That was my first line to kick off our seminar at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival on Friday, June 25. “Wow!” is also the easiest way for me to describe the amount of work we put into the event, and the combined reactions of those who had a chance to join our seminar. After months of planning and preparation we pulled off our first-ever seminar in Cannes at the annual gathering of the world’s leaders in advertising and marketing. Although I am still in a bit of a daze since coming off the stage nearly two weeks ago, my mind is already racing to develop ideas for the next big way that we can spread the next evolution of marketing. But before rushing on to what’s next, I want to capture and celebrate what we pulled off here.
Before I go on, though, I suggest that you invest the 45 minutes to view our complete seminar footage, which is up and available here. Or if you’re really time-strapped, first check out some highlights in the YouTube video above.
Way back around October 2009, our President, Jay Woffington, and I had lunch with Jim Stengel, former Global Marketing Officer of Procter & Gamble and now global speaker/consultant and professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Business. My book had just launched and Jim was continuing to spread his belief in brand ideals. We talked about our common desire to change the way marketing is performed, and we agreed that there was no better place than the annual Cannes Advertising Festival—a place where advertising and marketing leaders from around the world gather once a year to judge the best work, compare notes on where the industry is going, and bring back lessons that might be applied to the incredible changes surging through business and society today. We decided to team up and the folks at the Cannes Lions organization were excited to have us onboard for a seminar in late June.
In retrospect, deciding to do a seminar in Cannes and getting agreement from its leaders was the easy part. The real challenge lay in deciding what to do on our big stage. Thankfully we had some help. Two of our top creative leaders at Bridge Worldwide, Jason Bender and George Alexander, came up with the idea of asking a Burning Question. They argued that people in our industry are spending too much time searching for answers to questions such as: “What percentage of my budget should I spend on digital?,” “Do I need a new ad agency?,” and “What should my Facebook strategy be?” They reasoned that marketers are spending too much time looking for answers in new media tactics, and are therefore missing the big, fundamental shift that is happening in business and society. Their idea was for Jim and me to ask our Cannes audience a Burning Question, that, when asked, could help organizations hit the reset button and fundamentally adjust their methods to not only improve business results, but also improve life for customers, employees, stakeholders, and society overall.
To prepare for the event, Jim and I set up interviews with key leaders at some of the world’s largest marketers in the world. We were blown away to get 100% of our requests accepted from IBM, AT&T, Kraft, P&G, Levi’s, Luxottica, Pepsi, and Samsung. We flew camera crews around the country to ask these leaders our Burning Question and learn about how they recognized a need for change, the initial efforts they are making to shift, and the business and stakeholder benefits that are resulting from these early efforts. We were surprised to hear similar stories, and eager to share them with our audience in Cannes and beyond.
And to engage with more than the relative handful of folks who can go to Cannes, we sought to bring marketers around the world into the discussion. On BurningQuestion.com we asked people to post what they believed are the questions we should be asking ourselves. And we even ran a contest to bring two people over with us based on their personal efforts to improve the marketing world. Our winners were Stan Phelps, who is pioneering a new way to “give a little something extra” through his Marketing Lagniappe project, and Tyson Adams, a budding “philanthroprenuer” who just started a business called liveGLOCAL, that sells high-quality coffee and provides books for children in Laos for each bag sold. Both guys are incredible leaders who will continue to drive the next evolution of marketing in their own unique ways.
After a week of final-final preparation and taking in the other seminars and award-winning work in Cannes (see my blog posts here, here, and here), I was very eager to finally take the stage on Friday. Overall I was very pleased with the seminar. As you can see in the full-length video, we did a lot of things to drum up excitement and ensure that no one was disappointed to be sitting in our session on a Friday afternoon. I think we were able to weave together many threads that were running through Cannes all week and give the group something to thinking about, our Burning Question:
“How can we, in marketing and business, hold ourselves to a higher standard to create a positive impact on those we serve, our employees, and even the world?“
After the seminar we invited everyone in the audience up to the roof of the Palais to continue the conversation. I loved the chance to meet people from places as diverse as Ecuador, Turkey, India, and Australia—all struggling to figure out where the marketing world is going, and all coming away with some new thinking that they can apply to their brands and businesses. I gave away a few hundred copies of my book and collected a pocketful of business cards from potential clients, partners, and even competitors who wanted to keep talking about how we might work together toward this common goal. (Check out some of the after-seminar photos below…)
I find that it’s always hard to look at the time and money investment of an event like this and figure out if it was worth it. This was the biggest thing our agency has ever put on, and ultimately we are betting that by driving the industry conversation forward we will attract new clients and further build our business. Just like all of you, we are betting that we will succeed by creating Marketing with Meaning.
The work is not over, however, as we’ve come back down to earth and back to our desks and day jobs. We are working on plans to further share our seminar and the hours of amazing interviews footage with industry leaders. Jim and I even have a few requests to repeat the performance at industry events and corporate training facilities.
And, of course, I’ve already started thinking about what we could do in Cannes next year. I think the topic will only be hotter in 2011, and we want to continue to build on the momentum we have started. I would love your ideas and feedback in the comments below!