The Cannes Lions was once an event solely for advertising creatives. But it's been drawing more and more marketers who want to get schooled in brand creativity. This influx of clients, which began in 2003, caused much fretting—all those suits were going to ruin the loose (and often debauched) vibe of the festival. Then it dawned on Cannes veterans that it’s probably a good thing that the people in control of ad budgets were showing an interest in being more "creative."
And this year the Cannes Lions festival has quietly formalized its role as a school for marketers. At the pinnacle of this transformation is the Creative Academy For Young Marketers, a newly launched week-long educational program for brand custodians to absorb the lessons of advertising’s brightest minds and take action when they return to their jobs. The Academy is free, but enrollment is limited to 30 students who are under 30 years old.
The question is, can creativity be taught?
The headmaster of the new program is one of marketing’s biggest names: Jim Stengel, former global CMO of Procter & Gamble (pictured above). Stengel is now an adjunct professor at UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, the CEO of The Jim Stengel Company, where he consults with major brands, and author of an upcoming book called Grow: How Ideals Power Growth and Profit at the World’s Greatest Companies. His teaching assistants—Suzanne Tosolini, a consultant and former P&G marketing director, and Sanjay Sood, an associate professor of marketing at UCLA Anderson—are no slouches either.
The inaugural semester here on the banks of the Mediterranean includes marketers from Dell, Unilever, Kraft, Yum Brands, P&G, SAB Miller, Visa and the Russian telecom giant MTS. Students, whose titles include Brand Manager, Product Manager, Brand Awareness and Identity Manager and Brand Building Director, come mainly from the U.S. and across Europe (one is from HSBC Indonesia). All of them are at the Cannes festival for the first time.
The program consists of talks from Stengel, presentations from agency and other industry players and a curated selection of panels from the main Cannes agenda. A presentation by TBWA CMO Laurie Coots, for example, covers writing creative briefs, another by Rob Guenette, CEO of agency Taxi deals with agency-client relationships. Deutsch CEO Mike Sheldon covers the same topic by way of a case study of the making VW's "The Force" spot. Tim Armstrong and Arianna Huffington will talk about digital media, and a group of marketers including Marc Mathieu of Coke will discuss the "Characteristics of Winning Global Brands." Each day will end with a debrief where students discuss their issues. At the end of the week, Stengel will conduct a longer debriefing session that includes an action plan from each student on what they intend to do when they return to their brand duties.
"We want to create a community this week," says Stengel. "We will follow up after this event on how they’re doing on their commitments."
None of which can hurt, certainly. For companies with hidebound processes and siloed structures, creative blockage is a larger cultural issue. Stengel knows this better than most.
"Structure follows strategy," says Stengel. "And so many companies are dealing with a structure that’s not right for today." And his young students are expressing the frustrations of working within those structures.
"We’re hearing from the students that companies are willing to invest money to experiment in R&D but few will invest to experiment in marketing," says Sood.
But it’s clear that many companies are attempting to address the creativity gap. Marketers are aware of the larger discussion about creativity and innovation as drivers of growth; the simple fact that they are investing to send, in some cases, five people to a program like this (one marketer wanted to send 30 people, says Stengel) is further proof of the general will to change.
And there are few people more knowledgable about changing corporate culture and attitudes toward marketing than Stengel. During his seven years at P&G, Stengel became known as a change agent, and raised the creative profile of the company, while helping to lift the packaged goods giant out of a significant business slump. Once considered a creative death sentence, P&G became one of the most awarded marketers, winning Advertiser of the year at Cannes in 2008. It was Stengel who first approached Wieden+Kennedy about working on Old Spice (the brand behind one of the most famous campaigns of recent years, winner of a Cannes Grand Prix in 2010 and a shoo-in for another one this year). Stengel sums up his stint by saying that he helped turn P&G "into a more empathetic company."
Stengel points to three main challenges for companies in harnessing creativity: "First, companies and agencies are all set up in silos," he says. "We need to break them up and integrate them in a new way." Second is "re-framing how you’re thinking about your business and your brand" and "having a purpose or ideal." He points to the example of Pampers, a brand that tripled in size during his tenure at P&G due to an initiative that cast the diaper-maker as a baby care resource for parents. Third is measurement. His advice: just do it.
"People say measurement is an issue; I don’t think it is. You just try stuff and measure it. It’s not that hard. There are a lot of ways you can measure the emotion tied to business."