CANNES, FRANCE — Two Filipinas did their country proud at the 2022 Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity’s See It Be It program. Denise Tee and Soleil Badenhop were among 21 female talents selected from across the world to participate in the week-long program, which is dedicated to achieving gender representation of creative directors and leaders across the global industry. To commemorate the experience, adobo Magazine asked Denise and Soleil to pick each other’s brains on empowerment, working in a male-dominated industry, and what it’s like to partake of advertising’s grandest stage.
Soleil: What made you join the See It Be It program?
Denise: This was actually the second time I’ve tried to join SIBI. Back in 2019, it took both the urging of my (Wunderman Thompson Hong Kong) ECD, Carlos Camacho, and the stories of my friend, Knox Balbastro (who had previously joined) to get me to join what was sold to me as the opportunity of a lifetime. I really didn’t know what to expect, to be honest. Initially, I thought it would be a work session for female leaders to get together, like a giant brainstorming session to create world-changing solutions, OR even a presentation — it was not. It was more a discussion of self — our inhibitors and inhibitions, being honest and truthful, confronting our fears and joys.
Soleil: How do you think they select SIBI members?
Denise: I think the members are selected based on how truthful and unique their viewpoints are — so speak your truth.
Soleil: That makes sense. A lot of people asked me how I got in and I wasn’t really sure how the selection process works. All I know is, I showed my most genuine and vulnerable self. And yes, I cried during the interview. Tears aren’t required, but I think being honest is. Now that we’ve gone through the program, what will you remember most?
Denise: There were many great moments. The group had no lack of star-studded encounters like (#metoo founder) Tarana Burke and Gary V (THE Gary V). We were also mentored by Swati, Kat, Maddy, Mackenzie, Tea, to name a few, and even personally by Wendy, Jackie and Jen — all were quite life-changing and even earth-shattering opportunities. However, I will remember the quiet one-on-one talks we had with each other the most. On the last day, when we went around the room to reflect on our experiences, this truly solidified that we all felt an equal part similar to each other which was in all parts terrible and beautiful at the same time.
Soleil: I’ll forever remember our final wrap-up session. Everyone was able to share what they liked about the program, how they felt, and what their plans were. It was such an empowering moment to see every one of us being vulnerable and — at the same time — fearless.
On the first day of the program, SIBI Chair Madonna Badger gave us three tips: 1. Find our similarities. 2. Look for what’s right. 3. Be vulnerable. I found that what makes us similar is our dream to have more inspiring female leaders and for those leaders to be us one day, though I think all of us already are! Once we got to know each other, what made us different was only our backgrounds.
Denise: Oh God. How can people so different in age, aesthetic preference, physicality, sexuality, and personality have so much in common? I think our differences are very evident. However, our similarities are stronger than our differences. At our core, we seem to have similar values, goals, beliefs, manners and intentions — and isn’t this what really important when building connections?
Soleil: There is also an “age gap.” Just kidding! [laughs]. But we’re the same in many ways. We fight for what is right. We stand up to our daily oppressors be it a person, fear, or whatever feeling. We just want a world where everyone is free to speak their mind and where people know how to coexist simply by showing vulnerability, honesty, and respect.
Denise: Overall, I found the experience to be unequivocally eye-opening. Aside from the prompting from friends, I truly felt I needed an affirmation of self. Prior to this experience, I have never attended an international advertising festival. I would always finance myself to attend design, fashion or tech festivals, but never an advertising festival. So SIBI allowed me to attend my first advertising award show.
Soleil: How do you feel about it, now that’s over?
Denise: Stronger, to put it succinctly. My mind is recharged. My soul is prepared. My body … is a little worse for wear (catching Covid at Cannes is no joke) but it will survive. But all in all, I feel stronger after this program. What about you? Were there any astounding realizations you discovered being at SIBI?
Soleil: I realized that life is too short to not act on your feelings. Women are known (rightly or wrongly) to be emotional, so we’re often seen as too soft to be leaders. But to feel is to be human, to be vulnerable, and to be empathetic. We should have more leaders who feel and we should produce more work that evokes feelings. Our SIBI mentor, Swati Bhattacharya (CCO of FCB India), also said that love should be the center of everything. Do everything with love and you will be happy.
You mentioned earlier that you first got chosen for SIBI in 2019. How would you say it changed your life?
Denise: When I first got chosen, I was very inspired by all the women that surrounded me. Everyone was very open and vocal about their own experiences — this lead me to become more sensitive and empathetic to the people around me. It was what pushed me to take in to action a few things, some small like a feminine hygiene box in WT HK, and others that are bigger, like facing certain monsters in our industry. For 2022, specifically SIBI changed my perception of people as it has taught me to shed the fear and the hesitancy that I always initially have. It opened my mind to owning the awkward, uncomfortable, and daring to push further the limitations we set on ourselves.
Soleil: Since SIBI is a gender equality program, what challenges would you say you’ve faced as a woman in the ad industry?
Soleil: You name it. A dash of tokenization, a dash of deprioritization, a dash of sexualization, a dash of exploitation here and there. Anywhere and everywhere.
Soleil: Are women in our ad industry empowered? Why or why not?
