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Advice And Insights From Cannes Icons

If you missed the carnival of egos, entrepreneurs and innovators that was Cannes Lions 2014, fear not. We dive deep to procure the shiniest pearls of wisdom from last year’s most lauded speakers, presented here for your reading pleasure.

You need the heart of an artist and the brain of a manager

First lady of grunge Courtney Love believes that while creativity is crucial to forging a career, a little business savvy also goes a long way. “Artists also need to be earners,” she says, while admitting that she often fails to take her own advice and doesn’t consciously work on her brand. This focus on the entertainment industry as a workplace, rather than a precious Emerald City for artists, permeated the entire week.  “In this economy, it is incumbent for artists to be business brains,” says Rob Lowe. “The artists who make it happen are the ones who pay attention to business.”

As if to hammer this point home, rock star and philanthropist Bono told audiences in his seminar, and again while accepting his LionHeart Award, that he has taken to describing himself as “the CMO of U2.”

Real stories in real time

New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd is of the opinion that revered storytellers Charles Dickens and William Shakespeare would be “addicted” to the immediacy and succinct nature of platforms like Twitter; “as the bard wrote, brevity is the soul of wit.”

Meanwhile, the rest of us don’t have much choice in the matter. “Silence is not an option,” says Coca-Cola’s Wendy Clark. “In a socially networked world, if you are silent, your truth will be filled in for you.” When crafting content in real-time, Clark’s philosophy is “speed trumps perfection.” It is better to capture somebody’s attention and imagination in the moment than it is to deliver a masterpiece once that moment has passed and nobody is looking.

Beats by Dre, the music company and lifestyle brand, operates under a similar set of commandments. “Culture doesn’t stand still,” says CMO Omar Johnson. “You have to react and produce in the moment.”

When it comes to sponsored content, tread softly

YouTube and Vine are two great examples of platforms with the power to turn nobodies into superstars. These actors, comedians, musicians, and lifestyle gurus each have a loyal fanbase – a captive audience, in the eyes of many brands. But many consumers, on Vine in particular, have felt cheated when their favourite Viners become shills for Starbucks, Trident Gum, and the Hot Or Not app.

“People have a high sensitivity to sponsored content,” says Catfish creator Nev Schulman, who has an impressive Vine following of his own. “They want personalities to stay personalities.” In other words; there is a way to leverage these creative young semi-celebrities, but it needs to be more subtle than sticking a can of Coke in their hands and asking them to smile for the camera.

Empowerment, not hierarchy

The Skype gods smiled on Wendy Clark’s video chat connection during her seminar, as she was able to conjure her on-the-ground World Cup team to the stage in Cannes, all the way from Brazil, to demonstrate Coca-Cola’s real time engagement. However, a secondary takeaway from this was the trust placed in the remote Brazil hub. “The most important thing with this team in Brazil is that they have the authority to make decisions,” says Clark. “They are empowered.”

In one of those rare moments that managed to be simultaneously profane and (somewhat) profound, Kanye West echoed a similar ethos. “Empower the greatest content creators, or fuck you.”

Let’s hear it for the girls

Joanna Coles, editor-in-chief at Cosmopolitan, chaired a session with Sarah Jessica Parker covering fashion, acting, and Parker’s latest TV project. Following the talk, Coles had more to say about female representation and visibility. “There need to be more women in Hollywood,” she says. “Only 23% of dialogue in Hollywood movies is actually spoken by women.” She went on to praise Sex and the City as “one of those steeples on the landscape of television which really changed the ability for women to act and tell stories on television.”

Coles was also on a panel with Facebook CEO Sheryl Sandberg, where they discussed the depiction of women and girls in contemporary imagery and storytelling. In her own seminar, Sandberg issued a call to action to the audience: “Next time you hear somebody call a little girl bossy, here’s what I want you to do. Go up to them and say; that little girl is not bossy. That little girl has executive leadership skills.” Her instructions, as expected, got a laugh, but Sandberg followed that up by saying the exact same thing, replacing “little girl” with “little boy”. The sentence instantly lost its comic appeal. Sandberg believes that the small number of female leaders in the tech industry and beyond is a problem which begins on the playground. “By junior high, more boys than girls want to lead, because girls don’t want to be perceived as inappropriately aggressive.”

This is where she hopes Lean In’s recent partnership with Getty Images will make a difference. The project challenges popular assumptions of male and female roles, both at work and at home, by providing alternative images. Sandberg is sick of that stock photo we’re all too familiar with; the frazzled-looking woman, in a frumpy business suit, standing next to a crying baby. Says Sandberg: “Don’t tell women that if they work, their babies will cry.”

And finally, some surprising words on sustainability

Neil deGrasse Tyson, astrophysicist and geek god, received a standing ovation following the Ogilvy & Inspire presentation, which he delivered with all of the passion and electric energy of a preacher. After leaving the stage, Tyson sat down with Ogilvy’s Jeremy Katz to talk through his “unorthodox” views on sustainability.

“Sustainability is what you say and the way you think when you’re confronted with limited resources,” he says. “However, the history of limited resources in our civilisation is one where a whole new solution arises that renders the limitations of the resources irrelevant.” This isn’t just sheer optimism, though; Tyson insists it is backed up by real precedent. “Salt used to be a strategic limited resource, controlled by governments. It was the only way we knew to keep your autumn crop preserved through the winter so you would not starve to death. Wars were fought over salt, access to it was everything.” Until refrigeration. “There are no wars fought over salt anymore; the strategic value of that commodity was rendered obsolete in the face of other discoveries that allowed you to accomplish the same thing. The creativity of the engineer can render a prior problem obsolete, without actually solving the problem.“

The crux of mankind’s sustainability problem, then, is that too often we think small. “I, as an astrophysicist, know the limitless resources that are floating around in space, some of which, if we didn’t deflect, would hit us and render us extinct. So why not go out and mine some asteroids for a change, instead of running away from them?” There is absolutely no need, says Tyson, for wars to be fought over finite fossil fuels, when “the universe is at our disposal.”

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