Here's how adland thinks Cannes Lions should improve its 2021 festival

Cannes' ghostly Croisette as the South of France self-isolates amid COVID-19
Cannes' ghostly Croisette as the South of France self-isolates amid COVID-19

'Cannes has always had an issue with accessibility: what if 2021 was the year of the 100 euro dial-in pass?'

It took weeks of back and forth with key partners around the world, but Cannes Lions has finally decided to pull the plug on its 2020 festival as COVID-19 shows no sign of abating any time soon

The Ascential-owned brand announced to the stock market on Friday that an event plans for a postponed festival in October will no longer go ahead and the next gathering will take place from June 21 to 25 2021. 

In a statement some industry folk branded as a tad tone deaf, Philip Thomas, chairman at the Cannes Lions, said: "Cannes Lions at its core has always been about creativity and the Lions. We realize that the creative community has other challenges to face and simply isn’t in a position to put forward the work that will set the benchmark.

"The marketing and creative industries, in common with so many others, are currently in turmoil and it’s clear that we can play our small part by removing all speculation about the festival this year. We have tried to make our decisions as early as possible to give the industry total clarity on the situation and that is why we are announcing this move today."

Cannes has clarified that all entries received so far for the 2020 awards will be judged next year. The 2021 awards will have a two year eligibility period.

The renewed date has prompted many to think about how the festival can -- and should -- improve. From a greater influx of next generation talent to the need for a robust virtual experience, adland shares its two cents. 

What should Cannes Lions organizers do to improve the event for 2021?



Carter Murray, CEO at FCB
One thing we are all learning at speed is the ability to learn and connect, at scale, online.  I hope one improvement made is to bring in a much larger audience into the festival online, for tens of thousands who cannot afford to go to Cannes, to have greater access to the festival remotely, so they can learn more about, benchmark and celebrate creativity.


Nola Weinstein, global head of culture, engagement and experiential at Twitter
Going back to its roots and honing in on the creative nature of the festival is key. A more open, collaborative and inclusive #Cannes would be the right way forward. 

So many of the amazing past conversations and presentations end up reserved just for the few lucky enough to be in the room; In 2021 I would hope to see the experience distributed far beyond the Palais through platforms like Twitter. 

Connection to creativity and powerful events like this shouldn't necessarily require travel across the world -- I am hoping to see more ways for the creative community to participate from wherever they may be.


Tom Morton, chief strategy officer, U.S., R/GA
Let’s turn remote working from a bug into a feature. Half of the judging that happens on laptops in darkened rooms can happen anywhere. Talks and showcases can happen on screen as well as on stage. Cannes has always had an issue with accessibility: what if 2021 was the year of the 100 euro dial-in pass?


John Mescall, global executive creative director/global creative council president, McCann Worldgroup
Broadening the event from something that’s 100 percent in-person would be a smart move. Opening up better ways for people to be a part of the festival of creativity without having to congregate in person in the Palais would be great. I think over the next few months, we’re going to be adapting to remote conferencing to the point where it will seem odd to HAVE to physically attend an event in person. So Cannes can get on the front foot and actually lead this. And make remote participation (rather than just viewing talks) a reality.

I think that, assuming we all get through this, as an industry we are really going to want to reflect on what we went through, how it affected us, and celebrate our resilience and the unique ways we utilized creativity to survive during this most difficult of times. I think rather than bringing in a whole bunch of celebrities and outsiders to speak to us in sessions, I’m going to want to hear from us. From the industry we all love. Stories of how we did, what we did, and what this means for us in the new reality. Without navel-gazing, I think Cannes 2021 will present a unique opportunity for our first group conversation about what the fuck happened to us, and how it’s shaped us.

And I think, assuming we’re all ok, it should be a CELEBRATION. A celebration of the fact that it’s creativity that allows human beings to adapt to whatever is thrown at us. So while we should definitely honor the creativity we’ve brought to life on behalf of brands, I also think it would be cool to honor the creativity we’ve all displayed to get the industry through this.

I’d like to see more client/agency partnerships on display. I think during this crisis, agencies and brands are partnering like never before and relying on each other like never before. It’s times of crisis that really show the importance of co-operation and partnerships. So I’d like us to showcase that. I think generally people love to see/hear the stories of how clients and agencies work together to make something great. Can we celebrate how those partnerships not only got us through this, but also produced the amazing creativity that (I’m sure) is about to explode from this crisis.

