Cannes Young Lions: Where are they now?

Lindsay Bennett
By Lindsay Bennett | 28 May 2018
Jack Smyth and Chris Colter taking out top honors back in 2015

Back in 2015, media duo Jack Smyth and Chris Colter won gold in the annual Young Lions competition on the global stage, representing Australia and changing the direction of their burgeoning careers.

Colter, who has worked his way up from account executive at UM to now strategy director of its Sydney office, says it’s still the proudest moment of his professional life.

Smyth, who was a communications strategist at Initiative in 2015, says the competition helped him land his dream job at Mindshare, now head of innovation at the WPP agency.

With this year’s Young Lions named last week, at an event held by Cannes Lions representative APN Outdoor, Colter and Smyth share what winning the Young Lions gong meant for them three years ago and what it means for the winners today.

What did it mean to you to win the Young Lions competition back in 2015?

Chris Colter: Words honestly can’t describe it, still gives me goose bumps thinking about it.

Jack Smyth: To be honest it was quite a shock. We took a number of risks in our approach (including asking the judges for $5, a crude apple drawing and a Rupert Murdoch insult) so part of me was prepared for bad news. Winning the Australian competition was a pivotal part of my career though, as it quickly draws attention to your work and creates opportunities to pursue your passion.

You then went on to win Gold at Cannes Lions on the global stage. What was that like for your team?

CC: Only the most surreal experience of my life, and still to this day my proudest professional achievement. The intensity of the whole competition, the responsibility of representing your country and the glamour of the festival are unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Hearing judges call ‘Australia’ in a packed auditorium of the world’s best creative minds, and knowing they’re calling you fills you with a ludicrous amount of pride. The partying wasn’t half bad either.

JS: Competing in Cannes was surreal. You’re suddenly up against the very best young strategists from over 20 countries. There’s so much to learn, share and (hopefully) celebrate. I’ll never forget the moment we won, which is lucky because the rest of that evening is somewhat patchy. Chris is a dream partner – incredibly smart, driven and utterly unfazed by my decision to eat Chinese food in Cannes.

How did Young Lions impact your career?

CC: Immensely, but not in the way most suspect. Everybody sells winning as the ultimate way to build your industry network and it’s definitely true that happens, but few talk about the personal benefits of winning. For me, having my thinking validated on a global stage, by such high-profile people, has given me the confidence I needed to get to where I am today.

JS: You take away lot of confidence that you can perform under pressure. You trust your intuition and realise there’s so much to learn from your peers working in different markets, cultures and specialities. Most importantly, Young Lions led me to my dream role at Mindshare. It’s the best move of my career and allowed me to focus on the projects I’m most proud of.

How important is the Young Lions competition to the creative industry?

CC: In an industry where junior talent often face the hardest slog, with limited recognition beyond internal praise, I believe this competition plays a vital role. It not only gives them a project to learn the whole process of what agencies do, but gives them the platform to accelerate their careers – as they benchmark their thinking and creativity amongst their peers (and the world).

JS: It’s a fantastic way to find, encourage and elevate young talent. I’m always impressed by the entries from Mindshare and Young Lions acts as an accelerator for the best minds in our business. Win or lose, your career will benefit by entering.

What role do you think Cannes Lions plays in the industry?

CC: Cannes exists to push us all to take the road less linear. It inspires us, makes us jealous, and rewards those who made brilliant work happen – we all know to get something up that picks up at Cannes is no easy feat.
That’s important as an industry that’s increasingly becoming automated, with services/outputs becoming more standardised, creative thinking of humans will be the true differentiator and reason for our being. Without it, clients will get the same results for every campaign, agencies will fold and the lure of the industry will fade.

JS: Cannes is an easy punching bag. The back of a yacht is hardly the best place to discuss efficiency and transparency. However the festival is changing and I’m encouraged to see it concentrate more on debate than just awards. Our industry will never be short on negativity on naysayers, so an opportunity to celebrate some of the best work in the world is vital.

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