high-level solution to their specific communications need. They were given about 90 minutes to come up with a brief presentation.

photo 3 - presentation
photo 2 - beach
photo 1 - team


Fueled by an ample supply of rosé wine and enabled by ever-present Microsoft Surfaces, the teams rallied behind the causes with surprising enthusiasm and collaborative spirit.

I situated myself on the team assigned to l’Ecole de Choix (the School of Choice), a trilingual elementary school in Haiti started by a personal friend. Our assignment was to come up with a new mission statement, and a supporting social media plan to help shift the fund-raising strategy for the school. Previously reliant mainly on individual donors, the school’s directors had decided that going after corporate benefactors might be a more efficient and productive.

The other teams had assignments to create a new logo for a scientific cancer history research organization called Paleo-oncology Research Organization (PRO), and come up with a new tagline for Rainforest Partnership, an international non-profit committed to protecting tropical rain forests.

My team was led by an executive from Microsoft’s advertising agency and the marketing director for Fast Company. They proved to be excellent facilitators, and the international group of participants zeroed in on the key points quickly.

Our premise was that the school needed to focus not just on the need for funding the day-to-day operations, but promote the fact that it was developing a new generation of leaders — perhaps the next CTO or chief legal counsel for a potential corporate sponsor — in a country desperately short of even basic educational infrastructure.

We then moved to social media and decided that LinkedIn was the ideal platform. We envisioned that, with some assistance from the social media firm itself (hey, wasn’t that Reid Hoffman I saw at the Gutter Bar last night?), we could perhaps have each student develop a LinkedIn profile of their own and talk about their career aspirations. Using the “XX% Complete” feature of a LinkedIn profile, we could then challenge companies to help students complete their LinkedIn profile by funding their education at l’Ecole de Choix.

Not bad for an hour and half of work.

Watching the waves lap the Mediterranean coast just a few yards away while finishing off one final rosé with my new workshop friends — every one an impressive creative talent, I might add — one ad exec commented, “I’ve been coming to this event for 7 years now, and while it’s great to see a lot of old friends, it’s kind of gross. I mean we get plenty of recognition all the time, it’s a pretty decadent scene and there’s a lot of back slapping going on here. So it was nice to be able to work together and give something back to a worthwhile cause while we are here.”

My friend and school founder, the always energetic and super articulate Laura Pincus Hartman, couldn’t agree more. She left excited to take the crowd-sourced thinking to the next level.

Note: For more on the topic, you might check out The Guardian story, “Cannes Lions: will advertising ever again be about the people it serves?” Tracey Follows offers a fresh take on technology trumping creativity.

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