Cannes. A Cathedral of confidence?

“All you need in this life is ignorance and confidence, and then success is sure.” Mark Twain.

It is a strange thing flying 30 hours to France to be welcomed by a thick Russian accent. My driver, Ivan, was a tour guide originally from Vladivostok now living in Nice. I am not sure Russians make great tour guides. Even when they say have a nice day, it sounds vaguely threatening and sinister.

This is the strangeness of Cannes. Russian tour guides, hustlers, believers, charlatans and sometimes you occasionally meet a genius who may or may not be a hustler.

My Russian tour guide was originally an electrical engineer but could not get qualifications in France. I asked why he stayed. He replied, the weather, the woman and the fact that he could say whatever he wanted. He could have an opinion. And Cannes is certainly the right place for that.

As I have said in a previous blog, Cannes is like a beautiful picture frame but every week the picture changes. One week it is film, the next week porn, the week after that advertising. And so it goes on.

This is the great contradiction of Cannes. The place, the old stone buildings and eternal landscape have a feeling of having been there forever. Yet the conversations are always about the future, where things are going. Yesterday’s buildings remain but the billions of words will be gone in the morning.

And the thing about the future is nobody knows. We can pretend we know, we can guess and some of us might think we are certain. But nobody really knows. Some just believe more than others.

This week I listened to a lot of opinions. A lot. Cannes seems to be this strange place where ideas go to be believed in. All these ideas, navigating their way through waves of opinions to try and reach the shore. For me, Cannes is an attempt at navigating when you have no stars. In a world made of opinions, we do this pilgrimage to find some confidence for our journey. Simply put, we want to believe we are moving in the right direction.

I listened to ECD’s, CCO’s, CEO’s, clients, media people and a variety of others from Pharrell Williams to drunk Italian waiters. And, amongst the wine, finger food and salesmanship, if you listen closely, they all have a theory about where things are going. What they don’t have is confirmation and never really will. This is why they come to Cannes. They are looking for confidence. Or trying to give some to others.

Confidence is almost everything. Ideas need confidence to survive. And when it comes to the business of the future, confidence and belief is just as important as fact. And, our business, from winning a pitch to making a great idea happen is all about confidence. Now, I don’t know if getting any kind of confidence from Cannes is a moderate form of insanity. Actually, I am pretty sure it is. In fact, I know it is. However, year after year, in a business of endless opinions, we use this little French sea-side town to tell us what this years facts are going to be. It might be crazy but confidence is a fuel our business desperately needs. Now, more than ever.

I don’t say this as some sort of Cannes zealot. I have been a creative for 20 years and know better than most what a cruel mistress Cannes can be. There is so much bullshit. One year you are a genius because you won the Grand Prix, the next year you are average because you didn’t make a shortlist. And you are still the same person. One year, everybody talks to you, the following year, they are looking over your shoulder through their mirrored Ray-Bans to see who else is in the room. I have been elated there and I have been depressed there. I have loved those quaint shutters and rude waiters and I have also hated every inch of the place. Either way, it has moved me forward. Sometimes through happiness, sometimes through anger and determination. Creating momentum is the hardest thing to do in this business, so however it happens, be grateful for it. 

Our business is an ocean of opinions and to conquer that ocean you need two things. You need an engine and a compass. Strangely, in its own way, Cannes can be both for you. It can give you the confidence or sometimes the anger to try and move forward. And, in our business, momentum and finding almost any direction will always help you far more than standing still.

That is what I saw this year. An industry full of brilliant people and ideas looking for the confidence to move forward in a rapidly changing world.

And what if you take the wrong direction?

Don’t worry. Next year’s pilgrimage awaits, where you can once again look for that next unreachable North Star.


If nobody likes advertising agencies how come they keep opening them?

Illustration Minky Stapleton

“There is no bad whiskey. There are only some whiskeys that aren’t as good as others.”
Raymond Chandler

What is a creative department? It is kind of a stupid name. A bit like art regiment or idea navy. Actually, I quite like idea navy.

It is an amazing place to work. In a split second, somebody can put two and two together and all of a sudden you are staring at a beautiful idea. To get paid to come up with ideas is a great way to make a living. And there are days, that are so special, they stay with you for life. Those are the days when the invisible becomes visible. When the idea in your head is standing in front of you.

A great creative department doesn’t happen by accident. And they don’t happen easily. They are far more liquid than solid. Forever changing, moving in and out of greatness. What will the Lego people build today? Some days things that are magic and impossible, some days things that are shit. And the next day, the shit has become magic. That is the weird world of a creative department.

The reason I mention this wonderful place is that I have noticed these days literally everybody is starting a creative department. In essence, an ad agency. Tech companies, production companies, entertainment companies, media companies, clients. I keep hearing these two words. Creative capability.

So I thought I might give you a few thoughts about what you should and shouldn’t do.

Unfortunately, I think a lot of people think creating a successful creative department is purely a numbers game. If you have enough people you will be able to do what everybody else can do. You just need the factory that makes that invisible idea stuff. That’s not how this factory works. Ideas are invisible and so are the qualities and conditions that create them.

Let’s use a restaurant as an example. You have a favourite restaurant. A beautiful bistro. You decide you are going to make one just like it. You get another chef and get him the exact same outfit. You can’t get the same building, so you use the cafeteria at work which has a very modern kitchen. The brilliant French maitre’d doesn’t want to work there, so you get someone who also speaks french. On top of this, you decide what’s on the menu. How do you think that’s going to work out?

