Airbnb’s Managing Director of Art Department, James Goode, on being overwhelmed with applicants and a turning point for the industry
The world’s biggest tech brands have been prominent fixtures on the Croisette for the past few editions of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity. The Google/ YouTube beach is one of the most visible construction along the main stretch of the beach, offering attendees free ice cream, juices, t-shirt printing, seminars and even dance lessons. Twitter has its own spot, and Pinterest was present this year too. Many people we spoke to also chatted about the Facebook beach, which is tucked away up near the Palais, although they strangely don’t allow journalists in.
One tech brand doing things a little differently this year, though, was Airbnb. The company put out a call to action at the backend of May for women and ‘creatives of colour’ to meet them in Cannes, with an end goal to diversify and complete their in-house creative team.
“Coming to Cannes and setting up on the beach wouldn’t be our style,” Airbnb’s Managing Director of Art Department, James Goode, told LBB. “So we saw this as a way to make the most of the trip and keep it to the core of our mission. We thought, how can we come here and host in a way that is true to Airbnb?”
Airbnb has previously showcased the diversity of its hosts in its ‘Accept’ spot that came out last year, and CMO Jonathan Mildenhall was vocal this year in calling out Cannes Lions for a lack of diversity in the jury president selections and a lack of ‘brown faces’among speakers. And so Jonathan and James wanted to ensure that the brand had a team of in-house creators that reflected its community.
“I’ve been at Airbnb for two years and Jonathan tasked me with building the world’s best in-house creative, one specifically for the brand and community,” says James. “Diversity is completely at the heart of our mission – we want to create a world where anybody can go anywhere and we have to reflect that from within, particularly with regards to the creative team who are going to be articulating the brand and devising how we communicate with the world. If we don’t have a team of creators that reflects our community, and our community is all over the world in almost every nation on Earth, then we can’t do our job as we should.”
What’s more, James’s experience of working in international agencies like Wieden+Kennedy in Amsterdam, means he has seen first hand the kind of dividends that can pay off with a truly diverse team tackling a creative problem. So, upon joining Airbnb, he set about building a team full of different genders, colours, nationalities and outlooks on the world - but traditional ways of recruiting just weren’t cutting the mustard. He was being fed the wrong type of talent and found it difficult to discover the best creative brains in different markets - and that’s where Cannes came in.
“We’re a people-powered business - our product is our community,” says James. “That means that if we’re truly going to make a difference with regards to diversity and the way we create our teams, we actually have to engage with people and take action. It’s not rhetoric, it’s not empty messaging - it’s very typical of Airbnb to take action and expand the community in this way. That’s the only way we know how to do things.”
And that way of doing things seems to have paid off, as they received more requests for meetings than they could have even managed during the week of the Lions. So overwhelmed by the response was James and the Airbnb team that he believes the experience will “completely change our recruitment strategy”.
“We put out a call about a month before the festival, on the crest of the wave of people beginning to think about Cannes,” he adds. “We had 100s and 100s of people applying and wanting to know more.”
James was also enthused not just by the amount of conversations and interviews he was conducting but by the type and quality of them too.
“In a way yes they were interviews because we are genuinely looking to recruit people,” he says. “But it’s been more about an exchange of finding common values and sharing belief systems. And some of the people that have reached out to us haven’t necessarily been looking for a new job, but they’re just interested in having a good conversation with us about this. I’ve had some super interesting conversations with female creative leaders of networks and we may not necessarily work together but we’ll continue the conversation. That’s been an unexpected by-product of this.”
More generally, James is encouraged to see that diversity was so high on the agenda at this year’s Cannes and that action appears to finally be happening (outside of the Airbnb initiative). And while there’s still much work to be done, 2017 appears to mark a turning point for the industry, with companies such as Airbnb putting themselves out there for all to see – making failure to engage not an option.
“I’m more than aware that I’m a white, male, 40-something in the creative industry,” James admits. “I walk down the Croisette and most people still look like me.
“But the gauntlet has been laid down. We [Airbnb] are not claiming that we’re going to change the industry but we’re trying to do our bit. That has created expectation for us and we need to follow up on that. And what’s happened this year is that the industry has created its own expectation that it needs to follow up on. I’m fascinated to see what happens.”