A Feminist Guide to Cannes Lions 2018

Want to hear some strong, smart, inspiring women speak? Then here are the key sessions to attend this week in Cannes.

It is one of those nice problems to have. If you are privileged to be going to Cannes, it is impossible to see and do everything. The Festival has slimmed down to five days, but still offers a yacht-load of content.

This is the fifth year I have searched through the official agenda to cherry-pick sessions that feature articulate and talented women. Not sessions simply talking about the lack of women on stage or in the top jobs – a hand-wringing trend that, hopefully, has died down in favour of action – but the "see it be it" concept of successful women to learn from and admire.

When I wrote my first post, there was much more of a male skew to the speaker roster. Now, some of the agencies hosting the sessions have wised up and offer a more interesting diversity. And Cannes keeps getting closer to a 50/50 balance in the jury rooms as well; 46% are female this year up from 43% in 2017.

I'm truly chuffed to be joining the jury myself in this milestone year – 2018 is the 10th anniversary for the PR Lions. It was an addition (among others) that led to the rebranding of Cannes as the Festival of Creativity, rather than the Festival of Advertising.

This expansion is also reflected in the big-tech brand tents, villas, parties and piers. This guide is not reflective of all the interesting things happening there; just one woman's pick from the published agenda.

Tweet me your must-see speakers or secret soirées and let me know what gems I missed.


The Girls’ Lounge @ Cannes Lions

Powered by The Female Quotient | Penthouse Suite # 731, Hotel Martinez

If you are not on the mailing list, sign up now. The Girls’ Lounge has been an oasis in Cannes for seven years, pampering all of us who don’t have our own gorgeous penthouse views. Congratulations to Shelley Zalis and team, by the way, for their launch at the Cannes Film Festival this year. Follow @WeAreTFQ at important conferences everywhere.

Wake Up With The Economist

Host: Cannes Lions | 10:30 (1h) | Cannes Lions Beach

This is a good series to check out all week if you want to hear directly from global chief marketers. After all, access like this is really the unique selling proposition for Cannes. To catch the rarer species of female chief marketers, go Monday (Syl Saller, Diageo), Wednesday (Elizabeth Rutledge, American Express) or Thursday (Alison Lewis, Johnson & Johnson and Diana O'Brien, Deloitte)

MONDAY 18 June

Accelerating Creativity in the Age of AI

Host: Adobe | 13:00 (45min) | Debussy Theatre

Artificial intelligence is now part of our lives. It's in our pockets and in our homes. So it is good to see a debate by makers on what it means for creatives. There is a nice mix of art and design in the speaker line-up: Natasha Jen, Pentagram; Mario Klingemann, artist; Jamie Myrold, vice-president design, Adobe. Go to their panel so you can converse wisely with them later on the Carlton terrace.

The Death of Masculinity and its Impact on Creative Communications

Host: Faith Popcorn's BrainReserve | 13:00 - 13:45 | Lumière Theatre

Fighting for our attention in the same slot, with an excellent clickbait title, futurist Faith Popcorn offers this much-needed look at what it means to be a man today. Her panel mixes the academic, entertainment and business worlds: men’s studies professor Michael Kimmel, PhD, drag queen Violet Chachki and Amy Nelson, founder of The Riveter. If you can't get a seat, get their zine here.

The (not-so) Secret Lives of Creatives

Host: Pinterest | 14:00 - 14:45 | Lumière Theatre

If you are new to Cannes, the tip to the sessions the organisers feel are most important is the size of the space. Good to see Pinterest take command of the Lumière.

Its co-founder, Evan Sharp, is helped by having one of advertising's top creatives on stage, Wieden & Kennedy's chief creative officer, Colleen DeCourcy. She's the star boss every creative wants. Despite the title, the session probably won't be about her life, but about how creatives can use technology platforms (like Pinterest) in unexpected ways. For 2018, Colleen is the prestigious Titanium Lions jury president; good to see in a year where only nine of 26 jury presidents are female.