Yet, this is the approach for many in our business.

Creativity and ideas are not only about having enough people. They are also about environment and inspiration. The very fact that some agencies do work that is so much better than others proves this. Despite what self-help books say, talent is not equally distributed. There will be many cynics rolling their eyes. They will say these are soft issues. Well, if you have ever been through turning an agency around you will know these are the first things you try and get right. Without it, the place has no gravity. And ultimately without gravity, or belief, creativity becomes average and eventually dies. The sad part is it doesn’t die in a spectacular way. So nobody sees it happening. It dies imperceptibly, so very slowly, and then it is too late. You looked away for a second and the sun has dipped behind the horizon.

So, if you believe you can get a whole lot of creatives types and stick them in a room and get brilliant ideas think again. If you don’t believe me go and read some of the comments on a blog like agency spy. It doesn’t make pleasant reading. You will see what a messy business creativity can be. Ego, insecurity, loyalty, anger and fear all on display. Yet, what it also shows is what a human business the ideas business is.

The truth is, great work comes from getting the blend of people right. This is the trick. It is how they work together. A creative department is never a single malt, it is a blend. And a blend, is not copied, it is created. A creative department is no different. You need the right ingredients and conditions. You need time. You need conviction.You need madness and some luck. You need talent. And, you need bravery because you hardly ever have all the things I have just said, at the same time.

In the next couple of years, we will see some massive creative department car crashes. This is because many believe creating a creative department requires no skill, just the correct amount of people to do the work.

Be very careful if you think it is that easy. It is not.


What happens in Vegas, doesn’t stay in Vegas anymore.

 Illustration Minky Stapleton

“Whoever controls the media, controls the mind.”

Jim Morrison

Over a hundred years ago, in the 1980’s, there used to be a television show called Dallas. Now, when I was growing up, it was so popular that restaurants on a Tuesday evening would close because nobody went out. The entire country watched the show at the same time on the same station.

Try and think of anything today that even comes close to that kind of power and dominance. I am guessing we would all come up with the same answer. Sport.

It is pretty much the last piece of content from a broadcast perspective that can guarantee everybody is watching something at the same time. So, I thought would be interesting to use one of the biggest sporting events in the last 5 years to look at how things are changing. For me, Floyd versus Manny was an excellent barometer of one of the largest seismic shifts to happen in our business. And it all comes down to one word, control.

Floyd versus Manny was a fight the whole world wanted to see. There were people that were willing to pay over 300 000 dollars for a single seat. One seat!

That tells me two things. Firstly, if you have a great product and people really want it, there will always be a market no matter how insane the price. Secondly, nothing will trump experience. Being there is everything. That gives those running the event a whole lot of control.

So, if I had to make a bet, experiential in our industry will become far more important than it already is. There are two reasons for this. One it gives you a modicum of control as to who sees content and possibly when they see it. Two, it might be the most cost effective way to make enough content for the millions of channels we are creating. For years, I have listened to stupid arguments about the definition of digital versus conventional advertising. Do yourself a favour, walk through the halls in a global show like Cannes. See how many of the same entries are in ambient, outdoor, branded content, experiential, direct, pr, digital, events and mobile ,which glues it all together, and you will see how ridiculous this argument has become. The truth is, in our business, we talk about singular categories that no longer really exist. And I believe that has been true for at least a decade.

What does still exist is people’s desire for emotional, unexpected, life changing experiences and the need to share them. So, I believe all of the categories I have mentioned will grow massively and become a very powerful ecosystem. This has massive implications for how advertising and marketing departments should be operating now and how they will operate in the future. The problem is that what is happening doesn’t really fit on a spreadsheet anymore. It is very fast and fluid. Responsiveness out of necessity will become the new control.

Control. It is something the industry was built on. Time, space and access. It is the cornerstone of how it all works. And what can you control? Or, more accurately what could we control in the past. Only two things. Content and distribution.

Content has one large problem. There is not enough of it. And that might actually be an opportunity for advertising. If people are going to be in many places at different times, in different ways, we will have to be there too. And, if that content has to be personalised, we will need to create more content. And, if it has to be in real time, we will have to move fast. And, of course, it will have to all connect and be of the highest quality. So, as budgets get squeezed, we will need to make more better and make faster. That is a big challenge but one I believe that can be solved simply because it has to be solved.

So, let me give you one other challenge that I believe is far bigger. Distribution. This has always been the ultimate form of control. And control, is just another word for money.

After the fight, I read a piece about millions of people using Meerkat and Periscope, apps that stream live, to watch the fight. In essence, one person with a mobile can broadcast a billion dollar fight in Vegas to the entire world for free.

This is a rather large genie that has been let out of the bottle. Access. Now, everybody can get into the club because the bouncer doesn’t know there is a backdoor. It started with search, moved to media and publications and now it is happening with live events. This all inevitably gets you to the following question.

If I can get whatever I want for free, whenever I want, why would I pay for it?

There are only a few answers. The quality is better. I get more. I get it faster. Or like a 300 000 dollar seat, I just want the experience.

This is an old battleground that will change the future of our business forever.

Seconds out. Round one. Ding.