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Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity Through the Lens of Cannes Can: Diversity Collective Ambassadors

July 13, 2022
By Adrianne Smith and Fran Weems

While the South of France is known for its expansive sandy beaches lining the French Riviera and celebrity visits during the Cannes Film Festival, it’s also the site of one the largest gatherings for the advertising and creative communications industries: The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Every year through the Lion Awards, Cannes Lions explores the value of creativity in branded communication, from product and service development to creative strategy, execution and impact. Work that wins represents the year’s most exceptional campaigns and standard-setting benchmarks for businesses, while celebrating ideas that are shaping the next wave of creativity.  

However, despite its title of “international,” those who’ve attended the event in previous years can attest to the fact that it is far less representative of diverse perspectives than it should be. Adrianne C. Smith, senior vice president, senior partner and chief diversity and inclusion officer, sought to change this and launched the Cannes Can: Diversity Collective (CC:DC) in 2017 to provide young people of color and underrepresented communities with access and opportunity to attend and participate at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.  

This year, the festival took place June 20-24 in Cannes, France, and Francesca “Fran” Weems, senior vice president, director of diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I) and global lead of the Race & Culture Media + Platforms team, and Mubashira Farooqi, senior consultant and True MOSAIC project manager at FleishmanHillard HighRoad, had the opportunity to join a group of over 20 diverse, young professionals from across the world to attend as ambassadors for the CC:DC. The cohort is heralded as the industry’s future leaders and the goal is that this team will bring back learnings to create a larger impact. 

Smith created a spot that is welcoming with her activation at Cannes called “Inkwell Beach,” named as a historical tribute to the infamous beach in Martha’s Vineyard, which was a place of solace for Black people during segregation. CC:DC’s Inkwell Beach at Cannes is the first stand-alone activation specifically focused on elevating the conversation of DE&I in the history of the Cannes Lions Festival. As such, Smith ensured Inkwell Beach at Cannes is open to everyone requiring no badges for entry. She also made sure people felt the southern hospitality by providing a free soul food lunch prepared by Chef James Rose from Alabama to participants daily.  

Throughout the week, Cannes Lions hosted a multitude of panel discussions and speeches on topics ranging from creativity and sustainability to talent-making and data technology. Weems and Farooqi had the opportunity to hear from industry leaders from tech, auto, consumer, sports/lifestyle and more. Some of the highest-impact sessions were held on Inkwell Beach and featured speakers including Hall of Fame CMO Bozoma Saint John, Founder of the Me Too movement Tarana Burke and Supermodel and Businesswoman Naomi Campbell. Farooqi also had the opportunity to speak  about the black, indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) employee experience on a panel with fellow Omnicom colleagues, organized by Emily Graham, Omnicom’s chief equity and impact officer. Meanwhile Weems participated on a panel with Smith focused on how “Creativity Starts with Diversity.” You can watch it here

Throughout Cannes Lions, the networking and learning opportunities were endless. Some key takeaways include: 

  • The importance of talent-making vs. hiring 
  • Creating moments of impact rather than just conversation 
  • How leaders need to prioritize humanness, empathy and authenticity to be successful 
  • How greater focus on innovation happens when we are making ourselves uncomfortable 
  • In order to really provide sponsorship, we need to invest our time as much as our money into the success of others  

This experience provided ambassadors with a first-hand understanding of the barriers that exist for people of color on these international stages, but it also inspired participants to be confident and work together to encourage and create more spaces, like Inkwell Beach, to shine and showcase their talents. 

CC:DC ambassadorships are only possible  with the support of sponsors, known as “The Collective.”

Below are a few more shots of our incredible experience at Cannes Lions.

(From left to right)
Image 1: Gena Pemberton, chief DE&I officer, Omnicom Health Group; Ro Kalonaros, global director, content and culture, Omnicom Group; Tony Hobley, chief DE&I officer, Omnicom Precision Marketing Group; Mubashira Farooqi, senior consultant, True MOSAIC project manager, FleishmanHillard HighRoad; Lionel Carreon, executive director of global creative recruiting, TBWA Worldwide and Justin Thomas-Copeland, president and CEO, DDB North America
Image 2: Brian Melarkey, director and head of creative strategy, FleishmanHillard; Bia Assevero, vice president, FleishmanHillard; Fran Weems, senior vice president, director of DE&I and global lead of the Race & Culture Media + Platforms team, FleishmanHillard; Paige Graham, account supervisor, FleishmanHillard; Adrianne C. Smith, senior vice president and senior partner, chief diversity and inclusion officer, FleishmanHillard and Mubashira Farooqi
Image 3: Fran Weems, Adrianne C. Smith and Mubashira Farooqi
Image 4: Fran Weems, Brian Melarkey, Jim Donaldson, CEO of UK and Middle East, FleishmanHillard, and Mubashira Farooqi
Image 5: CC:DC Ambassadors
(From left to right)
Image 1: Naomi Campbell and Fran Weems
Image 2: Adrianne C. Smith and Fran Weems
Image 3: Malala Yousafzai and Mubashira Farooqi
Image 4: Fran Weems, Emily Graham, chief equity and impact officer, Omnicom, and Mubashira Farooqi
Image 5: Fran Weems and Bozoma Saint John, Hall of Fame CMO