Cannes Diary: creativity can drive change

MSQ’s Young Lions Annalise Valentino and Emma McKernan reveal the key trends from the festival’s opening sessions.

Annalise Valentino and Emma McKernan



“Go to lots of sessions, take it all in, and report back on the themes of Cannes Lions in a diary.”

If we’re honest, we were a little worried about this brief. We knew there’d be lots going on, but what if the sessions we went to were duds? What if all we had to report back on was a lot of hot air from people doing the contractual hour of chatting that was required of them before they could hit the beach? We may be ‘Young Lions’, but before Cannes we’d been to enough panels and talks to know how many just result in a big game of buzzword bingo.

Luckily it didn’t take us long to realise that Cannes is different. It really is the best of the best. The big topics covered by the biggest names. A couple of days in and we’re not worrying whether we’ll have enough to talk about, but how we’ll fit it all in before heading off to the next amazing session.

The most striking thing of our Cannes experience so far is the sheer number of amazing women to be inspired by. We kicked off the festival with Cindy Gallop, an absolute powerhouse who wants us all to rethink and redesign the agency model

Annalise Valentino and Emma McKernan

Amazing female leaders

The most striking thing of our Cannes experience so far is the sheer number of amazing women to be inspired by. We kicked off the festival with Cindy Gallop, an absolute powerhouse who wants us all to rethink and redesign the agency model. She encouraged us all in the room to collaborate to build the agencies of the future, working out how we would make money, be well structured but also, crucially, what would make us happy. She was provocative, insightful and made us all want to be better as a collective.

Speaking of collaborations, our second talk was the already well publicised address from President Zelensky, who was joined on stage by four incredible Ukrainian creatives, artists and activists. Yaroslava Gres was among the four and her story – her creative partner is on the front line fighting in Ukraine – brought the whole auditorium to tears. She was hugely inspiring, urging every creative to unite with Ukraine, work with the creatives there, create for those who now can’t create… it gave us all goosebumps. There’s a lot of talk at Cannes about creativity being able to change the world for the better – in this case, it really can.

Completing our trio of amazing women was Tarana Burke, the American Activist who started the Me Too movement. Tarana explained that Me Too wasn’t just a movement for women, it’s a movement for everyone affected by sexual violence. She called on us all to resist the urge to talk about what’s been done, and instead talk about what’s been made possible. That’s a powerful message that we think is important to take into our work going forward – don’t just create content for the sake of it, highlight what’s really made a difference.

Learn before you speak

Tarana’s session stuck out for another reason too. She was there to discuss the Me Too movement (which, she explained, is very different to the #MeToo hashtag) and what that means for the world of creativity. But instead of jumping straight into the answer, she spent at least 25 minutes of her half hour talk explaining more about the movement and how it’s evolved so far. Then, once we truly understood it, she gave five minutes at the end on how to apply it to creativity.

That’s all it needed, and it struck a chord. It’s very easy to think we immediately know the answer to everything and it’s understandable that some people are restless to get there. But in fact, we need to spend time really understanding the intricacies of a subject, to truly get to grips with the problem if we’re ultimately going to impact any change.  

And with the festival not even half way through, we already feel more empowered than ever to use creativity to make change ourselves.

Annalise Valentino and Emma McKernan are creatives at MSQ. You can follow their Young Lions journey on MSQ’s Instagram here.


Annalise Valentino, Creative & In-house Film Director, Brave Spark and Emma McKernan, Creative, Smarts Annalise has worked for MSQ’s creative studio Brave Spark for almost three years, creating, producing, and directing global campaigns for clients like Hitachi, Hiscox and Finastra. Emma is an art director and graphic designer based in Belfast, where she works for MSQ’s award-winning PR & Content agency, Smarts. A D&AD New Blood Winner, Emma works across Smarts’ accounts, developing campaigns for the likes of Diageo, Zalando and the Grand Opera House.

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