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“We Have a Special Industry” Working with Cancer Competition Launch Sees Holding Companies Collaborate for $100m Brief
Advertising Agency
Paris, France
As the industry’s major holding companies join Publicis Groupe to launch mega brief for Working With Cancer at Cannes, Publicis’ Carla Serrano and BBDO North Americas Luiz Sanches tell Laura Swinton why the whole industry is coming together to create profound social change

“Our industry is incredibly competitive," says Carla Serrano. “But in moments like this it comes together.”

Cancer knows no boundaries. So, when Publicis Groupe launched Working With Cancer at the beginning of 2023, to challenge the stigma experienced by cancer sufferers at work, they soon discovered that their mission would have to transcend divisions if it was to have any impact.

That’s why they’ve embraced the support and passion of their competitors at Edelman, IPG, Omnicom, and WPP to create a truly cross-industry coalition. And on Thursday June 22nd, they’ll be launching an open brief, The Big C, inviting everyone to come up with ideas for a culture-defying campaign for everyone living and working with cancer. The campaign will run on World Cancer Day and has a whopping $100 million of donated media space. It marks the third major moment for a movement that’s only six months old and has already moved the world’s biggest brands to sign up with a launch campaign at Davos and brought the message to the masses with a major Super Bowl ad. Now, Working with Cancer is set to become everyone’s business.

“We’re so proud this has turned into a real industry collaboration, coalition mission,” says Carla Serrano. “Having come from an authentic place and continuing to grow, we now have 600 companies that have pledged. Now we really need the best creative minds to accelerate it.”

Working with Cancer has proven to be a great leveller across the industry since Publicis Groupe’s Artur Sadoun, himself a cancer survivor, launched it at Davos. Omnicom’s John Wren was the first holding company lead to reach out to Artur and Omnicom became the first holding company outside of the Groupe to sign the pledge. As Cannes approached, discussions turned to what they could do together.

“Together, we came up with this notion of like, well, why don't we hold a contest in Cannes, with the greatest creative minds to open up this brief and get every single holding company involved? And here we are!” explains Carla.

Luiz Sanches, CCO at BBDO North America, is one of the megastar industry creatives who will be judging the work. He’ll be joined by Susan Credle (global chair and global chief creative officer, FCB), Chaka Sobhani (global CCO of Leo Burnett), Judy John (global CCO of Edelman) and Debbi Vandeven (global CCO of VMLY&R). For Luiz, getting involved in this project has shifted his perspective as it’s made him think about all of the people that he knows that have had to work while fighting cancer.

“You start talking about it and you always know someone else that has it. But I think what is intriguing for me is that it's the people facing that terrible disease that have to be very brave in order to go to work and try to have a normal life. It’s like living in a metaverse because you don’t realise, you don’t see them. They are suffering and they have this pain they are carrying. The empathy we can practise just by showing that we recognise it can help them.”

Luiz describes the campaign as a ‘beautiful tool’ and he’s excited by the vast horizons that the brief offers and the scope for people all over the world, with different perspectives to engage and break beyond the echo chamber.  

The ambitions that those involved with Working with Cancer have cannot be understated. In terms of societal change, Carla wants to see something akin to the scale achieved by the fight to destigmatize the discussion around mental health or the battle for maternity rights in the workplace.

She’s well aware that Cannes is a graveyard for worthy but ultimately non-impactful social good campaigns, but she reckons the combination of a precise brief and an enormous media canvas will result in something altogether more solid.

“I find it in the backdrop of Cannes - and this might be controversial - there are cases that speak to positive change, and sometimes they're not quite as authentic or as impactful or, as universal.  This one, it's precise enough, because working with cancer is not just cancer, it is specific to the workplace. A great brief is both tight and big. And so I really feel like this one is that and, for creatives, I really hope that they see that it's both got the virtue purpose, but also, it's a really, really good creative challenge.”

As a creative, Luiz sees the inspiration within the brief and is excited to see what comes out of this super competitive industry-wide collaboration. “Sometimes the problems that we have to solve are far away… and with this one, sometimes it’s sitting by your side and you don’t realise it. And that makes the human side of it really, really beautiful for storytelling, to create this narrative. By the way, just by talking about this opportunity at the briefing, we started realising people had gone through it and we just didn’t know. So that makes it kind of surprising and different,” says Luiz.

She continues: “Also to have the networks just combining forces is super nice, because everyone wants to show their best side. The excitement level is really high.”

As coincidence would have it, the theme for LBB at this year’s Cannes Lions is Better Together, and the generosity and openness shown by the brands, holding companies, media owners and platforms has proven just what the industry can achieve when it embraces those opportunities to come together, in between the ultra-competitive day-to-day business.
“I think we have kind of a special industry, because we can get really competitive, but we can also collaborate better than most. And I think I've been seeing that trend more and more for sure,” says Carla. “I run a lot of integrated accounts. And the reality is it involves many other holding companies and many other agencies. I believe in open source, I believe in diversity, those are values I share with a lot of other people within our industry. So I think we are better together. Yep. Stealing your theme.”

If the prospect of channelling your creativity towards this important brief has excited you and sparked your imagination, participants will be able to enter starting Monday, July 10. The submission deadline is Friday, September 15. Judging will take place throughout October, with the winner announced at the end of that month.

Find out more about Working with Cancer and take the pledge here.