Angela Natividad's Live & Uncensored!

15 June 2013

On Getting the Point of Cannes Lions

We're a breath away from Cannes Lions, and it's usually around this time that everybody starts wondering what The Point of this conference (or even our jobs!) is. Is it Awards? Notoriety? The Networking* that may lead to a Better Job, Awards and Notoriety? 

I'm in freelance. We get no Awards and probably no Notoriety (unless maybe we write a book). So for me, The Point has to be something else.

I've been working in freelance for nearly seven years, only the last four of which involved Real Agency Work. One of the biggest things I learned when I actually got inside was how hard it is to do work you're proud of. All the vitriol people lobbed at me for critiquing their babies on Adrants suddenly made sense: when you've got crazy clients (vague briefs but high standards!), a political agency system, a fixed budget, and a pile of conviction-laden creatives in the mix, you just wanna go home at night

You don't want some coffee-fueled CPG epiphany to be your fucking cross to bear. Not when there's sleep to be had and children to (almost) watch grow up. Because this industry? It takes your whole life: complete sacrifice for cereal slogans, holding company positioning statements and the merits of Flash versus HTML5. If you go Joan of Arc every time things go pear-shaped, you really will lose your shit.

A certain freedom comes with the uncertainty of freelance. All that hopped-up agency madness? You can enjoy it for the lifecycle of a project, then peace out and take a nap. You can travel. You can do sports. If you're stuck on something, you can move onto another, then come back to it. You can say, "Catch you later, I'm going to Cannes Lions -- FOR MY BLOG!" and nobody can say "SIT YOUR ASS DOWN, THERE ARE NO AWARDS WAITING FOR YOU."**

Professionally, freelancers may not be part of a big agency network, but we do form groups: clients and other freelancers we look forward to seeing randomly throughout the year. It's more Lost Boys than Ogilvy, but it's people we like -- not the prickly ones you secretly hate and have to deal with every day until somebody finally leaves.

And it isn't just work relationships that bloom. I once thought there was no time for more than 3 reasonably good relationships in a life, but now the world seems full of people to go to dinner with, learn things from, collaborate with, and plan last-minute weekend picnics with. At any given time I feel a deep, meaningful intimacy with all of them. They aren't just local: with Viber, Gchat, iMessage, Twitter and Facebook, I feel intimately connected with people far away. Like my sisters. (Although the distance probably helps them like me more.)

The biggest tradeoff, though, is having to make your own success metric. It's hard to find; at an agency, you do a pipeline of good-to-great things, win awards, get promoted and maybe someday you'll be ECD. I don't deny I'd like that, and often wish I was drawing closer to (instead of farther from) it.

Now, work changes day by day; it's stuff that challenges and that I enjoy, so I don't question it or wonder what it's building to. But that Big Question -- what's the next step? -- seems secondary now.

At this point I feel strangely okay not knowing its answer. I realised today that while the projects are important, it's in great part because the people I've managed to cultivate in the Darwin Dice Toss of Freelance are so good. As long as I have time for them, and they for me, life seems full -- generous, even. The Bottom Line is no longer the metric, but it seems to take care of itself: it's hard to drown when there are so many hands around to grab you.

Then I thought, maybe this is The Point. The Point of Social: what we should be telling brands in the first place. The money, the endless search for more ways to penetrate a "consumer occasion", and the mind-numbing hammering of TV ads are not The Point. The people you can really touch, truly befriend, mean something to? That's where it is.

To make those connections, there are risks to take: a certain giving of yourself so that people can see what your insides are like. But in the commercial arena, that seven pounds of flesh will be withdrawn with or without your consent; it may as well be on your terms. Isn't it worth it? Because then you don't have to be scared. There'll be so many hands that you simply won't drown; at the worst of times they'll drag you kicking and screaming forward. They'll never lose faith if they can trust that you'll remember what The Point is.

Going into Cannes Lions, that enormously drawn-out stomach pump of an event, it's a reassuring thought. Talking to creatives high off a win (or close to one), they start waxing poetic about what they learned about people. Often the road to that insight was finally understanding something about themselves: I'm this way. I love this. I hate this. If the stars are aligned, you execute well and production and timing are just right. And like good comedy, this tiny propped-open window into your own naked and trembling subconscious yields an unanimous universal AHA! -- and for a breathtaking second you feel like you're holding hands with the entire fucking world

It's precious. That connection, the birth of something worth cultivating? That's The Point. And it nourishes the entire ecosystem.***


*Running into that Stockholm ECD who had an Alky Nap on your porch last year?
**They probably want to, though.
***It is true, however, that for every inspiring storyteller you come across there'll likely be a troupe of Certified Douchebags waiting to claim him. Our industry is rife with these and they are merely an occupational hazard. Make like a freelancer and RUN AWAY.

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