It’s hard to imagine change in a place that’s been the same for so long.
If you’ve ever been to Elk City, Oklahoma, then you’ll know what I mean.
Last October, my wife and I pulled into town for the night, a stop along our driving journey from Toronto to Los Angeles. I got the distinct impression that 'change' wasn’t a part of the small town’s fabric. It was Middle America, along old Route 66, with storefront facades hanging over one main street. It was a single restaurant that wouldn’t let me order a burger without onions on it: “Order it the way it comes, or order something else.”
Eight months ago, I made a few changes. I moved agencies: leaving FCB Canada, after a combined seven years at both FCB/Toronto and FCB/SIX. I changed cities: swimming out of the smooth current of The Big Smoke and leaving Canada.
I’m not the only one. Our industry’s biggest celebration of creativity, Cannes Lions, changed a lot, too, this year. Lions removed award sub-categories (120 to be exact), brought together smaller, more diverse juries, and hosted every award show for free on all major platforms.
Change was ever-present in the programming this year. Stand-out sessions 'Advertise Like You Give a Damn: The Future of Effectiveness' and 'SickKids: From Charity to Performance Brand' focused on measurable transformation. And, perhaps the most incredibly poignant session on change came during 'Agents of Change' with Madonna Badger, Queen Latifah and Katie Couric – women who, at some point in each of their lives, were forced to force change.
So how can we use these paragons of change to inspire change in our agencies?
1) Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo: Madonna Badger, CCO of Badgers & Winters and founder of the #WomenNotObjects campaign, was the catalyst of change at Cannes Lions two years ago. After consistently being disappointed by misogynistic work being awarded year after year, Madonna challenged the festival to create an anti-objectification clause - which now exists as part of the jury briefing package. Humbly asking the audience in the Lumière theatre to let go of the fear of the unknown, she spoke about the catastrophic force of change that came with the loss of her three daughters, Sarah, Lily and Grace, along with her own parents, Pauline and Lomar.
2) Embrace diversity: Queen Latifah’s Queen Collective is dedicated to the telling of female stories. The Collective will award production dollars, along with consultation and support networks, to two female directors a year to produce full-length films, to ensure that there are ever more female directors in the entertainment industry’s pipeline.
3) Push through the growing pains: Katie Couric’s advice was to go ahead and make change, even if the world doesn’t want it. A ground-breaking career in journalism has led Katie in a new direction: documenting and discussing important change-based issues in America, including the obesity epidemic and gender equality.
4) Don’t give up: Even though change can be really frustrating, challenging, and heart-breaking, we have to try. We have to try to have at least (AT LEAST) one female director bid on every project, every time. We have to try to hire people who are not white men. We have to try to replace that straight married couple in our scripts/photos/banner ads/sponsored Instagram posts with a gay couple. Maybe you’ll try, and the client will want the straight couple. That’s the heartbreak. But ask again, next time. Ask until there’s no longer a need to ask, until you lose your voice, until you can’t take 'no' for an answer.
Cannes Lions made changes when they were challenged. I am sure it wasn’t all smooth sailing, but they changed.
And, during the festival there was a general sense of openness and lightness. Change is another form of freedom, after all. It’s movement, imagination and creativity.
There’s agency in change.
And it should be a byproduct of all our agencies (eye roll, I know, but I love double meanings).
Oh, and I ordered the Elk City burger anyway. I lifted the bun up and picked off the onions, getting my hands full of ketchup and mustard. Change is messy, sure, but it’s also really colourful.