And can we please (PLEASE) instruct juries to be INCREDIBLY AWARE of any COVID-19 ideas that in any way feel gratuitous or created purely for the awards circuit to be shut down and not even shortlisted? I’d create maybe a jury of very senior creative leaders who can oversee the shortlists and remove anything that felt even remotely opportunistic. I’d like to think agencies won’t do this, but even one idea like this has the potential to tarnish not only Cannes Lions but our entire industry.


Tracey Barber, CMO at Havas Group
Cannes is great – if you’re at the top of the industry. But while it remains the pinnacle to which our brilliant young talent aspires, does it actually help them get there? I’d argue many view it, justifiably, as elitist, and it remains largely inaccessible to most. 

To remain relevant, the festival must place far greater onus on learning and development, particularly at those more junior levels of the industry. Significantly expand the Young Lions, with its focus on growing and nurturing talent. Bring it in from the side-lines and place it proudly front and centre – on par with the ‘main event’, and accessible to all. 

Cannes will always, quite rightly, have celebration at its heart. But when it’s only a privileged few celebrating, while neglecting to water the industry’s grassroots, it won’t be long until you run out of backs to slap. 


Jill Kelly, U.S. CMO at GroupM 
As the Cannes Lions celebrates its 67th birthday in 2021, we’ve continually seen it mature and evolve since its inception to spotlight creative women leadership and the young and rising ‘lions.’ 

We are hopeful it will continue to recognize a broader agenda of inclusivity, from people of color to the more mature generations of advertising professionals. Many modern workplaces are composed of five generations; each unique in perspective and stories. And given creativity is born, belongs to and benefits all – whether one is 27 or 67 years of age – perhaps in 2021, we could see a continuing celebration of creativity through and for all ages.


Scott Nelson, VP of marketing, Panera Bread

Double down on brand purpose. Now more than ever, brands doing good and actually mattering to their customers deserve a larger stage.


Abbey Klaassen, NY president, 360i
Creative solutions are needed more than ever in times of crisis, and Cannes can and should be a celebration of the best of those. But I’d love to see it not only highlight the end result -- the work and its impact -- but also highlight how we got to it in this very strange and challenging time.

How did agencies and brands partner in unique ways? How did we invent different ways of working? How has the industry evolved and changed forever? Cannes would celebrate not only the creativity that came out of the crisis but the inspiring perseverance and ingenuity that led to it. 


Erik Norin, creative, Mother New York
The return of any large scale public event will obviously be incredibly welcome given the current circumstances. So with that lens, it feels a bit strange to even look at what could be improved, especially an event as grand as Cannes Lions. But I suppose anything is better than what the world is currently experiencing. 

With COVID-19 completely taking over our little marketing world, I suspect we will see a lot of work related to the topic. The jury is out if that should be eligible. We’ll see. But given that every brand and agency are working on a very similar brief, I hope at the least that the awarded work is not the fastest or most reactive, but rather the best (and most humble!) for a particular brand.

Oh, and fewer categories with clearer distinction would be a much welcome improvement. Santé!


Scott Watson, head of creative, Fingerpaint’s Conshohocken office
When I think of Cannes, I think about a global creative community. I’m reminded of gathering with my industry friends and global colleagues—hearing stories about their agencies, sharing ideas, seeing amazing work, and being re-energized and inspired. That sense of community is so important, especially in today’s new world. So, how do we keep that connection and level of inspiration? 

As we know, film is king at Cannes, and much of our creative work is presented in that medium. But what if, instead of sharing our work, we invited the world into each of our offices by creating 30-60-second films about our agencies? I’m not talking about selling your agency, your work, or what the agency stands for. I’m talking about creating a mini-film that makes the viewer feel like they are actually inside your agency.

We could create a Cannes channel that houses each agency’s film—a cool, creative, social connection that keeps the sense of community without the competitiveness. We could have set times for Cannes Happy Hours, where we’d get to choose which agency we would like to see. I can just imagine having a pint or six with Andrew Spurgeon in Langland’s office. How cool would that be? Think of it as the whole world gathering at the Gutter Bar at 3 AM. That sounds good to me.  

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