European summer is just around the corner, and for a lucky few the season will start in the French Riviera. Out of 350 participants from across 25 countries, six rising stars have come out winners in NextUp.Monks, our internal creative competition in partnership with Cannes Lions. The reward? A full-package trip to Cannes and a chance to shine on the global stage.
NextUp.Monks offers emerging talent from our 8,900-strong multidisciplinary team the opportunity to continue to cross and push boundaries—and reaffirms our commitment to support them along the way. With our people spanning 57 talent hubs in 32 countries, this internal initiative is the perfect way to bring our talent closer together and provide them with a platform to shine on a global stage. The first edition turned out to be such a great success that there was no other option but to bring it back in 2023.
“Our ambition is to transform the industry. We want to change the work, what the work can do, and who does the work—and that change starts with us, right now,” says Jouke Vuurmans, our Chief Creative Officer. “NextUp.Monks is one of the ways we work towards this goal, as it gives our up-and-coming talent the chance to be bold, think outside the box, and ultimately thrive both within our company and on the global stage. What we saw last year is that it’s not just about professional development, it’s also about personal growth. Through this competition, participants get to meet and mingle with like-minded and equally ambitious colleagues from every corner of the globe.”
Connecting talent from across categories and capabilities
As the aim is to give people the opportunity to thrive within our company and the industry, the main rule of NextUp.Monks is that everyone can join—as long as you have seven years or less of industry experience and are not in a managerial position. If you check those boxes, you are good to go find a partner to team up with and get to work.
The competition consists of three categories, each of which is designed to highlight specific strengths, skill sets and interests. Teams are invited to participate in any category, regardless of their current role within Media.Monks.
First up, the Innovation.Monks are future-facing visionaries. They’re adept at sniffing out innovative ideas and turning them into reality using the latest in emerging tech and formats, resulting in groundbreaking experiences and new possibilities.
Second, the Film.Monks deliver cinematic stories for screens of all sizes. They’re an inclusive bunch of thinkers that have a knack for original concepting, scriptwriting, visual treatments, film treatments, shooting, directing, editing, VFX, post—and everything in between. Together, they believe that film has the power to connect people and tell stories that we’ve never seen or thought about before.
Third, the Interactive.Monks are driven to build creative experiences that go beyond the mundane. They put the audience at the heart of every moment they craft, giving them the opportunity to immerse themselves within compelling, transformative digital experiences that build lasting memories.
Sparking boundary-pushing ideas
For this year’s edition, we teamed up with a world-renowned global brand to develop a unique creative brief for each category. Our aim was to get people to flex their creative muscles and give shape to the craziest and most mind-bending ideas.
The brief, “VR for Good,” challenged participants to think about VR as a vehicle for change and to find ways to excite Gen Z consumers about the potential of this technology. Through each category, teams were tasked to demonstrate VR’s transformative power to positively impact areas such as medicine, sports training, and emergency response—and ultimately change people’s minds about VR as a device solely intended for gaming.
If you ask Steve Latham, Head of Learning at Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, all participants understood the assignment. “After last year’s success, our team couldn’t wait to continue to work with Media.Monks on this groundbreaking initiative and breathe new life into our shared goal to spark boundary-pushing creativity,” he says. “Once again, our minds were blown—just when I thought the bar couldn’t go any higher, their talent raised it. Massive shout-out to everyone who participated, because the level of future-forward thinking, creativity and craft was outstanding. Now, it’s time to meet the winners at Cannes Lions 2023!”
And the winners are…
With so many incredible submissions, we had to be very diligent and detail-oriented in reviewing all the work. So, we established an esteemed jury of internal Media.Monks employees and industry experts, who reviewed the work in a blind judging process using the following judging criteria: the creative idea (40%); the insight and strategy (20%); the relevancy to the brief (20%); and the execution (20%). The jury selected bronze, silver and gold winners across each of the three categories. While the silver and bronze winners received a personalized trophy—plus eternal bragging rights—the creative minds behind the gold-winning work earned an all-inclusive ticket to Cannes.
Those going down in history as the 2023 NextUp.Monks gold medalists are Anna Zhang and Yazad Dastur in the Innovation category, Vasyl Ilba and Mykyta Zolotoverkhyi in the Interactive category, and Jorene Chew and Ashwin Paul in the Film category. Out of these teams, the judges crowned Anna Zhang and Yazad Dastur the ultimate winners. This means that in addition to their trip to Cannes, they have also been admitted to the prestigious Creative Academy at Cannes—which will welcome a mere 30 people from around the world this year.