Denise: No. We tokenize empowerment. It’s more comfortable to say “I am empowered” than it is to admit vulnerability. We like believing that we are empowered women, that we can actually make big change but actually we are afraid of every repercussion set by a society hell bent on patriarchy and chauvinism. And this is no particular fault of one person, but by us as a collective. Our industry is one that venerates a moment talent and triumph over the claims of many, counting women as acceptable collateral damage in pursuit of talent.
To quote a fellow female CD to challenge every leader in our industry “Why? What have you done? No, what have you REALLY done?”
Now, it’s my turn to ask: as it was Pride month, how does SIBI factor for you, as a proud member of the LGBTQIA+?
Soleil: I was asked during the SIBI interview if i think there should also be program for the LGBTQIA+ leaders. My answer, of course, was yes. But i do acknowledge that female leaders and women in general have a long way to go. Today, females are still outnumbered by males in leadership positions. I am greatly inspired by what FCB’s Global CCO said in one of our sessions, “hire women that open doors for other women.” That’s true! When we get more women leaders up there, they will open doors for other women and other genders as well. But I wouldn’t mind if there are more gays in leadership positions too. That would be great!
Denise: What was your key takeaway from SIBI?
Soleil: My key takeaway is nothing will ever be the same when you go home. Or at least strive for it not to be the same. See It Be It is not a career workshop, it’s a life-changing program. You will meet a lot of women leaders with different stories, struggles, and dreams to share. They are now my life mentors as much as the actual mentors we’ve met during the program.
Denise: To quote Tito Boy, after SIBI, when you look into the mirror, who do you now see?
Denise: Could you, in a social post, summarize your SIBI experience?
Soleil: See it Be It is life-changing. You can’t just go back and do nothing. How about you? What’s your message to other girls who want to be part of SIBI?
Denise: PLEASE DO JOIN. You can’t get picked if you don’t flll up the form! Please do not get disheartened if you are not picked your first or second time – it happens. Setbacks and disappointments are part of life, it should never stop you from pushing forward. Many of us are not valued by our companies enough to be sent as a delegate. If that’s the case, maybe it’s time to take it in your own hands and get yourself sent through your own means, and SIBI might be your way.
Soleil: What’s your message to the women leaders before your generation?
DENISE: Cindy Gallop’s quote “a fish doesn’t know what water is” is a testament to awareness work you have done. The fact that being immersed in water, you were able to push awareness and stake a claim for yourselves in a male dominated industry is in itself a testament to your amazingness.
However, the push is never over and we have to push together and not just the women leaders, but all leaders. If this is a communication funnel, lets push past awareness — we’ve been considered and it’s time we move into conversion. It’s time for action. Because, I think, more than ever the young entering our field are the most vulnerable. We can no longer depend on whispers. Our industry is full of whispers but whispers do not reach who they need to reach. If you presume people know, most likely they don’t.
We need to live our truths fearlessly.
Soleil: Do you have a message for future women leaders?
Denise: The way will never be clear, nor perfect, not in the near future. This is our unfortunate truth. BUT we can be the future. Every small step we take clears the path for others who are better to stride ahead of us so women or not. Leaders have a duty to always push for equity and if you are the future, know that you hold a great amount of responsibility — but if we all move together we can help carry the responsibility. You will not be alone.
There will always be some people who will want to separate you and make you fight amongst each other. We work in a competitive landscape, and this cannot be helped, but know that it is through division that we find ourselves alone. So band together. Surround yourselves with people who have the same values as you.
If anything, please have hope, and take action.
Soleil: I absolutely agree with that. To women everywhere, you are not alone. You will never be alone. And to make that statement felt, let’s show or tell one another that we are there for them.
And this doesn’t just go out to every woman, it goes out to everyone. Swati, our SIBI mentor, said that we need to expand the room for all types of people. Supporting women doesn’t mean to have an agency filled with women, it means expanding the room so no one is kicked out. So, to the future leaders, let’s strive to change the reality we’re faced with now by creating more space for others. Do what’s right, not what is easy. Be loyal to your people, not your peers. They say it’s lonely at the top, but when you do what’s right, I bet hundreds will stand beside you.
See It Be It is a recurring program of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. It aims to support female creatives from across the globe with their advertising careers, but as shared by Denise and Soleil, it appears to be more than that. If you want a life-changing experience too, watch out for next year’s call for applications.
Soleil Badenhop has been in the advertising industry for eight years. She started her career with FCB Manila where she handled Nivea, PLDT, and Emperador Distillers, Inc. She later went on to Dentsu Jayme Syfu where she worked with bigger brands like Coca-Cola, Smart PLDT, Jollibee, and Unilever and raked in multiple awards for the agency.
Beginning her career in Manila, Denise Tee has racked up an impressive portfolio of work in renowned shops such as TBWA\SMP and Ace Saatchi & Saatchi in Manila, as well as stints in BBH and BBDO Singapore. Known for her innate design sense and eye for detail, Denise’s output has scored metal at shows like Cannes Lions, Clio, One Show, LIA, and D&AD, in addition to being featured in Best Ads on TV, Advertising Age, Campaign Brief Asia, and adobo magazine.