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  • Gina Michnowicz

Crying at Cannes Lions: Inspiring Stories from the Festival

I went to Cannes Lions thinking I’d be inspired by tactical ideas and marketing creativity, but instead, I found myself inspired by people and their stories. I was actually, truly, moved to tears during a few sessions.

The times we live in are far from perfect. The past 18 months have been rife with tragedies and the exposure of pervasive social issues. Mass shootings, predatory behavior by some men, objectification of women, racial injustice, a continuing lack of diversity...the list goes on. These issues aren’t new. What’s new—and what touched me so deeply at Cannes—is how we are standing up to tell our stories. Real, meaningful, sometimes heart-wrenching stories that work to address these tragedies and social issues. 

Obviously, media and advertising are not solely to blame for all these issues. Yet they do play a major role. For example, the objectification of women in ads perpetuates negative messages. A lack of diversity can make people feel invisible, unwanted, or unheard. But while media and advertising share some of the blame, that means they also have the power to create change, as I saw at Cannes. 

Catalysts for change come from people like the esteemed panel of the “Agents of Change” session, Queen Latifah, Katie Couric, and Madonna Badger, as well as its moderator, Marc Pritchard. (Marc, the chief brand officer at P&G, has been instrumental in supporting diversity in its advertising.) During the session, the women talked about the challenges they faced due to being female or a person of color, or both, in industries dominated by white males. 

Their stories are all the more inspirational because they have leveraged their success to pay it forward and push for change. 

When CoverGirl invited Queen Latifah to become a brand ambassador in 2006, she used the opportunity to push for—and create!—a product line that flatters brown skin tones. When Madonna faced personal tragedy, she looked for a way to make a difference. That way became the #WomenNotObjects campaign, an effort to stop the objectification of women in advertising. Katie, who has achieved incredible, barrier-breaking success as the first solo female nightly news anchor at CBS, recently teamed up with National Geographic for a documentary project, Gender Revolution: A Journey with Katie Couric. The film aims to bring further awareness to gender complexities throughout our culture.

These panelists are driving movements such as #WomenNotObjects and #SeeHer forward, and they urged the audience to join them to help eliminate female bias from all media and advertising. 

The session ended with a moving performance from MILCK of her song “Quiet.” The song, which went viral after MILCK sang it during the D.C. Women’s March, is her story as a survivor of sexual abuse. It also seeks to encourage and empower all those thinking of coming forward. There was not a dry eye in the house, including mine. 

At another panel, “Never Finished,” an incredible discussion on female empowerment and the power of authentic self-expression, I had the opportunity to hear more inspirational people pushing for change: Jennifer Sey, CMO of Levi Strauss, and Tarana Burke, the founder of #MeToo.  

Quite frankly, I attended this panel because I had a fireside chat with Jennifer a couple of weeks earlier at the Incite Brand Marketing Summit and really enjoyed her perspectives. But this was an entirely different conversation. 

Jennifer talked about the abuse that she lived through in her gymnastic career and how writing her memoir Chalked Up helped her heal. (However, the fact that many people within the elite gymnastics community as well as her parents did not stand up for her best interests as she underwent these horrifying experiences was and is heartbreaking.) 

Tarana, a victim of sexual abuse who made a commitment to serving the causes of people of color, marginalized groups, and young women and girls, found her voice when she was helping a 13-year-old girl being abused by her stepfather. While she remained silent about her own experience at that moment, her inner voice just kept saying “me too.” That inner voice sparked an idea for her of how people could voice their abuse without even needing to tell their full stories. 

The point of the #MeToo movement is to provide inclusion for the victims of sexual violence. Like MILCK’s song, the movement is about survival and empowerment. It’s about rising against predators and collectively taking our power back. For some, saying #MeToo is enough. Others may not even say #MeToo but take comfort in knowing they are not alone. I personally have struggled with whether I should tell my stories. While this is not the right moment, as a start, here I will add my voice to the others: #MeToo

The power of people’s voices as they stand up for a purpose, especially together, can be incredible. I saw this exemplified again in a session that featured three survivors of the Parkland school shooting: Madison Leal, Kai Koerber, and Sam Zeif. These teenagers share their horrific stories as part of a push for change. They’ve raised millions of dollars and pressured large companies to cut ties with the NRA. As I watched them talk, I was struck by how they are transforming their tragedy into causes that will make an impact. Their power and courage inspired me.

Our collective voices have the power to help change the world for the better. 

This realization made me look more deeply at myself as well as our agency. While our agency is primarily led by females and our culture in The Craftsman Agency is a supportive one that does not tolerate intimidation or harassment, I know that is not enough.

We will continue to give back to our communities and look for new ways to do so. 

We plan on supporting #SeeHer in the effort to halt the objectification of females in advertising and marketing. 

And I joined the #MeToo movement. 

I am thankful for Cannes Lions and its panelists’ courage and ability to tell their stories in a thoughtful way. The experience changed me. It made me feel more involved, more present, and more sure that we can make a difference. 


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