Joanna Coles in Conversation with Whitney Wolfe Herd

Host: Hearst | 16:00 - 16:45 | Innovation Stage

If you do any panel moderation, you can learn a lot from expert interviewer Joanna Coles, chief content officer, Hearst. She will make sure this session goes beyond the key messages in the PR deck. I've never tried Bumble, but maybe I should. It is run by a majority-female executive team, and reportedly valued at more than $1bn. Chief executive Whitney Wolfe Herd is also the co-founder of Tinder.

Future Lions 2018 - Create Tomorrow
Created by AKQA | 16:15 - 16:45 | Debussy Theatre

In pure creative terms, this is hands-down my can't-miss session every year. It is a brilliant scheme to identify and showcase amazing ideas by young talent still in school. At last, it is legitimately earning a place on this guide for 2018, because, for the first time ever, Future Lions will be hosted by women: AKQA's Jo Hickson, head of technology, and Michelle Lassman, group creative director. Hurrah. A positive sign from AKQA, an agency known for super-smart digital work, and one of the worst gender pay gaps in London.

Other session to note:

If I hadn’t sworn to avoid the manel, I would be tempted to attend The Rise of Hackvertising talk by Burger King and David The Agency. But no worries. It is hardly a spoiler to predict we will see a lot of their work on the award stage. I call the same trend Stuntvertising, and Burger King is admittedly a master.


Who Runs the World? Educated and Healthy Young Girls

Host: UN Foundation & McCann Health | 10:00 | Health Inspiration Stage

The title says it all. Girls are the secret to a better world. Grab a friend, go, and spread the word. This session is in the Health track but should be on the main stage. It is so much more important than Hackvertising.

Kudos to Briana Ferrigno, president, McCann Global Health, for putting this ace panel together: Rajesh Mirchandani, UN Foundation; Anna Blue and Gloria Samen, Girl Up.  

Taking Risks and Building Brands

Host: WWE | 11:00 | The Forum

Ok, I'm not a fan of World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE) but it does have a female chief marketer (Stephanie McMahon of the WWE ruling family) and we all need to leave our filter bubble sometimes.

Plus, I AM a fan of Lilly Singh, who's self-made success deserves her channel name IISuperwomanII. She's listed as a YouTube content creator, entrepreneur, actress, author, comedian. Add role model and UNICEF goodwill ambassador. Lilly is so awesome, I just may stalk her on the Croisette to beg for a selfie. Don't miss this chance to make your teenage niece pea-green with envy.

What Matters Next

YouTube | 14:00 - 14:45 | Lumière Theatre

Want to be the next Lilly? Get familiar with a YouTube-centric view of the world. Chief executive Susan Wojcicki – whose suburban garage was famously the original Google office – is one of the most important women in tech and an articulate voice worth following. I think this is her first Cannes appearance.

Susan is joined by Annie Mac, BBC Radio 1 DJ, Lubomira Rochet, chief digital officer of L'Oréal, and Lyor Cohen, YouTube's global head of music. A nice reversal of the usual gender ratio of tech panels. From the choice of panellists, it's clear that what matters, next to Susan, is YouTube Music, a Spotify competitor.


Hosted by SheSays and The Voice of a Woman | 15:00 – 18:00, Cinema Les Arcades as part of the Cannes Fringe Festival

Come and be wowed by this global creative showcase of work made by female directors and creative directors. This is my top pick for activities outside the Palais. I was part of the 2018 jury for this and can testify that there is some amazing work to enjoy. Grab a free ticket here.


Changing the Game: Evolving from Athlete to Creator  
Host: Wasserman | 10: - 10:45 | Lumière Theatre

Get ready to queue. Abby Wambach, the all-time leading scorer – male or female – in international football, is an inspirational speaker. Bad-ass women everywhere are fist-bumping their computer watching her fierce Barnard Commencement speech.