“I still feel like I’m dreaming,” says Anna Zhang, Junior Designer. “Two months ago, I went to a little happy hour mixer for the NextUp.Monks competition and met Yazad. I didn’t really think I would enter the race, but Yazad told me that his best trait is his personality—and I was sold. We may have started as partners, but through this competition, we have become great friends. We come from totally different backgrounds, career paths, and even parts of the organization, but we got together with one common goal: to create something that feels true to us and, most importantly, to have fun!”
“Something that really made the difference when Anna and I decided to do the competition together was that we developed a rapport before we got to work, and really got to know each other as people and understand where the other was coming from—both creatively and personally,” adds Yazad Dastur, Junior Copywriter. “Becoming friends allowed us to tap into a deep emotional place and insights, and I think that’s what made it so much more important for us to give it our all. To find a partner who is willing to stay up until 6:00 am to finish a project is rare, especially one that does not guarantee an outcome. So, I think the fact that we told each other ‘let’s have fun and give this our best’ made this process an experience that we are truly proud of. I’m absolutely grateful for Anna—we completely pushed each other whenever one of us was faltering, doubting or even falling asleep.”
Bridging cultures and crossing borders
As much as the winning pitch, the NextUp.Monks initiative itself is all about creating strong connections, both across our organization and the globe. Not only did this internal competition garner interest from more than 600 employees in 25 countries, with a striking 350 people actually participating in the race, the top three teams are based in completely different places—from Los Angeles to Poland to Malaysia.
This circles back to the fact that NextUp.Monks helps our emerging talent grow professionally as well as personally, as this initiative—within the context of our unified business structure—allows our people to work with peers from different countries, categories and capabilities.
“Being a global team, we rely on an agile, flexible framework that lets people be themselves while staying keyed into the emerging opportunities and challenges that brands and our industry face. We’re a unified organization, but everyone is given the space to let their distinct voice and personality shine through—and our NextUp.Monks initiative only reinforces this spirit,” says our Chief Marketing Officer Kate Richling. “The competition opens up a myriad of possibilities for our up-and-coming talent across the globe to work together, no matter their location, expertise or job description.”
Nothing Cannes stop our winners now
All that’s left for the winners to do is pack their bags, hop on a plane, and enjoy their time in Cannes—and if we have to believe Noelle Mayasich, our Senior Creative and last year’s winner, this will be the easiest part.
“The amount of knowledge my partner and I gained from Cannes Lions has been so valuable to the way I look at creativity in my daily work—the workshops and keynote speeches have honestly molded me into who I am today,” says Mayasich. “We saw many notable speakers, including heads of large agencies, industry-wide influential figures, and even Ryan Reynolds, who talked about his break into the industry. Some of the speakers made us cry, and many others made us laugh. What truly stuck with me were the following lessons: be ambitious and humble at the same time. Create value for people of the world, not fluff. Sometimes we fail and sometimes we win, but having that freedom gives us the power to be creative.”
But Mayasich’s biggest takeaway from this experience was that the creative people in our industry really do care about the good of humanity and social, cultural, environmental and societal issues. “While our creative work reaches so many people on a daily basis, we don't often get to see this impact because we have to move on to the next project. This festival made me realize that my work is so much more impactful than I thought it was, and we’re the living proof there’s a fighting force behind it,” she says.
“It’s every advertiser’s dream to go to Cannes, so to say we’re excited would be an understatement—I’m actually still in shock,” says Dastur. “What makes me the happiest is that people saw potential in our idea and understood what we were trying to convey: that there’s a promise to the future of AI and VR. When utilized responsibly, these technologies have the power to bring people closer together.”
As we continue to provide our talent worldwide with diverse opportunities for growth, who knows where they will be in their careers next year—it might just be the French Riviera. As Media.Monks Co-Founder and Executive Director of S4Capital Wesley ter Haar says, “This year's NextUp.Monks was amazing. Great to see so much fun work and boundary-pushing thinking from teams across the globe, which is the result of our exciting partnership with Cannes Lions. I’m sure we'll see some of this year’s participants back there in the foreseeable future.”
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