Postcard From Cannes

June 23, 2017

Greetings from the South of France, where the ad world congregates annually at the Cannes International Festival of Creativity – mostly to drink rosé and congratulate itself for doing its job.

Actually, I’m not as cynical as I sound about all of this. I came to Cannes for a second year in a row because we are on a mission to take our place among America’s most admired creative agencies. To do that, we need to compete here. And to compete successfully here, we need to continually measure ourselves against the very best work in the world. Cannes affords an opportunity to dive deep into the world’s most creative minds, to see how they solve problems, how they execute and what new tools they are using.

In part, I’m here to take an honest accounting of how our work stacks up, and where we need to improve.

While winning trophies is a great way to take measure, it’s certainly not the most accurate. There is plenty of brilliant creative work that does not get awarded, or even submitted, for that matter. Entering the Cannes Lions is an art form itself, and it’s incredibly expensive. It takes an enormous amount of time and money, and that makes it difficult for smaller, independent agencies like Fast Horse to compete with the big holding companies. Turns out, it’s prohibitively expensive for the holding companies to compete here as well. This week the new CEO of Publicis sent shock waves up and down the Croisette when he announced that Publicis agencies, including highly decorated creative shops like Leo Burnett and BBH, would be taking a break from Cannes next year to save money. Some industry types estimate that Publicis agencies spend north of $500K per year entering the Cannes Lions and much more than that attending. The backlash was immediate. Turns out competing and being here still has currency among creatives and clients.

Beyond the opportunity to study the most creative work in the world, I’ve also had the chance to listen to a wide variety of thought-provoking speakers, from producers of Turkish TV dramas to experts in the mobile habits of Gen Z.  I’ve sat in on compelling talks by New Yorker editor David Remnick, who explored the threat of “Fake News,” and Hollywood legend Dame Helen Mirren, who spoke candidly about her continuing self-doubts as a creative person.

I listened to some of the world’s best planners debate the future of strategy and attended a fascinating talk about the impact of Artificial Intelligence on the creative process. I watched Savion Glover interpret famous brands through tap dance and heard Sheryl Sandberg challenge our industry to be leaders in the drive for gender equality. In between, I had a chance to compare notes with agency people from all over the world.

As I did last year, I leave Cannes filled with new ideas, inspired to keep pushing into new creative territory and absolutely convinced that Fast Horse belongs here.

Trophy or no trophy.