So, the good people at Cannes asked me to evaluate where digital and creative ecosystems collide to spark innovation, and to present awards to the most innovative firms, people, and campaigns. The last sentence is a lie.
Anyways, here are my Slam Cannes Awards for 2018.
Most Innovative Campaign
Winner: The GRU’s Weaponization of Facebook
Runner-Up: Apple’s Conscious Uncoupling from Big Tech
The intelligence arm of the Russian Government (GRU) has flipped the most popular person in America into a double agent — Facebook. To be clear, we personify the Four, as it’s a means of distraction for them: “We’re leaning in, curing death, and doing no evil.” Successful tech leaders become synonymous with the empires they build. By putting on a human face, massively powerful behemoths can avoid taxes, destroy jobs, and subterfuge our democracy. Citizens and media outlets fail to recognize these are legal entities with assets and a process for creating stakeholder value. When the process comes off the rails, we’re supposed to treat these firms like inanimate legal entities and regulate them, independent of how likeable they are. Instead, we’ve decided they are Christlike innovators, and any attempt to hold them to the same standards as other firms is to kneecap Jesus. No, it’s not.
The GRU detonated the object of our nation’s affection, Facebook, in our face. The story of Greece and the Trojan horse is the epitome of innovation among warring nations. It’s the stuff of legend and awesome movies starring Brad Pitt and Eric Bana (#bothSOdreamy). Well, imagine if the Greeks had figured out a way to get Troy to pay for the damn horse. Let’s be clear, in today’s era “innovation” means “elegant theft.” Theft of your data, theft of your time, theft of your rights to minimum-wage protection (“Driver Partner“). So, hands-down the most elegant theft of the last several years has been the GRU making Facebook / America / you / me their bitch.
On accepting the award, Mark Zuckerberg said, “I share your concerns. These are important issues, and my team will get back to you.”
Worst Board of Directors in Communications
Winner of every statue: WPP
Sir Martin Sorrell was ousted from the firm he founded 30 years ago. Why? So far the board has been unable to answer this question. They claim it was personal misconduct, which reports elucidate as expense impropriety and engaging a prostitute. Prostitution is legal in Britain. So, if true, this is similar to firing a CEO of a Colorado firm for smoking pot.
Based on what’s been reported — and there may be other stuff to come out — it looks as if Sir Martin got cross-eyed with the chair of the board and experienced that whole “karma is a bitch” thing. He had treated staff poorly, who then wanted to see him go down. About expense impropriety … what bullshit. When your CEO is a billionaire, and you’re WPP, at the end of the year — if you believe he or she has expensed things they shouldn’t — you have the CFO sit down and say, “We’ve reviewed your expenses, and believe you should pay the firm $xx,xxx back.” The CEO then says, “Ok.” You don’t fire the person who started the firm and who is an icon of British business. If it comes to that, you let them exit gracefully.
All this feels similar to a smoke screen. Sir Martin didn’t step down because of expense impropriety or paying for sex, but for being an asshole. If that’s a fireable offense, we’re going to see enormous turnover among CEOs.
In addition, the WPP compensation committee figured out a way to pay Sir Martin crazy amounts of money (despite the formal objections of the people they’re supposed to represent, shareholders) without ever bothering to get a non-compete from Sir Martin. He’s announced a new firm, S4 Capital. Note: It should be called WPP2. Sir Martin may be the only corporate billionaire in the world without a non-compete. In addition, several weeks after his abrupt firing, the firm has announced a process to select a new CEO.
WTF? You’re the board of a company whose CEO is 73. You should have been thinking about succession a decade ago and should have 2–3 internal execs ready to finish his sentences as he was saying his goodbyes. The corporate governance here makes me want to shower. Not a steam shower, but a scalding hot multihead blast of H20 where I come armed with a Brut 33 soap on a rope and a loofah.
In 2019 we’ll be blessed with new seasons of Game of Thrones, Fleabag, and Fargo. This makes 2019 … awesome. 2018 would really suck if it weren’t for the World Cup and everything else that’s wonderful about the world we live in, right now.
Amazon means innovation, vision, and growth. The brand’s equity now translates to 100%+ margins as, unlike any firm in history, the Seattle behemoth can acquire a rival firm without paying for it. Yesterday, after announcing the acquisition of online pharmacy PillPack, Amazon saw a stock increase of $19B while three drugstore competitors shed shed $11B. Tens of billions in redistribution because Amazon will acquire a firm doing $100M in revenues. Amazon could acquire Target, Nordstrom, and dozens of other firms for free — their market cap would swell by an amount greater than the acquisition price. In addition, they could turn these acquisitions into weapons that detonate and harm competitors, whose value would crash on news of the acquisitions. We have one firm that now controls the consumer retail market.
