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Our man in Cannes: Stuart Hehir reflects on the festival

Stuart Hehir, our Creative Director, welcomes you to our Cannes special – a mix of insight and opinion from this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Last week, we took a team out to the festival to listen, read, watch and speak, and as in previous years, we came back buzzing with ideas and grand plans.

We were incredibly proud to open the Health Insights Stage and you can read a little more on how that went in our other articles – as well as the thoughts from Dr Paul Chadwick, who joined us from UCL Centre for Behaviour Change.

Our talk ‘Can behavioural science save lives?’ explored how the worlds of academia and marketing can and should better work together to create campaigns that genuinely inspire change. We also spent time attending talks, soaking up the debates and browsing work from every corner of the globe.

You can read a brief round-up from each day, but I also wanted to use this opportunity to mention two of my own key-outtakes from the week.

Firstly, is the tail starting to wag the dog?

One thing that continues to grow is the dominance of the tech giants at the festival, reflecting a growing tension grounded in whether the tail is starting to wag the dog.

It was a subject that came up a few times in Q&A sessions – often from clients feeling pulled between the might of the social network sales teams and their agencies fighting for the idea-first approach – and was also covered by Sir John Hegarty.

We were fortunate to bag an invite to his interview with Matt Garrahan, Global Media Editor at The Financial Times and he pulled no punches on the topic, as well as covering the related separation of media and traditional creative agencies. One quote that best sums up Sir John’s view on this, “We talk about Frank Sinatra but we don’t talk about the microphone and that’s the best example of tech-enabling creativity”.

From my personal viewpoint, we need to ensure that we strike the right balance. Embrace technology and what it offers us – hyper targeting, better data etc. but not at the expense of the idea. And approach all campaigns in a media neutral way, letting robust planning and insights dictate your channel plan, not a smooth-talking tech giant. 

Over the 20 years I’ve been working in this industry, I’ve seen some pretty huge changes, and technology and channels will continue to evolve. But ultimately, I believe it will always come back to great ideas.

Or as Sir John Hegarty so neatly puts it, “When you get these great tech advances and innovations, creative people stand back and say, ‘what the hell do I do with this?’. The tech becomes king and everyone bows down in the face of technology. But eventually technology runs out of innovation and then creative people come in”.

Read more on the FT interview here.

Secondly, production and craft matter.

For a festival that often claims not to be all about craft and production, Cannes Lions does a great impression of a festival that’s all about craft and production.

At times, it’s frustrating – specifically when you know that your idea is great, but your budget only allows you to go so far with it – but on the whole, both of these things really do matter when it comes to the finished work.

In a world driven by the thirst to produce streams of ‘always on content’, taking the time to tell a story beautifully or invest in the craft of animation feels like a luxury, but it really delivers.

There is no better example of this than Pfizer’s, ‘This is Living with Cancer’ documentary. It’s a stunning, twenty-minute glimpse into the lives of five patients living with different cancers and manages to deliver both visually and in terms of telling the very human stories at play.

It features in our day one round up, but for us, takes the idea of insightful, patient stories to new heights. It’s well worth taking the time to watch it here.


is Creative Director at Pegasus and leads our digital, social & creative services.