The Power of Community Engagement: Lessons from Cannes Lions Festival 2023

by | Jul 17, 2023

During the Cannes Lions Festival this year, The Inclusion Café hosted four days of inspiring and thought-provoking panel discussions.  Among them were Feeding the Beast: How Do You Remain Engaged in Community While Pivoting Your Brand? and Community-Focused Innovators Shaping Brand Culture. While each group of panelists provided a unique lens into their thoughts about community focus and engagement as it relates to their brands, there were common themes among the groups. 


Engaging the Community

The overriding consensus among all panelists was that the relationship between a company’s brand and the community is just that, a relationship.  Companies provide the communities with products and services that they need and want, and communities provide the company with a diverse consumer base and potential employees.

All panelists agree that it is also more than that. Like any healthy relationship, the connection between the company and community thrives when there is understanding and effective communication.

Elizabeth Campbell, SVP of Culture Marketing at McDonald’s described their commitment to interconnectedness between McDonalds and the community, “It really starts with our employees. The people who work on our brand represent every single community that’s out there.  And we are trying to make sure that we are servicing everybody.”

Detavio Samuels, CEO at REVOLT Media & TV, added to that sentiment, “The way that I would frame it, is this idea of like, not only are we on your block, we’re in your corner.”


Company Values

Moderators and panelists from both sessions identified having clearly defined values that reflect the mission of the company and that are aligned with the community, as essential to building a brand and the overall success of the company. Common values among the companies were empathy, kindness, understanding, belonging, and responsibility.

In illustration of this point, Marissa Nance, Founder of Native Tongue Communications, offered, “This isn’t like messaging, this isn’t like the campaign; this is about how we serve. I mean, you can’t serve without being empathetic. You have to be able to see the world through someone else’s lens.”

 For both groups, the values related to each one, teach one, and as you rise, lift another up, were prominent. 

Vincent Bragg, Partner at ConCreates, describes his path, “I mean, we founded this company on a belief system that creativity without opportunity is what leads to criminality. And if we’re able to, let’s look at it from this perspective, ‘If I would’ve known this industry even existed, I probably would’ve never done anything illegal, right?’ Like, all we’re doing is selling ideas. I wouldn’t have sold any drugs or anything like that if I had known that this space existed. How do we start to provide that opportunity? Take visibility a step further. Be visible to communities, like where we come from.”


Genuine Investment

Disingenuous branding and engagement were identified as cause for concern across the board. Treating cultures as monoliths, rather than as diverse communities within communities, and holding inaccurate stereotypes was identified as having weak resonance with communities, being offensive, and simply bad branding.

Bernice Chao, Co-Founder at Asians in Advertising asked the other leaders on her panel, “How do you just talk to brands about the power of culture, not only leveraging and using culture, but also supporting the people that are creating the culture and designing it and living it and breathing it every day?”

In a similar vein, Kevin Bragg candidly advised corporate media, marketing and advertising, “Stop looking at us as an afterthought…Something happens. Oh my gosh, we need this, let’s call them. Right? Oh my God, we were so insensitive to this particular group of people. Let’s call them in. That is an afterthought. You wouldn’t have those problems if, if you were actually bringing these creatives, these minds, this diverse thought into the work.”


Thoughts for the Future

In keeping with their personal and company values, when asked about their advice for the future, there was still much to be said: 

We all have the ability, right? Like we all can create something. It’s my first year at Cannes and I was like, we need representation here. What I heard was that there weren’t people who looked like me in mass quantities last year. And so, I partnered with a couple of other AIA owned businesses. and we have a cafe here, super scrappy, something small, it’s called Stop At Nothing. It’s our first year here and my first year, and it was just an idea.

-Bernice Chao


Seek understanding all the time. And to me that means to lean into curiosity. It’s okay to ask those questions. But you have to seek understanding because it’ll make you better. It’ll make you a better advocate for others and it’ll make you a better marketer.

– Elizabeth Campbell


Accept and realize you just don’t know what you don’t know. And that’s okay. If that’s the case, then open yourself up to someone who might. There’s someone out there who does.

-Marissa Nance


You have to be bold. I always say to people, I don’t know why we are the ones that are alive at this moment in time, when George Floyd died during the global pandemic. I don’t know why we were the ones, but we are…. we are. And with that comes great responsibility, great, great, tremendous responsibility. And so, my point would be, you have to be willing to own your part of the timeline and the change that you are responsible for.

-Detavio Samuels


There is not much more to say than that.


Special thanks to our panelists:

Community-Focused Innovators Shaping Brand Culture 


  • Imari Oliver, Founder & CEO @ Bond & Play


  • Bernice Chao, Co-Founder of Asians in Advertising
  • Jimmy Smith, CCO at Amusement Park Entertainment
  • Sabrina Macias, VP of Global Communications & CSR Draft Kings
  • Vincent Bragg, Partner at ConCreates


Feeding the Beast: How Do You Remain Engaged in Community While Pivoting Your Brand?


  • Dr. Marcus Collins, CSO at Wieden + Kennedy NY


  • Detavio Samuels, CEO at REVOLT Media & TV
  • Elizabeth Campbell, SVP of Culture Marketing at McDonald’s
  • Marissa Nance, Founder of Native Tongue Communications

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