Cannes Lions: Fearless CEO in France

Last week, I spent several days at the Cannes Festival of Creativity – a seven-day global event for those working in the creative communications, advertising, media and related fields – held yearly at the Palais des Festials et des Congres in Cannes, France.

Against a stunningly beautiful Mediterranean backdrop, the days were filled from morning to late night with presentations and workshops, networking, sharing and the opportunity to be inspired by and learn from the work of others.   Notably, every major platform was there with big activations and experiences – on land and sea – strategically set up for forging new partnerships and collaborations.   Facebook, Google, Snapchat, LinkedIn and more.  While enjoying themselves over rose wine, people were there to conduct business, make connections, think up new ideas and scout for talent.

Although there is more to Cannes than the awards in my view, certainly the Cannes Lions are a major happening.  The Cannes Lions are considered among the most competitive and coveted awards in the world judged by a high-level jury of professionals from around the world.  This year was my first time at Cannes along with colleagues Grant Deady and John Kerr.


This year also marked the first time Zeno submitted any work for consideration.  And in our inaugural year, it is significant that our JOCKEY MADBUM Campaign was named to the shortlist for the PR Cannes Lion Award.  To put this in context, there were more than 2,000 entries into the PR category alone and of that only 200 campaigns were shortlisted.  We are all proud of this accomplishment. Our work was recognized alongside some of the best and most compelling from around the globe.


In addition to great work featured in the Cannes Lion Awards for PR, there was a new category introduced this year – the Glass Lion – which recognizes work that implicitly or explicitly addresses issues of gender inequality or prejudice, through the conscious representation of gender in advertising. Entries can be for any product or service and designed for any medium, but will in some way represent a shift towards more positive, progressive and gender-aware communication.  The award was created in partnership with LeanIn.Org, the organization founded by Sheryl Sandberg. Take a look. Powerful.

In addition to the Awards, I sat through several unforgettable presentations. Some highlights include:

  • Jessica Walsh, who spoke about the role of play and fun in the creative process; the need for both persistence and humor to get to the optimal state of creative mind.  She talked about confidence to fail.  And she walked us through her “40 Days of Dating” project which became a national, pop culture phenomena and has had its movie rights sold to Warner Bros.
  • Keith Weed spoke passionately about the need for both attention and engagement at a time when the human attention span is 9 seconds (Goldfish have an attention span of 8 seconds, in case you were wondering).
  • Snapchat’s Evan Spiegel emphasized listening as part of the creative inspiration process.
  • And a notable quote from Pharrell Williams about creativity and life: “Don’t wait for the starts to align.  Create your own constellation.”

There were also several points and key learnings that stood out for me from my time spent in Cannes:

  1. The work that was presented at the Awards and through the various speakers was impressive and eye-opening.  The creativity that exists in our world is amazing.  I left Cannes inspired and ready to push our creativity even further.  And in turn push our clients to think bigger and be braver.  I urge you to visit the Cannes Lions Archive to experience the work.
  2. I’ve suggested to our staff to pick a campaign and talk about it in THEIR teams.  Use it to spark new thinking.  Look at the PR category but as importantly the other categories, too.  At the heart of each campaign is an insight-driven, channel agnostic big idea. And many in the area of PR-centric integrated communications – the kind of work we are increasingly doing at Zeno. A big idea leading 360 activation – earned media, digital, product design, outdoor and experiential.
  3. Creative ideas need not, in fact should not, be complex. At the core of this most outstanding work are simple, easily explained ideas, each one built on a powerful human truth. We ought to remember that the measure of a big idea is in part its sheer simplicity and clarity of intent.
  4. I especially appreciated the “creative effectiveness” awards category.  A look back at prior Lion winners and the measurable impact the creative has had on the clients’ business.   Something we champion at Zeno, not creativity for the sake of creativity, but creativity for real business value.

In the coming days, I hope you will take a virtual trip to Cannes – relax, explore, open your minds and learn.  Also, poke around the Zeno blog for additional on-the-ground observations.