Why my post-Cannes pledge is focusing on psychological safety at work

Gabrielle Ludzker shares learnings from Cannes around psychological safety at work and heightened creativity

Gabby Ludzker



“Teams will only deliver great work if psychological safety exists in your organisation.” 

This sentence, out of all the many amazing things I heard at Cannes, kept coming back into my tired and fuzzy brain on a very reflective flight back home.

It was from a panel discussion led by Emily Graham, Omnicom’s (and by extension, our very own) Chief Equity & Impact Officer, called ‘There is no idea without DE&I’. After covering the basic premise that without diverse talent in your agencies you cannot hope to deliver truly diverse work, Mitch Oliver, Global Purpose VP at Mars, said: “…those teams will only deliver great work if psychological safety exists in your organisation.”

Her point was that they can only be free to create and ideate as their authentic selves, with all the cultural sensitivity and complexity they have acquired over their lifetimes, IF they feel safe enough to really show up as individuals, not as the people they think their colleagues want them to be.

This resonated massively for me because at RAPP, our global purpose is to ‘Stand up for Individuality’, so we do a lot of work in this space. But it occurred to me as I attended talk after talk on areas that I had never delved into, on subject matters I don’t yet understand, that psychological safety in today’s agency environment is also about being comfortable enough to start from scratch again regardless of our experience or seniority.

Our teams need psychological safety to embrace change and they need to trust us as leaders to back them, support them and take them on this journey.

Gabrielle Ludzker, CEO at RAPP UK

In this marketing era, where things are evolving at the speed of light, we need our people to be open about not understanding a new technology or platform, and then be open to learning it. We need people to go through periods of vulnerability in their jobs so that they can evolve to become experts in the next capability. To admit that the ‘old way’ they are comfortable with, isn’t necessarily the future.

We are all so focused on training and transformation projects that we are forgetting the most basic need – our teams need psychological safety to embrace change and they need to trust us as leaders to back them, support them and take them on this journey.

And it occurred to me that this is also the greatest facilitator to get to great work. Having worked on P&G brands my entire career, one highlight this week was hearing Marc Pritchard, P&G’s Chief Brand Officer, talk for the first time in real life! He spoke about creativity as a force for growth, and as a force for good.

My favourite case study in his talk was for a variant of Tide washing powder made especially to work in cold water. I laughed out loud to see an ad featuring Ice T and Vanilla Ice (definitely pitched at my age group – and yes, it even had the line “Stop, collaborate and listen”!) and then how the work had been extended to include a partnership with the NFL.

This was obviously a major play (see what I did there?!) in terms of media spend and scale, but Marc then said but wait…the NFL gets 80 million viewers. Imagine if even a third of them switched to cold washing their clothes, imagine the GIANT benefits to the environment that would create. And that is what the product was designed for, successfully cleaning clothes in a more sustainable way. Win win. 

So I wonder what we could achieve if all our people felt the psychological safety to go beyond the briefs we are given for marketing and selling our clients’ products and services, to imagine what we could achieve for our world and our communities through them?

I don’t only mean huge purpose driven platforms, but the little things too. At the session Disney Advertising and Hyundai: Question Everything, Rita Ferro, President of Advertising & Partnerships for Disney, talked about a new process called ‘Creative Housecalls’ that Disney put in place over lockdown. It was based on the idea that they wanted to still be there for people even though they were confined to their homes. So this process thought about how to make their brands and their advertising contextual and supportive of the environment people were in at that moment. I really like that focus. And I’d like us to be brave enough to do it more as an industry.

Let’s drive sales and joy, retention and confidence, profit and accessibility. I’m going to pledge to create and maintain the psychological safety and environment for it. Will you join me?

Guest Author

Gabby Ludzker



Gabby Ludzker is CEO of Rapp UK, joining the agency in 2020. She spent 11 years at Proximity: 3 years running the International business in the Paris office and 8 years in Proximity London as MD and then CEO. Coming from a Digital background at the start of it all, Gabby is passionate about the constant evolution of Marketing, finding new and better ways to solve meaty client problems, make consumers happy and deliver outstanding creative work! She is also obsessed with harnessing the collective genius of the Agency to make magic.

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