Abby is joined by another Olympic medallist, Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first Muslim American woman to wear a hijab while competing in the Olympics. Plus, Jaymee Messler, president and co-founder, The Players’ Tribune, a platform for athletes to connect directly with fans, and agency host Casey Wasserman.

Leading a Generation of Women Ready to Own Their Futures

Host: Girlboss | 10:00 - 10:45 | Innovation Stage

If you can't get a seat in the Lumière, go to this Innovation track conversation between Girlboss chief executive Sophia Amoruso and Bozoma St. John, who has just left Uber for entertainment company Endeavor. Hopefully, it lives up to its great title.

The Break Up of Big Tech

Host L2 | 11:00 - 11:45 | Innovation Stage

Stay in your seat for a provocative discussion on why breaking up the big tech companies will create a more prosperous society. OK, there is no real feminist slant to this one – I just love Scott Galloway.

Reimagining the Retail Experience

Host: Apple | 12:00 - 12:45 | Lumière Theatre

Apple is one of Prof. Galloway's Four. A company so dominant, it is almost impossible to avoid. So go and listen to how its advanced retail experience will enslave us even more. As a cult member, I'm there.

Executive vice-president Angela Ahrendts is the only women on Apple's leadership team, but is paid nearly twice as much as the chief executive. Take that, wage gap. She's joined by Apple's vice-president of marcomms, Tor Myhren, a top example of the migration of agency creatives to the tech giants.


ONE Championship Power Workout with Angela Lee
Host: Cannes Lions & ONE Championship | 08:30 | Palais Beach, The Terrace

For the athletically inclined early risers, take advantage of this only-in-Cannes martial-arts workout with Atomweight World Champion Angela Lee. Take that, hangover.

MEET UP: Women in the Creative Industries

Host: Cannes Lions | 10:30 - 11:00 | Meet Ups Space, The Terrace

The real value of Cannes, as veteran attendees know, is connecting with old friends, new friends and like-minds. A role model worth the name, Hill Holliday chair and chief executive Karen Kaplan will lead this informal meet-up. Bring your CV. Back when I was an art director in Boston, my dream was to work for Hill Holliday.

FCB’s "Never Finished" Series: with Jennifer Sey, Levi’s and Tarana Burke, ‘me too'

Host: FCB | 14:45 - 15:15 | Debussy Theatre

If you are going to talk about #MeToo, it makes sense to start with the source. Activist, and Time’s 2017 "Person of the Year", Tarana Burke coined the phrase in 2006 and founded what is now a global movement.

She's joined onstage by chief marketer Jen Sey, who wrote Chalked Up, a memoir about the cruelty and abuse in elite gymnastics, in a discussion moderated by FCB West chief creative officer Karin Onsager-Birch.

FRIDAY 22 June

Redefining Miss America in the Age of #MeToo

Host: Y&R | 10:30 - 10:45 | Lumière Theatre

Speaking of #MeToo makes me feel somewhat obliged to include this session.

Now, I don’t think this pageant should be redefined. I think it needs to retire. Any entertainment vehicle that treats women like show dogs in stilettos deserves to die. However, there is no denying the session will get a lot of attention with the likes of former Fox News host, and former Miss America, Gretchen Carlson on-stage. So queue up and hear them out. But it is going to take a lot more than losing the swim suits to stop me gagging when they use the word "empowerment".

Inside the Jury Room - PR Lions

Host: Cannes Lions | 11:00 (45min) | Awards Hub Stage

I am a huge fan of these sessions, which run all week. They offer real insight from the room where it happens. Learn about how the work gets debated and the Lions get awarded. Go to as many as you can, but especially this one on Friday. I’ll be there as a PR Lions jury member.

There is so much more happening in the Palais and around town in the tents and private spaces. Tweet me your tips for "can’t-miss" sessions and hope to see you there. Happy Cannes, everyone.

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