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Hannah Qualley Reflects on the Cannes Young Lions Executive Academy

Account Executive Hannah Qualley is back from Cannes, and she has a notebook full of notes and inspiration to prove it. Hannah represented Leo Burnett at the Cannes Young Account Executive Academy, an intensive five-day case course that featured a client pitch project, access to the festival’s seminars, account-focused talks with industry leaders and one-on-one coaching with Kevin Allen, the “account guy” who sold through MasterCard’s “Priceless” campaign.

So did the week in Cannes live up to Hannah’s expectations? Read on to see what she thought about the festival and her three key takeaways from the event.


The first, natural thing to write is that my mind has been completely blown. But in reality ... I think my mind just found a bunch of other people who all want to do the same thing, and now it is a brain that won’t shut off with ideas and excitement to come back and spread the mind-exploded brain pieces onto others.

As mentioned, my perspective is from the account side. And on the first day, course instructor and successful account man Kevin Allen proclaimed: “We are in a renaissance of account management. We’re experiencing the most challenging opportunity we've seen yet in advertising.”

And the week-long seminars with the best marketers in the business proved it. The industry is in a slight bind: marketers admittedly haven't cracked the code to the most effective ways to communicate at the speed of culture, and agencies are working to keep up as well.

That said, I had three main takeaways from the combination of the Account Executive Academy and the Cannes festival itself:

1. The importance of Client/Agency collaboration has never been more pronounced. Collaboration may seem obvious, but the way most agencies still work with clients is the big-idea reveal at the creative reviews. As the CMO of Unilever, Keith Weed, mentioned in his talk: "The model of agencies sitting across the table, selling work is outdated." With how rapidly cultural phenomena occur, and the need for brands to still be relevant, impactful and authentic in these moments, it has never been more important to get on the same side of the table from the minute an idea sparks. Having brilliant minds in the room – both from the agency and the client – and the right skillsets to collaborate and align from the beginning is a way of working I’ll stand behind.

2. Emotion and simplicity still prevail above all. Even with all the tech and innovation talk at the festival, the best creative ideas still held the same key tenets from years past. “Emotion” and “simple” were two words I heard at least 15 times in different situations every day.

Emotion was at the heart of every winning concept. As for simplicity, well, someone dumping a bucket of ice on their head, and challenging others to do it for a great cause – we saw that take a Gold Lion, and become an example talked about throughout the week. Keeping my eye on creating and championing simple, impactful ideas is a huge focus as I return to the Windy City.

3. It is everyone’s job to be creative. For real. Taking it back to account management and the “renaissance” of the role, the Academy class and all the speakers demonstrated how we’ll never get anywhere without good account folks. And "account folks" means overall leaders, creative thinkers, supporters and enhancers of the work. In short, “Account” and “Creative” as a longstanding adversarial relationship has to get out of here. If we all aren’t partnering and thinking as one, bringing our own individual strengths to the table in support of a common goal – we’re done.

That’s all I can fit here, even though my notebook is completely full. While I had major FOMO from not being able to attend every talk by every brilliant person in the south of France this past week, I can only hope I’ll be attending Cannes in the future for another reason.

And of course, thank you LB!