“You can’t be creative on Teams or Zoom.”
“You can’t bond with people without meeting them.”
“You can’t expect brilliant work from people working remotely.”
I’ve heard all of this said over the past few months, and I have proof positive that it’s not true.
In mid-November 2021 I signed up for a new global creativity competition. For the first time Cannes Lions launched its Creativity for Good competition. It is open to anyone and everyone in the world (not just creative agencies but any member agency).
My own recent experiences have been in judging awards (including the prestigious Campaign Media Awards.) Despite this, I decided to put myself forward as a candidate to answer the brief.
The Cannes scheme was deliberately designed to connect people with people they don’t normally work with. Steve Latham, head of talent at Cannes Advertising Festival, told me that he believes networking is all well and good, but that “nothing really drives a connection better than peer to peer work on a brief”.
The brief was an ambitious one, as you would expect from Cannes – which is the pinnacle of advertising festivals and of peer reviewed work worldwide: our global Oscars as an industry.
In summary the client – the World Woman Foundation led by chief executive Rupa Dash – set out its moonshot mission to create an equal future for women by activating economic opportunities through entrepreneurship.
She explained its beliefs: “Today, women represent the most significant disruptive force of the global economy – and the world is unprepared. Women are also the single largest productive economic force and drive almost every economic indicator for businesses. To ignite higher value, reach audacious goals and build more purpose-driven ventures demands a new kind of thinking.”
Our challenge as a team was to deliver that thinking in a competition with more than 30 other teams worldwide. That’s competition at scale. I had my day job to do, plus my team was three complete strangers from similar time zones but three different countries across EMEA who also had very busy day jobs.
Luckily for me, my team mates turned out to be the best in the world. Luka Mavretic from Croatia, Francesca Ranieri from Italy and Ifeanyi Dibia from Nigeria.
Let’s jump to the happy ending. We won, and the chair of the extremely distinguished and very intimidating jury, Jonathan Mildenhall, co-founder and chair of TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, went so far as to say that our idea was the standout winner.
Was it tough to bond as a team, to work across disciplines (I’m a CTO, a comms strategist by background; everyone else is a copywriter), to produce world class work in a very limited time frame?
We began our journey by ignoring the Cannes team’s advice to use icebreakers, although I will definitely revisit these on another occasion. Instead, the biggest icebreaker for us was to define our team name.
This in the UK has fairly obvious associations with toxic team dynamics on The Apprentice, but for us deciding that we were team WRIOT (RIOT because we were going to break rules and start a revolution, and W for WWF and Writers as we all write as part of our jobs), was a strong signal of the work we would do together.
And, as with all the best teams I have worked in, there were no silos, no status concerns and no worries about stepping out of roles. As Luka says: “We didn’t have assigned roles within the team. We were very flexible and we all contributed both creatively and strategically.”
It was tough: late nights, Sunday afternoons, short deadlines, no art direction, all Teams and Zoom calls, but we delivered, got shortlisted, pitched our idea and, of course, won.
Team WRIOT worked well together because we served a single aim – to change the world through creativity. No politics, no borders, no personal ambitions, one goal.
Can you be creative without meeting up in person? Yes, all the way to winning at Cannes. If you get the chance to experience this exciting challenge and journey, whatever your role, title or experience, you should jump at it. We hope to meet IRL in June – and maybe we’ll do the icebreakers then.
Sue Unerman is chief transformation officer at MediaCom