And yet, by a quirk of fate, communicating about overseas aid has now become part of my brief. That's because I've joined the "Cannes Chimera", the winners of last year's Cannes Grand Prix, who've been asked to judge a very special competition.
The challenge – "Aid is working. Tell the World" – is sponsored by the world’s biggest philanthropists, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. They fund health and development projects in some of the poorest parts of the planet. Now, as well as funding the search for vaccines for Aids and malaria, they’ve put up more than $1 million to help develop communications ideas. In particular, they’re looking for fresh new ways of connecting the public with the story of overseas aid.
As a member of the Chimera, I’ll be helping to select ten winners who will each be awarded $100,000 to develop their ideas. They’ll also be invited to Seattle later in the year to be mentored by our panel as they bring their ideas to fruition.
At least one outstanding idea will then have the chance to win $1 million to make it a reality. That person will get to stand on the stage in Cannes in 2013 and show the world how world-beating creativity can be channelled for good.
It’s a tough brief – as all the best ones are – but it’s also an inspiring and uplifting one. The rationale comes from audience research showing that while people in rich countries instinctively feel it’s right to help their fellow humans, they’re not clear how aid works and what it achieves. They see a lot in the media about the problems, but not so much about the places where things are being fixed. This aid weariness means there’s little public outcry when governments cut their aid budgets as some are now doing.
Partnering with the Cannes Lions means the challenge is being aimed squarely at the creative industries with a clear message: use your outstanding creative talents to tell this story differently and make a difference.
The challenge is open for entries until 15 May. All it takes to enter is an idea, simply expressed on two sides of paper. I’m sure the UK creative industry will rally to its call. I work with incredible storytellers every day, creative leaders in their field who are using their imaginations to connect millions with a product or a brand. Now they’re being asked to use their creativity to do good. Surely we’re in with a chance of cracking this one?
I can almost hear the blasts of scepticism: what, advertising creatives from the world’s top companies, working together, for the common good? Well, yes, that’s the idea. And I don’t think it’s that far-fetched.
If you look around the world, particularly to the US, there’s a growing convergence between the creative industries, technology and social good organisations. Witness the rise and rise of the TED phenomenon. The Cannes Lions themselves have started an annual Grand Prix for Good.
So what are we looking for? In the Gates Foundation’s brief, they say they want to find "game-changing ideas we might never imagine on our own, that could revolutionise the field".
That’s where we as an industry come in. With the UK home to some of the world’s most creative minds – and, coincidentally, the most active international development organisations – it would be a shame if we didn’t see some British entries among the winners.
The way we see it, you pitch, seven billion win. I look forward to reading your entry.