Winner (Loser): US Department of Justice
“I know! Let’s sue to restrain AT&T–Time Warner, but Google-YouTube, Apple-iTunes, Facebook-Instagram-WhatsApp-Messenger, and Amazon-AWS aren’t threats to competition.”
Despite insults from our president and the temptation to mock government, Uncle Sam’s agencies have been some of the most noble and effective organizations ensuring our freedoms and prosperity. Honest, effective, acting without fear or favor. At some point, the DOJ will come back into the fold and, similar to the CIA, FBI, NSA, Coast Guard, National Parks Service, the University of Texas, and the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, will do their damn job.
Runner-Up: The US
We used to be the good guys.
Lifetime Achievement Award
Winner: David Carey, Hearst Magazine
When I was a freshman at UCLA, David Carey was a senior. We were in the same fraternity and knew each other, but weren’t friends, as we couldn’t have been more different. David was in a serious relationship with a girl named Laurie, was publisher of our school newspaper, The Daily Bruin, wore big glasses, and looked 40. I was too immature to be in a relationship, had a pony tail, smoked a lot of pot, and rowed crew. Thirty years later, David is married to Laurie, oversees Heart’s magazine business, has big glasses, and looks 40. I still smoke pot, but am an entirely different person. David has changed less than any person I’ve ever known, in a good way.
In my twenties, I knew of David’s professional progress, as conversation among friends from college inevitably turns to “Who’s killing it?” David was always on that list. He was one of the youngest publishers in the business (SmartMoney — remember them?). David then landed big jobs at Condé Nast, including publisher of the New Yorker, while still in his thirties. David would regularly reach out and invite me to have lunch with him at Condé Nast, where we’d venture to the Frank Gehry–designed cafeteria and eat sushi among impossibly stylish young people whose parents were putting them through fashion, and Anna Wintour in the corner booth with S.I. Newhouse Jr. I was starting tech firms in SF, surrounded by people who lit up a room by leaving it, but would come to NYC, where we’d have lunch next to the Prada-wearing devil. It felt more than relevant; it felt fabulous. In exchange, when my VCs would start harping about building a brand, I’d overpay for pages in the New Yorker and InStyle. One day, while eating in that cafeteria, I decided to move to NYC.
After David’s stint at Condé Nast, he’d invite me to lunch on the 55th floor of Hearst Tower, where a suited waiter would bring us some puff pastry the firm was known for in our private dining room for two. By this time, I was teaching at NYU and had nothing to offer David professionally. But I’d become a friend, and David lived by a code that included reaching out to friends on a regular basis. We now have almost no professional overlap. I wrote an article for Esquire (his idea), but we don’t work together. Despite this we’ve become closer. Mostly due to a common shared blessing we didn’t recognize at 18/22, but one that has gained purchase in our minds as we’ve aged. Both of us came from middle-class families in Los Angeles. The generosity and vision of California taxpayers and the Regents of the University of California, respectively, lifted us up and gave us a shot at relevance and rewarding lives.
This week David announced he was stepping down from his position as president of Hearst Magazines. In our most recent lunch he shared his plans to step down. It didn’t make any sense to me, as David is still relatively young, and well thought of at Hearst — a great firm that’s good to its people. I suggested he should stay, as he was “rounding third” and should enjoy the seat for a few more years. For the first time I sensed unchecked emotion from David (he’s a rock). He replied, “I want to help young people, and I’m sick of firing my friends.”
It’s easy to be admirable when you’re an executive of a sector growing 50% a year. To leave the print industry with friends and reputation intact is to win the Boston Marathon sporting a 104° fever.
David is a role model for me. Not because of his professional success; I know a lot of very successful people. But because David never lost the script … as I and many, or most, ambitious people have at some point in their lives. Professional success is the means, not the end. The end is economic security for your family and, more important, meaningful relationships with family and friends. David has been married to Laurie 32 years, has four impressive adult children who are always around (always), as they clearly adore their father, and he has friends who admire him and feel admired.
We ended up in similar places professionally (I’m being generous to me). My ascent was fueled by the University of California, hard work, and a tolerance for risk. David’s rise was a function of the University of California, hard work, and character. The Slam Cannes Lifetime Achievement Award goes to David Carey, UCLA ’83.
Life is so rich,