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Cannes Creative Leaders Programme

How to Connect the Dots at Cannes Lions 2019 with Michael Conrad

November 28, 2018

Earlier this month, Cannes Lions revealed the eight focus-points for the 2019 International Festival of Creativity. Taking input from over 900 creative experts, the festival’s focus will range from exploring the value of creativity to promoting ethics and diversity. With over ten years of evolving our own Cannes Creative Leaders Programme, we spoke to Berlin School President, Michael Conrad, about the focus-points for next year’s festival and their impact on creative leadership and business success.

Where do you place the value of creative excellence and the ‘Big Ideas’ that drive business and evolve industries?

Big enduring ideas are essential to building a brand by creating a Gestalt, a single-minded basis for a narrative and its communication. For example, in the automotive industries to differentiate within the category, we have ‘Volvo: safe’, ‘BMW: built for the overhaul lane’, ‘Audi: lead by technology’, ‘Tesla: freeing human-kind from fossil fuel’. At Leo Burnett, we had a simple practice to go about this: “Digging for the inherent drama”, as Leo himself called it. When you dig, you start with the category-benefit and go from there considering all possible human behaviour down to any data. Ideas might spring from data or the data you produce can back up your own human or professional gut feeling. Innovation keeps industries evolving. Once you reach a ‘big idea’ that might create change, you are on the way to innovation, which means customers or potential customers will adapt new ways of behaving within a category and you actively evolve your industry.


Why is creative leadership important to solve fundamental business problems and why is it sometimes forgotten or ignored?

To solve a problem, you need creativity. If you want to build an enterprise or an organization focused on solving problems (or creating opportunities by identifying problems) you need, at its heart, a person with experience in problem-solving. A creative leader. Creativity happens “off the norm”, as I say. Solutions that are “on the norm” will not solve a problem (with some logical exceptions such as budget). In my opinion, this factor is forgotten or ignored when traditional leadership structures place too much emphasis and power on business people or finance people at the head, and not the creative rebels. That’s why the Berlin School wants to make those creative Wunderkindsfit for running or co-running a creative business.

What is the importance of great story-telling when it comes to engaging with consumers?

Imagine how many impulses a human being gets per minute, per hour, per day. Thousands. What do you remember? When you experience something that works in a way that you’ve not seen before or when somebody tells you something that really makes you think, so you then tell it to somebody else – these are the moments that stick. In commercial communication, you can succeed with three major approaches. First, by making something unique by demonstrating an advantage over others. Second, by telling a memorable story. And third, by combining 1 and 2. By the way, I hate the term ‘consumers. It’s all about customers and possible customers. 


Diversity is a major responsibility for anyone leading an organization, with Cannes Lions 2019 recognising the pressure for ‘less talk and more action’ on the subject. What is the role of diversity in creative leadership?

The best approach to creative leadership is to be as diverse as possible in the make-up of your teams; those who influence you and those you empower. A diverse team will influence ideas and solutions that more of human society want and can access. Sometimes, this will mean taking direct action. At the school, we are very happy with our progress, but it’s a matter of continued growth. We’re planning more scholarship opportunities, especially to open our doors to more female leaders and creatives from wider industry backgrounds.


What is the potential of creative excellence to make an impact not only in business but in wider society and culture?

Communication reaches the state of creative excellence when intelligence meets humanity, when it contributes to people’s lives, and when it is welcome in all forms of media. To me, it was always important to have a “Want-To-See-Again-Factor” in mind as a filter for ideas and execution, especially in times when people are avoiding being bothered by commercial messages. This can be extended today to a “Want-to-share-Factor”, pushing a creative idea beyond branding and into people’s lives and culture.

At Cannes Lions 2019, there will be an increased focus on trust, ethics and transparency. How important are these factors in creative leadership?

Creativity, as I mentioned above, happens “off the norm”. This means often driving disruptive, provocative, irreverent communication. But we must never forget that we have, at the same time, the responsibility for ethics, morale, empathy, respect, human needs, and social standings; These form “the norm” of human values that build and support a human society. So, one thing that should never be “off the norm” is the presence these values in leading, behaviour, and decision-making.




For 2019, the CCLP will continue to reflect and enable leadership of current and future challenges, with a specific focus on Leading Brand Experience: Connecting the Dots Between Brand Culture, Client Centricity, and Creative Leadership.

Discover the full programme details.