Awards and Events in association withCreative Circle

Kimberlee Wells: “The Time for Simply Admiring the Problems Has Passed”

London, UK
TBWA\Melbourne’s CEO Kimberlee Wells knows that “brands need to put their money where their mouth is” this year at the Sustainable Development Goals Lions category

This year at Cannes Lions, Kimberlee Wells, CEO of TBWA\Melbourne has been appointed as jury president for the Sustainable Development Goals category. This category was introduced back in 2018, to advance awareness of the UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals and encourage creatives from across adland to celebrate, support and advance sustainability both in the industry and beyond. The goals span from ending poverty, to protecting the planet and ensuring prosperity for all, so the work submitted in the category comes from a wide range of perspectives, which is exactly what Kimberlee is excited about.

She joined TBWA in 2011 and since then her role has been rapidly expanding into overseeing the agency’s total digital offering, as well as championing the group’s future vision. Since the establishment of the Sustainable Development Goals Lions, moods in regards to sustainability have changed a lot, and now impact seems to be at the forefront of what the industry is looking for when it comes to the category of sustainability. LBB’s Zoe Antonov caught up with Kimberlee to find out more about how impact will be measured, what it means to be part of the jury at such an important time for this category and what Kimberlee expects to see tomorrow. 

LBB> How are you preparing for the jury room this year?

Kimberlee> Aside from putting time in to review the hundreds of cases, we have opened-up a great virtual dialogue between the jury members. Whilst we haven’t moved into case specifics yet, we are all very aligned on the principles we believe make for world class work in this category, which should serve us well once we enter the jury room in Cannes.   

LBB> What is it about the category that you’re judging that really excites or interests you?

Kimberlee> Judging the SDG Lions is part education, inspiration, and motivation. It provides a world view on some of the most important issues facing humanity and the planet. In the space of an hour, we can go from reviewing ideas tackling low levels of education and menstrual discrimination to sustainable production and energy consumption. It’s commendable to see brands, particularly some of the biggest defectors and defaulters, acknowledging the role they must play in these spaces and the impact their focus has on driving change. It’s also a sobering reminder of just how much more must be done to lift people and the planet out of circumstances they did not create.   

LBB> And what are the current big debates within that specific category - or more generally across the industry - that you expect to see coming through in the judging?

Kimberlee> Creativity and impact will be hotly debated. We are fortunate to have a jury comprised of experienced brand marketers, creatives, and NGOs who each bring a unique perspective to the discussion. But it’s fair to say we are all impatient when it comes to impact. Stunts, activations, and short-term tactics are not enough, given the scale of systemic change required to reverse the issues at hand. Our ‘bullshit meter’ is at the ready and our standards must be high. 

LBB> It’s the first in-person Cannes since the start of the pandemic, like a pivotal moment for an industry that’s been massively disrupted - how do you think that’s going to shape your thinking about your category in particular?

Kimberlee> Cannes remains our industry's world stage for creativity. It has always served as an important connection point to stimulate bolder, braver thinking and reminds us of how potent our industry can be. Being back in person, surrounded by the world’s best work will undoubtedly further impress on the jury the need to award work that acts a beacon for the rest of the industry to follow.  

LBB> With sustainability at the forefront of the industry's mind, what do you expect to see this year in your category in terms of the work?

Kimberlee> To my earlier point around impact, we are expecting to see work that lives beyond the media moment. Brands putting their money where their mouth is and going all in to address the social and environmental challenges they have chosen to align with. The time for simply admiring the problems has passed. Since the launch of the Sustainable Development Goals in 2015, we have known what needs to be done and with an even stronger spotlight placed on this as an industry, there is little room for excuses.  

LBB> Do you believe there is enough pressure on the industry to participate in taking the correct steps towards sustainable development and why? 

Kimberlee> Pressure from the industry only works if it is met by the ambitions of brands and creative agencies to genuinely change the course we are on. Industry-wide we have done a good job of ensuring checks are in place when it comes to issues like gender and race equality – ensuring balanced representation on speaking panels for example. We have used our voice well to raise awareness on all manner of issues and are increasingly putting actions in place to track and offset emissions. But I don’t believe we are at a point where, as an industry, we can show sufficient evidence to support the notion that we've taken all necessary steps towards sustainable development. Why? Because success in our industry is largely fuelled by competing against one another when in fact sustainability on any large scale really requires us to deeply partner together. 

Goal 17 – Partnership for the Goals is our opportunity to take more drastic action on the issues pertinent to our industry. Can our holding companies come together to take a stance on the physical and mental health costs of pitching? In a global talent marketplace, can we extend our efforts to develop and raise the education levels of low-income and lower-middle-income countries? Should we gather in places where our collective investment will stimulate economic opportunities that otherwise might not exist? Currently there is little consequence to not answering these questions. But as our talent and our clients continue to demand more of us as an industry, we must start to demand more of ourselves.    

LBB> What role should social politics play in sustainable development goals (for example the #StopChildMarriage campaign from last year or the Out and Proud campaign) and what are the topics you believe are overlooked in the category? 

Kimberlee> The Sustainable Development Goals exist to represent people, planet and prosperity. Social politics are therefore critical to advancing the livelihoods of people the world over. As one example, gender inequality remains a significant inhibitor to progress. It is impossible for a nation to get ahead if 50% of their population is held back due to archaic belief systems, inaccessible education and statutory regulations that support bias. Child marriage, period poverty, menstrual discrimination, financial discrimination, sexual abuse and femicide are excused or worse, still legally acceptable, in some countries today. Without applying political pressure and garnering political support to chart a new way forward, women will sadly continue to fall prey.

It's hard to make a true assessment of the topics overlooked in the category at this point but if we turn our attention instead to progress across all 17 of the goals, let me leave you with this. According to the 2021 Sustainable Development Report published by Cambridge University Press, the global average SDG Index score has decreased over the last 12 months — driven largely by increased poverty rates and unemployment following the pandemic. By and large, challenges remain across all of the Goals in all regions, with ‘major challenges’ identified pertaining to SDG10 Reduced Inequalities, SDG14 Life Below Water, and SDG15 Life on Land. This report and the data contained within serves as a signal to each of us, more can and must be done.
But in our quest to do better, we must also celebrate the positive steps that are being made. And that is exactly what the SDG Lions jury is here to do. Showcase the work we can all learn from, build upon and demonstrate that creativity is a potent accelerant to addressing the world’s most significant and critical issues.

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