UK Young Media Lions winners Chris Mitchell and James Reeves jetted off to Cannes this year to compete in the international Young Lions competition. Now they’re back, we catch up with them to hear all about their once-in-a-lifetime experience, going up against the best of the best from around the world to conquer a live 24-hour brief.
So chaps, tell us how it feels to be Young Lions Media finalists? How did you find the process?
Reeves: It’s great! We’re still so happy to have won the UK element of the competition and compete against the rest of the world. That said, when we arrived it soon became obvious that we really wanted to win and bring back gold for OMD UK.
I honestly couldn’t rate the process highly enough. The briefs were engaging, challenging and well organised especially considering there were 44 countries represented in the competition. Both the UK and global competitions are similar: you have 24 hours to respond to a brief . The only difference was, unlike the UK competition, there were no shortlists – everyone presented! I had so much fun and ultimately felt like we had a really strong idea that could have won, so was very proud and left without any regrets (despite being disappointed we were unable to bring back the gold).
Mitch: It’s a cliché, but everyone’s a winner. Going through the process of responding to a brief under time pressure is a challenge and a learning process but we certainly came away feeling a little sharper for the experience. Like James said, I’d recommend it to anyone in media. It was also nice to still be considered “young” having just celebrated my 30th birthday.
What’s the most interesting thing you heard or saw during your time at Cannes?
Reeves: For me, one of the best things we saw/heard took us completely by surprise. We had been inside theatres all day so wanted an hour break and see the light of day. We noticed that WWE was doing a talk outside on the terrace so thought we would go along for a bit of sun. It was one of the best talks we went to all week. Stephanie Mcmahon gave a really insightful presentation about the WWE brand (third biggest sporting brand behind the World Cup and SuperBowl) taking us through their integrated approach and how they expanded from a Wrestling show on linear TV to the biggest sporting entertainment brand across a range of touchpoints. Following that John Cena gave a quick talk about his role in the WWE franchise, we expected a gimmick and got one of the most compelling presentations we have ever seen. The man had us all in the palm of his huge muscular hands. For a brand that’s core product is staged and about showmanship, it was proof that sincerity will take a brand an incredibly long way.
Mitch: There are two talks that have really stuck in my memory. Firstly, Getty Images photographers Lyndsey Addario and Brent Stirton spoke about the enduring power of an image. Lyndsey has been kidnapped twice whilst reporting in the field, has spent 16 years reporting on refugees and two months on the front line in the Middle East. Her personal story and devotion to shining a light on some of the deepest, darkest scenes in recent history was incredibly inspiring. Her book is next on my reading list.
The second talk came from Jennifer Siebel Newsom, Dr Michael Kimmel and Shaun Ross talking about masculinity. Ad campaigns such as This Girl Can, Dove Real Women and Always #LikeAGirl have really highlighted the ingrained cultural stigma around feminism, and what stood out about this talk was how it was reframed. Gender is very often a duality and when we define women a certain way this is usually in the context of what a man isn’t, as a result, men are fed a limited narrative of what they can and cannot be. I have since watched Jennifer’s Netflix documentary, Miss Representation which I would also highly recommend.
Reeves: My favourite quote of the week came from Multi-Oscar winning director Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu (Birdman, Revenant and 21 Grams to name a few). He spoke about music being his favourite platform to engage audiences and this quote blew me away. ‘Music is the purest expression of human emotion, it is invisible, intangible and universal. It takes no rationalisation it just is.’ Something that rings true and I feel everyone can relate to.
What will you take away from the week?
Mitch: The whole experience was very invigorating. The main thing I will take away is the refreshed appetite to be even more curious. We had to respond to a brief around the UN’s sustainable development goals, in particular, providing education for the most vulnerable. Our audience was senior decision makers in the private sector and how they could be leveraged to affect public policy. When faced with a mammoth challenge and something we knew very little about, we were forced to be at our most curious. Regardless of arriving at an award worthy answer or not, this process of seeking new information as means to an answer will always be beneficial.
Reeves: The whole week is a nonstop onslaught of inspiration and ideas – I challenge anyone to go and not come back with a fresh perspective. Mitch’s point is really great about being curious and something that I feel that is in our nature but just needs authority and freedom to express itself. The main thing that I came away feeling was what an exciting industry this is and how lucky we are that it’s our job to come up with ideas.
Any top tips for those wanting to give it a go next year?
Mitch: Enjoy it. You know the time pressure of responding to a brief in 24 hours is always going to be a challenge but stressing about it isn’t conducive to being creative. My other advice would be think big. Media isn’t about thinking in terms of channels anymore. Simply think about how you can best connect the brand and consumer, and do that!
Reeves: We actually wrote a piece the day we left Cannes with our five key takeouts and tips. Check it out here.
Other than that I say just go for it. It’s about being creative and at the end of the day creativity comes from anywhere and anyone but forcing yourself to come up with a great idea in 24 hours isn’t always going to work out. These things are also often over complicated when they really don’t need to be. When you can explain your idea to your grandmother and she gets it, that’s when you know you’re on the right track.
Do it. Have fun and keep it simple.