This interview first appeared in The Stable
Y&R Group ANZ chief creative officer, Ben Coulson, has 27 reasons to feel that this Cannes was particularly good. In fact, he has 28.
Those 27 Lions won by Y&R Group ANZ, including two Grands Prix and a Titanium lion from Y&R Auckland, made Y&R Cannes Lions most awarded network in ANZ.
But when I asked him what it felt like to be at Cannes, he said, “There was a really good vibe. Everyone was having a win. There were happy conversations all round.”
Australia did well, but it did so in the most understated way possible. Apart from Lions Health, where Grey Melbourne made sure everyone knew its name, it seemed as though every time Australia got a chance to stand on the stage at Cannes, New Zealand took the microphone.
“It might look like that because there were no Australian blockbusters this year. And New Zealand had a standout year, with Colenso and Y&R on fire. But more Australian agencies won Gold than ever before. Across all agencies we had a great year. There was even spread of solid wins.”
And Coulson was able to name – and applaud – all of them.
But I wanted to know what Y&R ANZ’s award success meant to its four agencies, and more importantly, how did Y&R do it? So I asked.
The Stable: What does it mean to Y&R to do so well at D&AD, NYF and now also Cannes this year?
Ben Coulson: Confidence. Confidence in ourselves. It’s reward for a four year commitment for me, since I became chief creative officer. But it also tells all our people in all of our offices we can get great work out there, that we’re all strong. There’s great momentum now in all our agencies.
TS: How did you do it?
BC: Quietly. With no fanfare, no flashy hires and no PR-grabbing shout-outs.
It was about our being willing to say we’re not yet doing our best work and reaching that little bit further – so, quietly and carefully…and perhaps most importantly, proactively. When I did a bit of an audit of all of our winning work this year, I
couldn’t find one project that didn’t start with an idea we took to the client rather than a brief that was given to us. It made me realise how often we’re on the front foot as an agency. We get together regularly and work out what’s in front of our clients in six months, or twelve months’ time – what challenges they’ll face, what changes they’ll need to accommodate. 95% of what got through this year were ideas that we took to the client. Of course, that happens when you have a satisfied client. You answer their briefs, then you take them something they didn’t expect and show them how it solves their business problem. If they also have what they want, most clients are open to new ways to get their needs met.
TS: At the beginning of the year, advertising agencies were supposed to be on their death beds.
BC: Agencies are harder to kill than vampires. They’re meant to have died a number of times, but they have this wonderful ability to reinvent themselves. Their currency is finding new ways of doing their job, finding new ways to present ideas. They’ve got onto the new pretty well this time round. There’s not much any digital breakout shop can do that an agency can’t do – and in most cases do it better.
TS: What do advertising agencies have to conquer in the near future?
BC: There’s a wealth of creativity in the region. For no reason really, no one asks for it. But it is increasingly harder to be creative, to come up with ideas that haven’t been done before. At Cannes, you see all this incredible work all together and you start to worry, “How did they think of that?” and “When will we run out of new ideas?” But then you realise that new technology and new mediums are restocking the world with opportunities to do things that haven’t been done before all the time. Cannes is also a great way to see what modern advertising is like, and right now it doesn’t look like advertising. That’s a whole new world to explore.
TS: Cannes highlights?
BC: I got to make the best phone call a CCO will ever make, at this year’s Cannes. I told two young creatives, who joined us in Melbourne four months ago, that their beautiful and first idea ever in advertising, You’re Accepted for Minus 18, had won a Silver and two Bronzes at Cannes.
…and then our two ECDs in Brisbane, Andrew Thompson and Brendan Greaney – who’ve been in the business a lot longer – got to win their first Gold Lion after being in the job at Y&R for three years. It was also the first Gold Lion out of the Brisbane agency.
TS: The work at Cannes that wowed you?
BC: Without question, McCann New York’s The Field Trip to Mars for Lockhead Martin. It’s entertainment with amazing technology, educational, an experience and interactive…and it tells a great story. And adam&eve/DDB’s Shoplifter for Harvey Nichols. It’s one campaign in a long line of excellence for Harvey Nichols, but a Cannes Lions Grand Prix going to security camera footage? Brilliant.
TS: Best part of Cannes?
BC: It’s time when you don’t have to think up new ideas. When you’re not in your little box. And when you can hang out with your “rivals”. It’s like a one week amnesty before you get back to the job of competing.