Cannes: the warm-up

16th June 2016

Two of the best creative brains in the business, Tom Beckman and James Nester, tell us what they’re looking forward to at the Cannes Lions Festival next week.

Q: Why is Cannes such an important event, and how can we make the most of it?

Tom: People love to hate industry events but Cannes is the World Cup. It’s important for every agency and brand to feel we are in the game and are part of the industry’s evolution and development, and that we are doing work that is competitive with the best.

James: And we’re all so busy for most of the year. Cannes is a great chance to step out of that, reset our brains and fuel them with amazing work and inspiration.

Tom: On the other hand, it’s actually my hardest-working week of the year. Cannes is important not because it’s a chance to get away – it’s not all about the rosé wine and the beach – but as an opportunity to really dig into the big trends and understand where the industry is heading. The whole purpose of Cannes is as a tool to understand the “state of the nation” of the communications industry.

James: Cannes is definitely a chance to see what the key trends are. Creativity is about being fresh, doing something that hasn’t been done before, and Cannes helps us understand what different looks like.

Tom: It’s also critical for the future of the industry that people – on the agency and client side – do really go through the winning work – not just gold winners, but the shortlists in all categories – and pay attention to the seminars. Regardless of whether you are a creative, in planning, media relations or accounts, it’s paramount to understand best practice. Every year we put together a presentation of all the components we are able to distill from the winning work – trends, case studies, success factors – and involve clients in that.

James: Everyone should pay more attention to the winning work, but with a warning to find their own way rather than following suit. Winners tend to inform what brands want to do for the next year. They’ll say “I want a campaign just like that big Grand Prix winner,” and so we see a rash of similar stuff that doesn’t win as it has been done before.

Q: What are you expecting to be the themes of winning campaigns this year?

Tom: Every year there are a handful of really strong cases and ideas. If we go back five to six years the big thing was earned media, following the introduction of the PR Lions. The next year was all about purpose, as big companies got into the idea of defining their role in society. Then it was big data, as the whole industry tried to figure out how we could use measurement tools to optimise reach. Then content was the big trend, followed by innovation – hence the introduction of the Lions Innovation festival last year. Suddenly the industry was being influenced by tech start-ups and a lot of work that was borderline digital development. Last year, the big topic was equality. The idea of sustainability changes over time and gender equality is top of that list now. Last year the discussion around artificial intelligence was premature, but this year, I’m sure we’ll see a lot of AI in the winning work, as we start to understand the idea of chatbots and using AI in everyday execution.

James: It will be interesting to see what’s going to happen in terms of some of the big trends from last year, as new technologies emerge and the emphasis that Cannes places on innovation grows. It’s easy for jurors to get seduced by the technology, but the best work will always have a big human insight at its heart. That’s what makes campaigns and ideas based on VR, for instance, work, not the tech itself.

Tom: I definitely agree. Last year Cannes really stepped out into the real world. The big winners, ideas and solutions clearly had one foot out of the industry: they were more society-orientated, more focused on innovation, and more about business development and creative business problem-solving, and I think we’ll see more of that.

Q. You’ve both had experience as Cannes jurors. What challenges will juries have this year?

James: The categories get more and more interesting as disciplines merge and media fuse together, so it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate. A grand prix winner in one category could easily win in another. I love the kind of work that spans categories, but it does mean it’s getting harder and harder for juries to agree. When I was a judge in the Cyber Lions last year, there was endless debate. We saw work that was product innovation, rather than conventional advertising or communications, coming from tech start-ups working with creative agencies. It’s a totally new avenue, and it’s fascinating.

Tom: As a juror, there is always discussion of what we should be promoting and where that category is going, and that matures over the course of the week of judging. It goes back to the purpose of Cannes: as jurors we are essentially defining what the best and most interesting execution looks like now. The communications industry was built on an infrastructure where brands could control messages and broadcast to a specific audience. That has gone: silos are coming down and it’s getting really hard to separate social, PR and advertising from a channel and a stakeholder point of view. In that sense, being awarded in Cannes usually means something has tapped into the most relevant conversations.

Q. How do you think PR agencies will perform compared with advertising and other disciplines?

James: Cannes can be something of an “adland bubble” but it will depend on the quality of work and how well agencies package up that work. PR can definitely take a bigger piece of the pie in terms of owning big ideas. The days of interrupting what people are doing with brand messages are long behind us; the best ideas are the ones that people go to, that become headlines, that people share and participate in. That’s where PR agencies have a strength. We have everything we need to tap into popular culture, and work with influencers and experts to understand social insights that lead to great ideas.

Tom: The communications industry has always been structured around specialisms, such as events, digital, advertising or PR. But I don’t think that’s the way it’s going to be in the future. Now, it’s more relevant to look at who works at that agency. I have a lot of hope and heart for this industry. It’s so much more dynamic and diverse than 5-10 years ago. We’ve got a way to go, but we’re on the right track.

Weber Shandwick EMEA will be blogging from Cannes all next week and beyond. Subscribe to see our posts first, or follow @WS_EMEA.