The Virgin Cannes Experience

“History repeats itself, that’s the problem with history”

Three hours of the finest acting from Kevin Spacey (his first ever one-man play and last as The Old Vic’s Artistic Director) can be summed up by that one line.

The man he was playing was Clarence Darrow, a successful yet troubled American civil rights lawyer. In a long career representing ‘the common folk’, he was a champion of reforming capital punishment, and at a time when there was such intense thirst for the public execution of lawbreakers and wrongdoers, Darrow saved all but one of his clients from hanging across 102 trials, gaining his reputation as the greatest trial lawyer of the 20th century.

Fast-forward 80 years and here we are, about to embark on the second Lions Health festival in Cannes. The remit: celebrate the best of “life-changing creativity”. Now, whilst our day-to-day may differ to that of Darrow’s, the fundamentals of what we do remain the same: products, services, causes that are represented in order to change behaviour and better outcomes. So, when thinking of what to hope for from my very first Cannes experience, I thought it quite apt to approach this logically and build a case for how to judge the next three days, much as Darrow might have done. Just minus the riveting courtroom speeches and showmanship, naturally.

Relevance of the case: First and foremost, we are gathering to celebrate the best work from our industries: Pharmaceutical and Health & Wellness. Obvious, yes; however, I can safely say that we have all repeatedly seen work entered in award ceremonies that push the boundaries of eligibility (should the work on a men’s fragrance range be submitted in the Pharmaceutical category? – true story) and awarded at the cost of work that is subject to more rigour by the powers that be. We’re better than this and I hope the judges this year have called out any work inappropriately entered by agencies in the hope of winning a Lion, any Lion, and instead we as an industry can celebrate the truly groundbreaking work.

Evidence of the case: Not to sound like too much of a ponce, there was a great article in the Guardian last week. It spoke strongly about Cannes awarding just the work that the creative industries know about and not having the scope to award work that the lay person may have actually seen/experienced and which is creative in other ways. I agree in part with what the author is saying, but in my mind it doesn’t matter how few people may have been able to experience the work, or whether it has affected the perception of just one or of 1,000,000. What’s important is whether it has worked, whether it has met its objectives. It seems an obvious question to ask of our work, but even still, campaign success detailed in case studies seems all too superficial for my liking, too circumstantial. I look forward to hearing some well-rounded stories of the awarded work and the effect they have had.

Open-mindedness of the Jury: Third, and what I’m most grateful for, is the opportunity to meet some of the best in the business; there seems to be no better stage than this to mingle with bright and open minds. Jim Stengel summed this up brilliantly: “…because of the people there and the mood that they’re in—they’re open to new ideas, they’re open to meeting different people in ways that they’re not in day-to-day business. And that leads to some really good stuff.” A big part of this stems from the talks that will be happening across the festival. I have high expectations and hope that they are made relevant to the challenges we face day-to-day across the industry and don’t just get lost in the theory. In other words, the more engaging, practical advice that, with some thought, can be applied to the work we do, as opposed to reframed stories about the rise of some trend or pre-prepared ‘debates’ which lack that very thing: debate.

So that’s it – my case, put to Cannes for the next three days. Whatever it holds and whether we are happy with the state of the industry or not, I think we should all view the weekend with a sprinkling of Clarence Darrow in mind: that “any one of us, any one individual, has the freedom and power to stand up and fight the status-quo”. We all have the opportunity to change lives. I do hope we grab it.

Parrus

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