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Cannes Lions

A Cannes Reflection with Entertainment Lions Jury President Debbi Vandeven

VML’s global CCO speaks to LBB’s Addison Capper about her jury experience, consultancies and gender inequality on the final day of Cannes Lions

A Cannes Reflection with Entertainment Lions Jury President Debbi Vandeven

As jury president of the Entertainment Lions in Cannes last week, Debbi Vandeven was tasked with celebrating and awarding work that went beyond branded communications. Her jury was diverse in terms of discipline, made up of creatives, publishers, tech folk and even someone involved in sporting contracts - something that she believes led to particularly interesting conversations in the jury room.  

As Friday afternoon drew to a close and Debbi finished her ‘CCOs on the Beach’ panel discussion on the Cannes Lions Beach, LBB’s Addison Capper caught up with her for the pair’s final meeting of the week. 

LBB> You were the Jury President of the Entertainment Lions - what were the biggest trends that you saw in the jury room? 

DV> My jury was great. Speaking of different backgrounds, the jury was about 20 people, but we had people from gaming, PR, media, someone who does sports contracts - because we judged so much sports work. She works in the sports industry but she isn’t a creative. Then there were creatives from creative agencies, publishers, someone from Instagram. The jury really came at the work from every angle. That’s great on one hand because you get perspective on everything, but maybe a little challenging at times because they come at it from so many different angles. Maybe the team on board onto the same page could be a challenge. Not in a bad way, everyone was so respectful of each other. I felt really good about where we ended up with the work. Everyone learned from each other and there was such great discussion. 

LBB> What were the big talking points in Cannes overall?

DV> I think the industry is blurry. You used to know exactly who your competitor set was, and now I would say you have no idea. The competition is absolutely everywhere - clients are bringing stuff in house, publishing companies have their own staff, directors are doing a lot direct to client. It can be really exciting to be able to do a lot of different things, but at the same time really challenging for clients too because they aren’t exactly sure where they should be spending their money. It gets confusing in the market - how do they reach consumers? It can be very exciting for an agency that wants to a lot of different things, it can also be challenging for an agency that hasn’t evolved to do a lot of different things. I’ve seen that all week. 

LBB> Do you think creativity still the king or queen of Cannes? 

DV> I do - but you’re asking a creative! I think it’s great the tech brands are here. Accenture won some big things this year too. I’m probably more inclusive than others because, even though I started my career in advertising, I’ve been really in digital work for 20 years - consultants coming into the creative process is just another evolution of that. We have a consultancy within VML too and we’ve hired from some of these companies. I actually believe that because they are in on the business side of things, they get into a client’s business probably faster than an agency does. If you’re in the business and you understand the business, it helps to direct the return they need. 

LBB> #MeToo was naturally a big discussion in Cannes this year - what are your thoughts on that with regards to Cannes and the ad industry as a whole? 

DV> I wish I would have been able to have more of that discussion here - I missed a lot of it because of the judging. But VML is 3% certified. Years ago when Kat Gordon started 3% we were interviewed at the same time, so VML has sponsored the 3% movement every year. When we got certified we had to open the books for our pay gap. We had more than 500 interviews across our group of employees to see how people felt about the company and gender equality within it. That led to a lot of discussions about inclusivity and we didn’t feel like we were as diverse as we should be. We were always trying to get women into the business, and keep them. 

But when you think of #MeToo specifically, we have a zero tolerance policy. Right now we’ve been concentrating on our internal agencies and how to make sure that people feel safe in those environments and have the right reporting structures if something goes wrong. I’m part of the Time’s Up movement, I was part of the second meeting that happened and all of VML’s female executives have signed up. 

I think an issue now is educating men too. Women understand it but it can also make men uncomfortable. We need to make sure everyone understands what is right for business and what isn’t right for business. I still feel that diversity, of all kinds, overall is an issue. God-is Rivera is our inclusivity and diversity lead at VML. We put her in place about a year ago and she’s working on many programs that she wants to bring into the agency globally. She looks at the work too - it’s not just about how our environment is, it’s the work we do too, to make sure that we’re doing things that are authentic for culture.