Rosie Baker's Cannes takeout: The era of collaboration?

Rosie Baker
By Rosie Baker | 23 June 2014

I’m finally over my Cannes-over and have had a chance to sit back and think about what Cannes was really about this year. It was relentless. But brilliant. As always there was almost too much to take in. There were the obvious highlights like Hegarty and Droga, unexpected highlights like Kanye West and there were some disappointments, like Spike Jonze’s sorry on-stage interview at the hands of SapientNitro's worldwide chief creative officer Gaston Legorburu.

But if I think about a thread running through the week, for me it was collaboration. It cropped up more than any single other theme.

It is the word that defined Cannes for me this year and I hope it will play out over the next year. The mantra was repeated over and over again by agencies, tech firms and marketers as well as scientists, celebrities and rock stars on stage at the annual Festival of Creativity.

Optus, Google and M&C Saatchi said their war-room style collaboration accelerated the Clever Buoys program and Optus CMO Nathan Rosenberg told me there is much more room for Australian companies to work together in unusual ways.

Unilever CMO Keith Weed said collaboration between 12 agency partners on its Project Sunlight scheme made it possible, but that the industry needs to learn how to orchestrate that collaboration to make it scalable in the day-to-day. Coke’s Wendy Clarke outlined how Coca-Cola is collaborating with consumers on social programmes to create stronger content around the World Cup than it could create on its own. Collaboration she said has a multiplier effect of 1+1=3.

Twitter CEO Dick Costolo talked about a new collaboration it is working on with the music industry to help drive album sales. McDonald’s Matt Bielspiel and the bosses of his four global agency partners who have worked together for the last four decades talked about the unusual collaborative review committee process that sees agency partners review each other’s work for the brand that creates a “religious and relentless focus on quality”.

Mondelez CMO Dana Anderson talked about boutique agencies ad start-ups having more opportunity now to chase business from big clients that might have seemed impossible previously because now clients are more open than ever to collaborating with unusual bedfellows.

In one of his less bizarre moments, even Kanye talked about genuine brand collaborations not just renting celebrities for advertising.

Collaboration has many guises and what was impressive to me was the appetite for it from all sides. Could it be that an industry so driven by egos and so protective of its ideas and creations is finally ready to take the individual out of the equation and do what’s best for the brand, the consumers and the greater good? It’s very idealistic, but is it realistic?

Typically contrarian Sir John Hegarty was probably the only voice I heard all week that wasn’t about to throw his hat into the collaboration ring.

“Collaboration leads to consensus,” he said, and for creativity, that's not a good thing. “Collaboration is a wonderful word, but it’s a dangerous word. There seems to be an idea that you can get eight people in a room and create a great idea. Great creatives don’t want to sit in a room they want to go off and have a great idea. We’ll get to collaboration when we’ve got a great idea,” he said.

Hegarty is usually right, but with so much desire for collaboration from other quarters, I think the balance tips towards it.

One of the often repeated, and often frustrating questions asked but not quite answered at the festival was as a creative industry, ‘what era are we in?’ It’s difficult to put a label on a time seeing such broad-brush change in all areas. But could it be that we’re in the era of collaboration?

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