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Fueling Creativity With the Fiercely Rebellious Joans of History

Cannes Lions Festival 2017: Day 6Cannes Lions Festival 2017: Day 6
CANNES, FRANCE - JUNE 22: A masked member of protest band Pussy Riot, Pussy Riot performer Nadya Tolokonnikova and her daughter Gera Verzilova attend the Cannes Lions Festival 2017 on June 22, 2017 in Cannes, France. (Photo by Francois G. Durand/Getty Images) Photo credit: Francois G. Durand/Getty Images

Good morning one last time from Cannes, France.

Creativity takes all sorts of forms, including creativity in business. There’s a fine line, of course, between creatively dreaming up new approaches to making a product (and a buck) on the one hand, and pushing the envelope beyond its limit on the other. The unfolding drama of Travis Kalanick’s fall from grace at Uber is the perfect example.

There is great tension of a different kind this week at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. The event began as an awards ceremony for creative work in advertising, much like the more famous film festival at the same venue. The awards continue, but to the consternation of ad-industry purists the event has been overrun by “ad-tech” companies like Google (GOOGL) and many lesser known tech vendors as well as media and other business executives doing deals. It bears a strong resemblance, now, to CES or Davos, but in a vastly more gorgeous and warmer location, respectively, and with an audience size between the two.

I found plenty of business creativity this week in the people I interviewed at a chat-by-the-sea series hosted by Time Inc. (TIME), Fortune’s parent, called Stirrers and Shakers. Lovers of art in advertising may not be appeased. But this was a group of networkers also thinking about the future of the media and advertising industries.

I wrote earlier in the week about Calvin Klein CEO Steve Schiffman, who disclosed plans to bring back iconic pitchwoman Brooke Shields. Rich Battista, CEO of Time Inc., appeared with Peter Naylor, head of sales for Hulu. Battista is attempting to reposition America’s biggest magazine company as a video producer. He mentioned that half the company’s employees have been around for fewer than three years. That group would include him (just over two years), but not me (15). The stat is sobering and telling of a company in transition. Naylor described a Hulu that has innovated in how it shows advertising to viewers, even as it aims to keep the ad footprint as light as possible.

A highlight of the week for me was meeting Alex Grant, better known as the solo artist and music producer Alex Da Kid. Grant is simultaneously a passionate music craftsmen—stars like Bono and Eminem hire him to help get to “the truth” in their songs, he says—and a unapologetic businessman. His marketing agency KIDinaKORNER, supported by ad giant WPP, works with brands like IBM (IBM) to incorporate music and events into their branding strategies.

Finally, I spoke to Lisa Clunie, who with business partner Jamie Robinson has started an independent, woman-owned ad agency called Joan Creative. The duo thought about “fiercely rebellious” Joans like Joan of Arc, Joan Rivers, Joan Didion, and Joan Armatrading when they named their firm. Their perspective is a breath of fresh air from their financial model (they charge for work they do, not by the hour) and the work itself, including “experiential” exhibits for clients.

After all that creativity—and a hectic several weeks in general—it’s time for a break. I’ll be off next week, returning after the Fourth of July. Happy summer, everyone.

Adam Lashinsky