What Drives You

Why making a difference has kept Cannes Lions’ outgoing chairman Terry Savage passionate about marketing

For more than six decades, the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity has brought together people from all over the creative communications sector to brainstorm ideas.

Terry Savage is seen by many as the heart and soul of the festival. As its outgoing chairman, he has been associated with Cannes Lions for over 30 years.

So what’s driven the festival’s long-time leader to stay in the marketing and communications space for such a long time?

“I think the creative elements are what inspire me and drive me. Probably more importantly than that, I think it's the fact that there are certain things that you get involved with in life, which makes a difference to people's lives,” Savage, now global chairman of The Marketing Academy, told CNBC’s Karen Tso on an episode of “What Drives You.”

“And the number of people that have said to me in this event, over many, many years that, ‘Coming here this week actually changed my life.’

“That's a really motivating thing for any individual — to be in a role where you know you're actually making a difference to other people. And I think that's the biggest driver that I have as an individual.”

Cannes Lions Chairman Terry Savage speaks onstage during the SAWA session at the Cannes Lions Festival 2018 on June 19, 2018 in Cannes, France.
Richard Bord | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
Cannes Lions Chairman Terry Savage speaks onstage during the SAWA session at the Cannes Lions Festival 2018 on June 19, 2018 in Cannes, France.

Savage’s relationship with Cannes Lions dates back to the 1980s, when he started a 15-year stint as the festival’s Australian representative, before becoming its CEO in 2003 and then its chairman soon after. Prior to his appointment as chief executive, Savage was executive chairman of cinema advertising firm Val Morgan.

Representing key values

Over the last three decades, Savage has witnessed first-hand the industry’s transformation.

“You come here and you think the most important thing in life is a Titanium Grand Prix or a Gold Lion, or a Silver Lion — then you hear about the fact that people are dying and they can't even eat. It's actually quite a sobering thing,” Savage said, recalling how he’d been at a seminar that discussed tactics to end world hunger.

“I think that's one of the messages that we're really trying to get across increasingly in Cannes. It's not about just business, it's also about (doing) good.”

And it’s not just communications businesses that are adapting, it is consumers too, he explained.

“The consumer's in control, people are in control, and people don't want to just be buying products — they want products that represent their values, represent something that is meaningful in their life and so brands are responding.”

The outgoing chairman added, however, that such values have to be “in the brand’s DNA,” rather than a response based on a good marketing strategy, as some consumers will “see right through it” otherwise.

Moving on up

This concept of making a difference is something that Savage is taking with him as he departs Cannes Lions.

The Marketing Academy, a non-profit that develops talent within the creative communications industry, announced in April that it had appointed Savage as its global chairman. Savage told CNBC that the role would be “one of several things” he would do.

“I want to be involved in things that I think are making a difference and I can make a difference,” he said. “So with The Marketing Academy, I think that will certainly be the case — I'll help it expand into other territories and markets, because I think it's a good thing for people and the industry.”

“I think my next step is to actually help people understand the power of creativity in a bigger and better way. Perhaps also to try and bring the parties together,” Savage added, giving as an example the relationship between agencies and brands.

“I think I can play a role in helping the development of creativity through the people that work in it on one hand, and to help the brands understand that perhaps they've got to be part of that process.”

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