Matt Williams: when Cannes becomes really important

Cannes Lions has its detractors. I’d like to think we’ve gone beyond the days of the snidey ‘it’s just a jolly’ remarks, but you can understand why some still think the idea that for one week each year the industry all jets off to the south of France to celebrate us doing our day jobs is slightly ridiculous.

But for me, Cannes is hugely important. It’s important to celebrate the work – to see how the bar is being raised and inspire us all to be the next ones to raise it.

It’s important to connect – to share ideas and conversations with friends old and new. When was the last time in the hustle and bustle of the working week did you actually stop and have a conversation with someone who could help you be better (from the more cynical ‘media relations’ point of view, I can also attest to the value of Cannes when you spend 51 weeks of the year trying to get 12 different meetings in the diary, then suddenly you see all 12 of those people within a hundred yard radius in one afternoon)?

And perhaps most importantly of all, Cannes really does have the potential to shape the future of our industry. With the weight of the speakers involved, the enormity of the topics and the clear desire to make something change.

Cannes has the potential to shape the future of our industry. But whether it will or not, is down to the agencies, marketers and network leaders to ensure that the other 51 weeks of the year don’t then forget about the 52nd.

We need to walk the walk, as well as talk the talk. It’s a conversation we at MSQ have regularly when it comes to sustainability, for example. Sustainability is one the key pillars of Cannes this year, but if we’re just going to make a few nice ads about low carbon emissions, or write an empty pledge on the side of a tote bag, this will all be for nothing.

Agencies need to be looking hard in the mirror at their sustainability strategy (indeed it’d be nice to know they actually all have a sustainability strategy). They need to be accountable for it – to put in place approved Science Based Targets, to put their money where their mouth is on initiatives like the Million Tree Pledge. We believe that tracking our sustainability progress is vital if we’re truly to understand how to truly make change – it’s why this week we launched our first Annual Sustainability Report, which does just that.

Agencies need to encourage staff and clients to go on the journey too. And I mean properly on the journey. For staff, I’m talking Electric Vehicle schemes, helping every member heat and cool their homes with renewable energy, even helping put their pension into green investments.

For clients, that’s about encouraging and developing low carbon websites, more sustainable production shoots, offsetting meetings.

Which all goes to say, the industry must start walking the walk. This week is a fantastic platform to discuss the issues and call for creativity to be a force for good (when you have President Zelensky addressing the Festival asking creatives for help in their war against Russia, it’s not something you can take lightly). But once the last of the wine has been poured and beach parties are swapped for big pitches, the conversations – and action – need to continue.

Matt Williams is head of content at MSQ Partners.

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