Jane Austin: work with activists and be more like Colleen – five Cannes commandments

Now that Cannes is behind us, it’s worth reflecting on what that was all about and what, if anything, we can learn from it. Cannes Lions festivals often blur into one but, coming off the back of a global pandemic and upstaged by environmental protests, Cannes 2022 should stick in the memory for a while. For those who want to keep the faith, and their sanity, in this industry, here are five Cannes commandments. I would have done the full ten commandments but too knackered and coughing like a Bronte heroine.

Balance the virtue signalling with action

As Pride Month quickly turned into a parade of brands that have previously displayed little to no interest in LGBTQ+ rights, rainbow-washing their communications and products, it’s clear virtue signalling isn’t going away. But how many brands are following up their messaging with actual support or donations to the cause?

Brands who like to get by on performative activism have got to start setting their sights higher. Take inspiration from the brands that back up what they say, like the winner of this year’s Glass Lion (and the Creative Data Grand Prix), WeCapital and DDB Mexico’s campaign “Data Tienda”, which helps women gain access to loans in Mexico, a country where 83% of women have no credit history.

Let the small ones in

Cannes Lions should start allowing young start-ups and smaller companies to attend and enter the festival for free for their first few years or at a discounted rate. Cannes Lions is prohibitively expensive for people who aren’t Mark Read or Arthur Sadoun. Part of the industry’s problem is that the conversation is always dominated by big tech players or holding companies. Time to pass the mic to someone who doesn’t work for a giant corporation.

Work with activists

Brands desperately seeking their ‘purpose’ will find it a lot quicker by paying attention to actual activists and funding and supporting their work. Greenpeace went to the lengths of getting on a fire truck and scaling the venue of the biggest ad event in the world to ask advertising shops to cut ties with the fossil fuel industry. Meanwhile, the non-profit Creatives for Climate launched an anti-greenwashing training program called Greenwash Watch, to give advertisers the tools to push back on greenwashing in their work. Activists are more than willing to work with brands, and they’re waiting for your call.

Be more Colleen
One of the most inspiring talks at Cannes this year came from Colleen DeCourcy, former president, and chief creative officer of Wieden+Kennedy, who was awarded the Lion of St. Mark. A true trailblazer, she thanked both her supporters and her enemies, and reminded Cannes just how much, as she put it, “women really matter” in this industry. Life would be better if more people channelled Colleen.

DEI – “They don’t want us to be Black, they want us to be present.”

is a quote from an attendee in an excellent LinkedIn piece by Belinda J. Smith, founder and global CEO of The Second Arrow. In the piece, Smith highlights the lack of substance, interest and the still ‘otherness’ of People of Color at Cannes. She reveals the small audiences at the many DEI panels: “the same 3-5 regulars at each.” Further, she was gate checked, badge checked, credentials questioned at every single event while others were not – even refused entry to an event until someone came to confirm she was the speaker.

Although there were more POC than in previous years, many of us at the parties will have noticed that POC were together and not integrated into the white-dominated events.

Jane Austin is Founder of Persuasion Communications.
Photograph: Bronac McNeill

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