shining a spotlight

What are Yahoo, Google, Pinterest and Snapchat doing at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity? Isn’t this event just for creative communication types?

Not anymore, says Baldwin Cunningham, CEO of Partnered, an online, private network that connects established brands with startups.

Right Brain Meets Left

Baldwin Cunningham
“When we talked with the event coordinators, they told us that they realized there was a big part of the market missing: innovation,” he said. “This includes how the creative industry needs to consider tech platforms when executing for their brands.”

To help fill this gap, three years ago festival organizers created the Innovation Lions, an awards program recognizing innovation in ideas and business solutions, as well as the creative use of data in executing advertising initiatives and campaigns.

This year, for the first time, Cannes introduced the Lions Innovation Festival, a two-day celebration of innovation, which was part of the larger Festival of Creativity.

To help spread the word about the increased focus on innovation at the festival, Partnered was asked by festival coordinators to create a documentary about the role of startups in the ad industry.

“We were asked to tell the story of how startups are fostering innovation in the advertising industry, and to bring a fresh perspective to the advertising industry from experts onsite and behind-the-scenes at the event,” said Cunningham, one of  Forbes’ 30 Under 30 in 2015.

“Our objective was: How can we show that the Lions Innovation Festival is an important place to be for people interested in innovation?”

Where Technology, Creativity and Data Meet

The Partnered documentary certainly has a lot to draw from. Last week’s Lions Innovation Festival brought together executives from major brands and ad agencies, startups and inspirational thinkers to share ideas, connect and do business together.

In addition to the Innovation Lions Awards program, the festival was packed with presentations from hundreds of global experts from the likes of Twitter, Facebook, IBM, Coca-Cola, MIT, USA Today and NASA, among others.

The festival also featured two other key happenings: the Unilever Foundry 50 pitch event, and the R/GA Start-up Academy – both of which will be highlighted in the Partnered documentary.

The Unilever Foundry 50 gives startups the chance to connect in person with some of the biggest brands, agencies and thought leaders. One representative from each of 50 startups were given a pass to Lions Innovation, plus the chance to “speed-date” with senior marketers interested in the company’s product and pitch a demo.

The Start-up Academy provided guidance on brand identities and business plans to 20 startups, and gave them the opportunity to show off what they had learned by delivering their pitches to agencies and decision-makers from some of the world’s biggest brands.

Cunningham was one of the decision-makers on the Academy’s mentor panel — an appropriate fit, as the aim of his company is to connect startups and established brands through their online network.

“We’re in a world where there’s this big disconnect between startups and brands,” he said. “But if you look at what’s been executed, you see that there was a lot of data integration and technology behind it to help it escalate. We need to help push this forward even more because it’s happening.”

From Cannes to Online Connections

For those startups and brands that weren’t able to travel to the Lions Innovation Festival, but still want to connect, Partnered online network provides an alternative.

With Partnered, brands can get pitched by startups, or they can create RFP’s and connect with those companies that interest them, speeding up the partnership process, said Cunningham.

To ensure that partners in the network are properly vetted, only 25 percent of startups that apply are accepted, he added.

And although he admits that partnerships are still about relationships, Cunningham said that with Partnered, the focus is placed squarely on the alignment of company goals.

For example, their pitch process consists of a startup sending a message to a brand through the platform. If the brand decides that their goals align, the two will be connected via e-mail.

Cunnigham noted that the platform is working well for participants, as one in four interactions made within Partnered have resulted in business relationships.

“It’s interesting to see how this need for a place where people can communicate over business problems and solutions can change and amplify,” he said.

“I look at the tech ecosystem and how it’s changing every part of how we do anything. Is the best mobile ad company in New York or Singapore? Too much business is driven off of those merits. We need more efficiency with how we do things.”

Bullish on Content

Cunningham said that Partnered is “bullish on content” which is why his company focuses on educating brands and startups so that they can get together.

Partnered offers weekly videos for this purpose – both free and paid, as well as a research video model, which more than 100 brands have already taken advantage of.

“A video goes out once a week for brands and agencies to help them see what trends are happening in the landscape that could affect their business,” said Cunningham.

Why video?

“People like learning through video,” he said. “It was the golden era of storytelling then, and it still is.”

He added that video allows Partnered to educate at scale, and makes it easier for people to process information, rather than having to wade through a 90-page report.

The focus for brands, he continued, is to teach them how to effectively handle things that are changing the way they do business, rather than just checking off a box. For startups, he said, the hardest thing is access.

“Our platform fuels relationships for companies big and small,” he concluded. “Our goal is to simply create a better business network.”

The Partnered documentary about how startups are fostering innovation in the ad industry will be available on the Cannes YouTube channel following the festival. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 2.0 Generic License Title image by rynde.