Cannes Lions is made of stories. Stories of inspiration, success, failure – and always creativity.
In 2016, Sarah Watson was the first global Ambassador for See It Be It, the Cannes Lions initiative for promoting female creative talent. In five days she ended up on private islands, went inside the jury rooms and saw Susan Credle reduce a room to tears with her personal story of creativity.Since, she’s landed a new global role and, most importantly, built friendships that will last a lifetime.
"There’s a magic around this programme that you rarely see anywhere."
(Madonna Badger, left, gets some guidance and inspiration from BBH Chief Strategy Officer Sarah Watson, right)
MADONNA BADGER: I’m so excited about this and thanks for taking the time to give me some tips and pointers
SARAH WATSON: “I’m so excited to hand over to you – I’m jealous of you already Madonna. You’re going to have the most amazing time.
“I’d say it’s the highlight of my year. It was such a special experience. There’s a magic around this programme that you rarely see anywhere. You’ll start encounter some of the alums from it, the friends from it and you realise it’s a big family. It touches something very special you’re going to very soon be a part of that.”
MB: So what was your most favourite part of being an ambassador? SW: “You know it’s such a wealth of experiences. It’s so hard to select one thing. The first magical moment for me was on the very first day. We’d all had drinks on the BBH yacht the night before and the following morning there was a big induction into the Festival, the juries and the whole process around the awards. And then we got to go into a jury room.
“To actually be admitted inside a jury room is a rare. It’s a really unheard of privilege. We went to see Chloe Gottlieb judging the Cyber Lions as President. There’s probably 20 people in the room, and they’ve been in there for 10 days at this point. So the moment you walked in, you could sense the atmosphere in the room. And our group is all very reticent because it’s our first day, and we’re thinking this is a very intimate setting. We felt we must be very, very quiet and not disturb them.
“But as we walked in, they were so welcoming. Maybe a bit of that was because they hadn’t seen another human being for 10 days... but they welcomed us in and they wanted to know everything about us, where we were all from, what was happening in the project. Chloe gave this phenomenal speech about how she’d been guiding the panel, what they’d learnt along the way. And there was this brilliant moment where we left where somebody stood up – I think it was this creative director from New Zealand – he stood up and said: “I’m hiring, I want women! I’m not joking, here’s my number!”
"Really big themes about what it was to be a female creative emerged as the women were processing their own experiences."
MB: I was with a mentor in your year. It was great, and I met a young woman from Canada. We are still writing buddies. I think the mentor sometimes gets more out of it than the mentee.
SW: “I sometimes feel a bit guilty about that.”
MB: As long it doesn’t become about advice. It’s just really about my story: “When I did that, this happened.” It’s about attraction rather promotion right? It’s exciting to mentor or be a part of anyone’s career and I had some mentors who were so important to me and who really shaped my taste my way of looking at the world, my confidence. Did you have any mentors in your life ? SW: “I think English people are a little bit more reticent about the whole mentorship thing. They don’t like to be so effusive about it. But I owe everything really to the phenomenal people who reached down and picked me up along my way. I’ve been at BBH a long time, so there’s a whole gang of people here I owe my whole career to. So this programme is another way to pay that forward.”
MB: When you were enlisting mentors to help See It Be It, did you have any men, or were they all women?
SW: "Mainly women. And that’s maybe another thing to look out for. Although I think everyone really relished the intimate conversations. For instance, Susan Credle spoke on the main stage but then the SIBI group had a session with her."
MB: I heard about that one. It sounded awesome.
SW: "That was incredible. I was in tears, everyone was in tears, it was very emotional. It was just awesome. Really to give Susan that private forum to really share, was something quite special."
MB: So as one ambassador to another, what advice have you got for me? SW: “When you’re in the selection process, think about the age group of the people you’re dealing with. I think to really get the most out of it, people need to be a little bit older and ready to have that leadership moment – those who are thinking: “why don’t I have the opportunity?
“The second thing is to be aware how tight the programme is. Remember, for a lot of these women it’s their first time in Cannes. Now for anyone, Cannes is overwhelming. But it might be your first time in France, or in Europe. It’s your first time with this group so there’s really so much to take in. So I think assembling a programme where people have plenty of space to absorb and discuss is important. I think some of my favourite sessions were the end of every day where we would gather and reflect. We would spend an hour talking, and I wrote it all down and circulated it so that people had a memory, because there’s just so much take in otherwise. I loved those sessions because they were therapeutic for everybody. Really big themes about what it was to be a female creative emerged as the women were processing their own experiences in the context of all the talks, so give lots of generous time for discussion."
MB: It’s one of those things where you have to let it take you over a little bit, before you can say what it is you experience. SW: “For sure. Finally, and this is difficult, the amazing trajectory of this programme – now in its fourth year – means you get hundreds of applications from women right across the creative industry. When I came on board, I was sent a list of 500 applicants.
“When you’re in possession of that list of 500 women, you first get it and it’s like: "This is gold dust, can I sell this? Can I broadcast this? Can I do something with this amazing list?” But then you start going through this list closely you see there are TV producers, and clients, and account people, and lots of planners, and media people and writers and actors. Lots of creative women. I had to go through a lot of soul searching about the responsibility this programme has. You’ve only got fifteen spaces. Just fifteen spaces! You want a global mix, so that’s probably only two people from the U.S, and one from Canada. Who is that going to be? To understand that you have to go back to the origins of the programme which I think is very important to do. The origins of the programme – set up by the amazing Senta Slingerland - responded to the moment at which women drop out the creative industry at a certain career point. If you look at Cannes attendance, the Festival has two pricing structures based on age: under 28, and over 28. Under 28, there’s about 30% women, maybe 13% creative directors. After 28, even that level totally drops off. They never come back.
"The thing to think about is you’re creating a community here. You do want people with shared experiences who are going to form a network that’s going to help them move forward."
"It’s a really special group at Cannes. You are this VIP gang. You’re not delegates, you’re not speakers, and this group is something more than that."
MB: There's a big responsibility here. And everyone seems so willing to donate time and support. SW: “It’s a really special group at Cannes. You are this VIP gang. You’re not delegates, you’re not speakers, and this group is something more than that. You’re kind of the chosen ones who people are desperate to see succeed.
“At the very end of it we had the final lunchtime. Google had this private island, and it was very exclusive. Not many people had been to it. For a lot of these women, a lot of their leaders hadn’t been invited to this island. But they took us out there in a boat and we were having lunch, and as we talked about the week’s experiences, it was clear these women had been transformed by the programme.
(Life-changing experiences: The See It Be It 2017 group with Sarah Watson and Awards Director Simon Cook)
MB: I can't wait to get started. It's going to be amazing. Thank you for sharing your guidance and wisdom.
SW: "At the end of the day, you’re joining a family. It’s not just this year you’re part of, it’s previous and future years as well. You’re going to have the time of your life.”
See It Be It is the pioneering mentoring programme and Festival experience from Cannes Lions. Successful applicants receive a Festival pass, travel and accommodation expenses. Applications are now open.