Rule the World
Senta Slingerland is the Director of brand strategy at Lions Festivals. Born in Brussels, Belgium, she currently resides in London.
You have a Master’s degree in Germanic Languages, English and Dutch Literature & Linguistics. Does your education have some influence on your current field of work?
When I chose to study Germanic Languages, my aim was to get a better grasp of literature, theatre and of the wider culture. It included a lot of philosophy and sociology. I toyed with the idea of becoming a copywriter but then fell into journalism which I thoroughly enjoyed. These days, my 13-year experience helps me more than my degree does but the fact I studied English still helps me.
Most people associate Cannes with the film festival and are unaware of Cannes Lions — the biggest festival of creativity in the world. Tell us more about it.
Cannes Lions is a 62-year old event, which started as a festival for TV and cinema advertising, and then evolved to become the world’s biggest advertising festival. Over the last few years especially, it has become the meeting place for everybody who’s interested in communications and brands. We’re now attracting delegates from Holywood, Bollywood and Nollywood*, Silicon Valley, politics, education, as well as artists, coders and philosophers.
So the Lions are about much more than a showcase of great commercials; it’s about the power creativity and collaboration with creative thinkers has on the future of the world.
* the Nigerian Holywood
You have been working for the festival for more than 8 years. What kept you that long and would you go on the other side — the one of creating ads?
What’s kept me here is the fascination that I have with the creative industry. Every day there’s a shift, an invention, a new way of doing something. Cannes Lions reflects those shifts. I’m also very privileged that I get to meet fantastic people through the Festival that influence my thinking and expand my mind. The culture we have at Lions ensures that I’m pushed to experiment and launch new projects, and that’s addictive.
How has the industry changed during the years? How has technology and social media affected it?
It’s changed dramatically. The media has changed, and with it the content, its production process, and the people behind it. Ideas are now more relevant to everyone and creative thinking needs to happen across all departments, not just in the creative department. Decisions need to be made faster these days and people need to collaborate to enable innovative executions.
Organizing such an event must be a lot of hard work, can you tell us more about it? How much time and staff does it require?
People often ask me “So you work for Cannes Lions, but what do you do the rest of the year?” Haha. Cannes Lions is an institution really; it’s much more than just a couple of award shows and some talks. All through the year we work on the awards structure, connecting with relevant industries, expanding our reach, our educational programs. We run a project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and a program for the advancement of female creatives. That all takes time. Plus we run six other festivals: Lions Health, Lions Innovation, Eurobest, Spikes Asia, Dubai Lynx and the AMES.
There are about 100 people working here full-time. During the Festival itself we employ a total of about 1,000 people.
How was the idea of Lions Health born and what is the future ahead of it?
Health communications have the power to save lives. But they are subject to severe regulations. The health and pharma work can’t always compete with other industries on a creative level for that reason. But they too need a creative benchmark and that’s what Lions Health offers. Entries are looking very good this year and delegate numbers have increased significantly, so it’s clear there’s a need for this. Ideas in pharma are fascinating: high in innovation and technology, and definitely inspiring for people working outside of the industry.
Give us some details about the See It Be It initiative, which aims to put creative women in the spotlight. It seems like the world of advertising is still dominated by men, why do you think this is so?
Our mission is to recognize the power of creativity and celebrate the people shaping its future. For years, women have been underrepresented in agencies, and this has resulted in work that is more reflective of the male view of the world. This is bad for business (women represent over 85% of consumers) and for society. So every year we select 12 of the most promising female creative talents and bring them to Cannes for an amazing program of jury tours, meet & greets, and mentorship.
There are many reasons why creative departments are still male-dominated. I could write a book about why: the lack of female role models; the fact that, traditionally, most clients were male; the perception that men have more buying power; the fact that men tend to prefer male protégées, etc. But it’s changing and this change is driven by clients who demand a more diverse vision of creativity.
Who are the most inspiring people you have met in this industry?
It’s probably not the people you’d expect. I’ve met many celebrities and big thinkers and they’ve been amazing. But it’s the people I meet who come to me with ideas and suggestions every day that inspire me.
And which ad really impressed you?
I see about 40,000 campaigns a year so I can’t possibly choose. But I’m most fascinated by campaigns that genuinely change the make-up of a business; those that affect how the business runs rather than merely how the business communicates.
Cannes is more of a festival city, not so much of a resort destination. How does that shape its face and affect its residents?
Cannes is a very fascinating little town. During 300 days of the year, there’s an event happening. We all get there a week before the Festival and it’s full of glamorous old ladies with little dogs. Then during Festival week it transforms into this huge global melting pot of crazy people from all walks of life.
Walk us through a typical day of yours.
I’m the Director of Brand Strategy here and manage a team of communications specialists and PR people. A lot of my day is spent researching and reading industry news as well as talking to customers about what they feel, need, think. I’m always working about 6-12 months ahead, meaning that right now I’m working on Eurobest 2015 and developing projects that will launch at Cannes Lions 2016. I do a lot of public speaking and get to travel a lot.
What’s next for you?
Who knows? I certainly don’t! But I definitely have some ideas for projects that I’d love to launch at some point in my life, and I’d like to write another book.