Coffee and water were sorely needed on Thursday morning on the LBB Beach in Cannes, as the third and final day of debate and constructive conversation began. The sounds of the LBB 10th Anniversary party were still ringing in many guests' ears. But the Advertising Association had put together an impressive line up of business leaders for its 10am panel session. The beach was buzzing with eager guests, ready to think hard about something the UK creative industry outperforms much of the world in - world class creativity.
Business leaders from M&C Saatchi, Framestore, Channel 4 and Guardian Media Group joined together to lay out their secrets to leading such successful creative companies. Beginning with some justification for the discussion, moderator Tracey de Groose, executive chair of Newsworks, listed some of the ways in which British creativity often matches bigger markets. The UK wins more Cannes Lions than its size might suggest, she reminded us. "Our content travels," said David Pemsel, CEO of the Guardian Media Group.
It was a serious discussion between business leaders rather than the creative blue-sky thinkers from these companies, so Channel 4's CEO Alex Manon wasted no time in making it clear that creativity doesn't just happen. Businesses have to make concrete changes to best enable it to bloom.
Mike McGee, co-founder and CCO of London-born VFX company Framestore stressed that the way his company works on this is to proactively assemble a diverse pool of creative talent and to trust the ideas of young people. They futureproof business, he said. "Listen to them." Creativity for Framestore is about taking up the ideas of future-thinking people, giving them a forum and platform to express their creativity and then harnessing that at the scale that a large company can.
Then there's the general environment creativity requires to flourish in. Kate Bosomworth, CMO of M&C Saatchi, added that companies like her agency need to understand how to create a rich culture of creativity. "The business needs to live and breathe creativity," she said. It was a session full of imperatives and she followed Mike's with another clear one: "Invest in the daily life of the business." M&C has changed its business in recent years, she noted, highlighting the fact that the art, events and projects taking place inside the agency make it a much more inspiring place to be.
Risk taking is a favourite theme of creative panels at festivals and David clearly agrees that this is justified. Speaking further on the environment and culture a truly creative business thrives on, he was certain that making risky decisions comfortable for creative employees is key. Alex shared that she'd learned from her time at Channel 4 that sometimes the best ideas need supporting to reach their potential, even if they don't come out perfectly formed straight away. She admitted that this often feels like bad business sense, but that the impulse to shut down ideas needs resisting. Of course, we shouldn't get too carried away with putting creativity at the centre of everything. "I don't want creativity in the accounts department," she joked.
Running a business can't just be about indulging people to experiment and nurture ideas though. David drew attention to the constraints that the Guardian often has working against the creative people there. Finite time and budget gave birth to its Oscar nominated documentary Black Sheep, he claimed. The script for leading a business to world class creativity as he put it: "These are the guardrails; do the best you can."
Despite the Provencal sun glimmering on the Mediterranean just metres away, there was no room for small talk. Dept Agency's panel, 'How Technology Can Make Us More Human' dove straight into humanity and our complex relationship with augmenting our experience. The inception of the discussion was a mattress brand who'd been working on technology that tells bedtime stories to children. "Do we need technology there?" asked Dept's head of strategy Rens Verweij, which sparked the debate among the panel.
Some technology is superfluous, agreed the speakers. For example ECD Rene Verbong mentioned one brand that very cleverly used AI to track dog's emotions. Rene admitted it was a cool idea, but he also argued that maybe we don't need artificial intelligence to let dogs know humans what they want.
Christian Souche, research director at Accenture Interactive cited a case where AI was used to give orders to people who work in retail to help them work more efficiently. He wasn't convinced it was a good idea: "Humans become robots and AI becomes the person giving orders," as he put it. The focus should be on filling gaps in experience and human ability. Technology shouldn't be used as a substitute for human traits, he said.
The opportunities of voice technology paired with ever-advancing AI means are exciting for people like Christian though. He argued it means tech can now be more human than ever - an insight that is easily illustrated by Accenture Interactive's fascinating Memory Lane project, which harnesses these advances to provide companionship for the elderly and help them capture memorable stories for future generations.
Ivar Eden, creative strategist at Facebook Creative Shop, continued this thread of technology's power to connect humans more frequently, deeply and in more interesting ways. "Social platforms have enabled communities to become global," he said. "They're more powerful than they've ever been before. Small niches can create massive change. And that has implications for all of us." Communities are what social animals like us are defined by, and great branded creativity is often built on understanding these communities through technology.