July 7, 2011
What follows is a powerful statement of the impact we can all have through inspiring and training young leaders. One of the young leaders participating in the recent Cannes Creative Academy for Young Marketers was Aaron Hoffman, an Associate Marketing Analyst at Visa. Aaron was asked by a Brazilian journalist at the Festival to write about his experience at the Academy, and I wanted to share his submission. Here it is — enjoy!
Smile More: How My Week Spent at The Cannes Academy For Young Marketers Changed My Life
Last night I made one last walk down to Le Palais, the convention center which hosted the 58th Annual International Festival for Creativity in Cannes, France. I had spent a week making the 20 minute walk to and from my hotel to Le Palais, and tonight I was doing it one last time. I still hadn’t figured out how to avoid sweating through my dress shirt.
I greeted my fellow colleagues from the Academy of Young Marketers, 29 other brand, account, and project managers from around the world from companies such as Kraft, P&G, Unilever, and SAB Miller. We had been invited to participate in the first of its kind program, participating in specialized speaker sessions, discussions, and debates in an intensive program throughout the week. At this point, we felt like family, and after chatting briefly we filed into the VIP entrance elevator to the auditorium to take our seats in the balcony for the final and most prestigious awards ceremony of the week. I took my seat next to Susan, a Brand Director for Unilever from China and greeted her with a smile. Susan had struck me as an interesting and insightful person during our week spent together, and I thought to myself that I wished I would have had the time to have gotten to know her a little better. Susan smiled back at me and asked,
“Can I ask you a question?”
A little caught off guard I shrugged smiling and said, “Sure, shoot.”
From my experience when someone starts a conversation like that something serious is coming so I didn’t quite know what to expect.
“Were you born smiling?” Susan asked. I gave her a confused eyebrow raise and an “I have no idea what you’re talking about” smile back to her. She quickly elaborated.
“Every time I have seen you this week you have always been smiling. When you are walking down the Croisette, talking to people, or even just listening to speakers you are always smiling. Have you been conditioned to do this professionally or are you always just happy?”
I suddenly became conscious that a feigned smile of disbelief had been plastered across my face as she explained this to me. I shrugged again, and explained that no, I had never read a book called “Smile Your Way to Success,” and that I was generally just a happy person who had a habit of wearing my emotions on my sleeve. Susan continued to explain that she tended to be more serious, and we both talked about how we had known these things about ourselves based on comments from friends and even feedback evaluations from managers at work. We agreed that one demeanor wasn’t necessarily superior to the other, and proceeded to enjoy the ceremony and award winning ads from brands such as Google, Puma, Old Spice, and my personal favorite, Nike for ‘Write the Future.’
That was last night. Right now I’m a few hours, and more than a few coffees into my flight back to San Francisco, and I’ve got my laptop open. I’m not letting myself watch the new Vince Vaughan movie or even start sorting through my pile of work e-mail because I want to write. I want to reflect and really try to understand what last week meant to me. I’m exhausted. The lady next to me is snoring. I’m not smiling.
During the seven days that I was a part of the Academy for Young Marketers in Cannes, I gathered more life-changing experiences more rapidly than I have during any other time in my life. My first Monday morning ‘commute’ consisted of a stroll along the French Riviera, and a French girl in a bikini even smiled at me as she walked up from the beach. A small victory, but a victory none-the-less.
That same day, within a span of less than ten hours, I was able to ask Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL, his views on the future of how consumers will consume and engage with content online, and shared a drink and a chat on a rooftop pool deck overlooking the Mediterranean with Digital thought leader John Battelle. Monday was the first time I had ever even seen the Mediterranean Ocean.
The next day I spent nearly two hours learning about “best in class briefing,” from Laurie Coots, CMO of TBWA. Without elaborating any further this would be an impressive opportunity any young marketer would like to have. But I happen to work with TBWA every day developing consumer marketing campaigns for Visa’s sponsorship of the National Football League. Not only was I getting access to world class thought leaders, beach parties, and young creative minds, I was getting down and dirty actionable advice that I will now take back to help me do my job better. Did I mention I also had time to view the best advertising from around the world? TV ads, digital integrations, print, OOH, radio, the list goes on and on. Fair warning to our agency creative teams; bring your ‘A’ game. I’ve seen the best.
By the middle of the week, I found myself digging my feet into the sand at the Google Beach Lounge, discussing everything from the creative process and working in advertising in Europe, to the evolution of the human eye and the benefits of mixing caffeine and alcohol with a 27 year old creative from Y&R London. The later parts of the conversation were fueled by mixing caffeine and alcohol.
As a part of the Academy, I was given access to and a dialogue with dozens of thought leaders, creative visionaries, and marketing professionals from around the globe. Light bulbs, ideas, and inspirations exploded for me, and I spent the week scribbling as many of them as I could into my pocket size notebook.
Page 7 from Tim Armstrong, CEO of AOL: “I always tell my teams to start by thinking mobile first, web second. The limitations force you to be simple and elegant, focusing on what is core to what the consumer wants.” Also, on page 4, as an underlined note to self, “ look into investing in AOL stock.”
Page 8 from Jim Stengel, former CMO of P&G and Academy Leader: “In order to be truly successful and achieve viable longevity, a brand must stand for a higher order ideal. It is not enough to be the best performing or highest earning. This is a business model, it’s not about the customer, and the only way to create viable business models over the long term is when a business and its customers have a shared agenda.”
Page 11 from Rob Malcolm, former CMO of Diageo: “If you ask for safe, ass-covering work that’s what you’ll get. Take calculated risks and demand great work from your agencies.” On this page I had bolded an action plan for myself: Be brave, advocate this.
Page 16 from Sir Ken Robinson: “Life is energy. If you are doing something you love you get energy from it. Do what makes you feel authentic by living as close as possible to the stream at which your life flows.” No wonder he was knighted.
To put it simply, Cannes changed me. It changed me as a marketer, as a thinker, as a professional, and ultimately it changed me as a human being. As I realize this, my conversation with Susan at last night’s ceremony starts to take on a slightly deeper meaning. Of course I was smiling, laughing, and sometimes maybe even grinning stupidly over the course of last week (with French DJs spinning while you watch fireworks explode over the beach it’s kind of hard not to). I even remember having a smile on my face on a few of the nights as I fell asleep at night in my hotel. How could I not smile? Cannes changed me, and it changed me for the better.
Aaron Hoffman, Associate Marketing Analyst at Visa Inc.