Creativity: A Conversation with Cannes Lions’ Simon Cook

Credit: Deloitte Digital

Creativity is at the root of all innovation. It is the critical element in any advancement—whether it be philosophical, social, technological or economic. As innovations accelerate and our world becomes more connected, creativity and the way it fuels growth in our business organizations is evolving. It’s not an isolated skill for one industry or section of the business. We all need it if we’re going to thrive in the future.

For nearly 65 years, the Cannes Lions has inspired and guided the industry conversation around creativity through many evolutions and eras. The awards program recently announced some major changes to its marquee event, the International Festival of Creativity. In the face of these changes, we took the opportunity to talk with Simon Cook, director of creative excellence for Cannes Lions, about how these changes reflect their unique perspective on creativity today and what he’s excited about for the future.

Alicia Hatch: The advertising industry has changed a lot in the past couple of decades, and this year, just in time for your 65th annual festival, you have completely restructured the event and awards. Can you tell us about why you made these changes?

Simon Cook: Yes, we did make some big changes this year. But we believe this change will help keep us true to our roots as the Festival of Creativity—a place where leading conversations about what’s possible take place. Over the years, the festival has always evolved its approach along with the awards that sit at the heart of it. … We’ve witnessed the fragmentation of media, the proliferation of channels. More recently, we’ve been through a digital and technological revolution. We’ve worked with the industry to reflect those changes and, over time, we have introduced awards that respond to, honor and celebrate the different facets of creativity across the branded communications ecosystem.

Our goal was to reset, take a step back and simplify our program and awards. We looked at our programming from a global perspective, recognizing that there’s a much needed place for traditional creative work, while also making sure that we continue to carve out opportunities for new breeds of work to be recognized and celebrated. That richness has always been very important. It was a balance between honoring our roots while also making room for work that may not traditionally have been considered “Cannes Lions” enough in years past.

Hatch: How do you see this changing the experience of the festival?

Cook: We took the architecture of the new awards “tracks”—the new disciplines of creativity—and used this highly creative, organizing principle to structure the whole festival, including the content. Time is precious, and we want to help people plan their time better so that they can navigate the festival in a way that allows them to walk away with the inspiration and learning they’re looking for and that’s most meaningful to them.

The learning part is increasingly important. On a more theoretical level, for some people Cannes Lions has always marked the culmination of a year’s work and a celebration of what has been accomplished—the celebration part is essential and that will always remain the case. But increasingly, Cannes Lions is the start of the creative year—a glimpse into the future and a place where you go to get loaded up with insights and learnings. Where you come away with new perspectives and a much-needed reboot that helps you navigate what lies ahead. We want Cannes Lions to celebrate and inspire and also help propel people into the year ahead feeling excited, not daunted, by the rapid rate of change.

Hatch: It’s the rate of change, but also the depth of change that’s a challenge—there are new ways to work, new roles to take on, and new ways that a work product goes from ideation to launch. I’m very curious to hear your perspective on how this has changed creativity itself—do you define it differently? Does creative success look different now?

Cook: We firmly believe that creativity is a force for business, change and for good in the world. There’s commercial creativity—that’s what brings the brands to Cannes. It’s because, increasingly, they recognize that as a brand you will be more commercially successful if you’re also producing highly creative, Lion-winning work.

For many people, the definition of creativity is broadening in line with industry evolution. Branded communications now cut across design, business transformation, technology and product development. The tools and people in the mix have diversified. There’s a much broader mix of people and job roles—just look at the mix of people credited on the work. Many different backgrounds and disciplines each bringing a unique perspective that makes the blend of work much richer. The result is creative work that goes beyond “advertising.” The creative palette is changing, and brands are creating new breeds of work that may transcend the medium, enhance lives and create or enter culture in a way that really drives business.

Hatch: Do you have any advice for marketers today managing larger teams, larger budgets and broader skillsets than ever? What are the ingredients for creative success today? And how do you see that connected to business success in the future?

Cook: Creativity flourishes in environments where risks are taken, and there is great trust between brand and creative partner. Collaboration, inclusivity and diversity are a hygiene factor, but real simplicity is key. Our jurors also say that tech and data should be inherent, a part of the fabric of the work rather than an afterthought or add-on. Impact and measurement are more important than ever before. Effectiveness drives business forward, and great creativity drives effectiveness.

In terms of the future, the important thing to remember is that creativity is a very human talent. There’s a lot of talk about automation and humanity being replaced; we’ve had talks at the festival that have explored the role of robots and automation in the future. But that human ability to work with creativity is something that machines can’t replicate. As a currency, creativity will become more valuable than ever before.

Hatch: What are you most excited about when you look out into the future of Cannes Lions and the future of creativity?

Cook: 2018 will be the start of a new chapter in the history of the festival. What’s funny is that when you look back through the history, there have been lots of changes and developments that I’m sure at the time seemed like quite a big deal, but in hindsight they now look like perfectly sensible evolutionary steps. The other day we came across old meeting minutes from the early 1960s where the organizers—who were all cinema people—were discussing whether they should let the TV industry play a bigger part of the festival.

At the end of the day, we aim to be a platform for the best creative problem-solving, creative ideas and the people behind them, and we will continue to evolve in a way that champions creativity in its many progressive forms.

Look, we can all try our hand at a bit of crystal ball gazing, but can we really predict how things will evolve? I suspect that it will be the work and the wider learnings around it that will grant us a true glimpse into the future in 2018. I’m excited to see what will emerge in June, the beginning of the creative year. And I look forward to seeing everyone at the starting blocks.

This article originally appeared in AdAge.

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