Cannes jury Zélia Sakhi: "My favorites are smart ideas on a budget"

Mobiento's Zélia Sakhi in the Cannes jury 2016. Photo: Mårten Färlin

Original article in Swedish by Mårten Färlin for Resumé. The text below is a free translation of Resumé’s original article, done by Mobiento staff.

The journey began in Normandy, where world history was made many years ago. Zelia Sakhi talks about her ”stop over” in London and how she ended up in Stockholm. At Cannes Lions this year, Zelia will be judging the best mobile solutions.

 

My grandma never wore nylon, Zélia Sakhi recalls. The reason for that was the war.
Once airborne US forces landed in Normandy on D-Day in 1944, they left their parachutes behind. The locals, who after years of war were in need of materials for making clothes, raided the landing sites for materials. Parachutes were made out of nylon, which in turn resulted in the material being symbolically charged: Wearing nylon after the war had the implicit meaning of people coming from war torn areas and poverty.

– So when my grandmother grew up, she refused to wear it, says Zélia Sakhi, sitting in the Mobiento office at Hötorget in Stockhom.

The memory of World War II has been ever present in her upbringing in Caen, Normandy. The older people accumulate food supplies “just in case”, ceremonies are held annually to remember the dead and the local tourists are mostly war geeks.

The past has left its mark on Zélia Sakhi. – My grandmother was an incredibly hard-working woman who taught me to never take anything for granted and that we must work hard to get a decent life. I think I have taken on that approach on life, as if I owe my parents and grandparents, since they have had to fight more than I will ever have to do, she says.

Zélia Sakhi – who turned 30 this year, has been working hard the past ten years. She has worked in three countries, and on just as many workplaces, but now feel quite at home on Södermalm in Stockholm. Zélia is the Head of Creative at Mobiento and is returning back home to France to conclude her role as a juror for the Mobile category at this year’s Cannes Lions.

– It is a great recognition for me as well as for Mobiento as an agency says Zélia Sakhi, who was elected to the jury following a nomination by the Swedish Association of Communication Agencies. She continues:

– They said that the preparatory work would take four hours a week for a month. But in reality, it took up much more time than that.

She has, outside of her normal work as the head of creative gone through and scored 170 contributions – and it’s hardly just about seeing a two-minute short film case.
– I want to make a fair and thorough assessment. And then you have to go through all the digital content they have produced, regardless of platform. It’s tough, but incredibly exciting.

15 people from different countries sit on the jury. All go through approximately equal parts of the submissions. A few days before the festival starts, the jury members meet up for the first time in Cannes. They then split up into smaller groups to start the shortlist process. When done, they meet up again as one big jury group to decide which contributions should make the final cut.

– I have my favorites but it’s only when you get there and get to see all the contributions that you really can feel “this is a winner.” I expect to be “blown away”.

Zélia Sakhi has a soft spot for small companies that succeed in creating smart, simple solutions with limited resources.
– Some major agencies submit 25 contributions that cost millions and include celebrities. But they do not show that they are creative – just that they have money. I’m no fan of flashy productions, but rather small companies with a tight budget, which makes one feel that “I wish I had thought of that.” When one has had to deal with severe limitations but still delivers – then you are creative.

Earlier this year, Zélia Sakhi was also part of the jury at Swedish Guldägget (Golden Egg award) – again in the Mobile category.
– It has been interesting to compare the contributions of the Golden Egg award with those in Cannes. Oddly enough, I was more pleasantly surprised by the Swedish contributions, they embarked on more experimental projects using new technology – and were also more successful in showcasing the importance and impact mobile campaigns can have.

– My reaction to many of the contributions at Cannes has been in the order of “okay you have done a responsive website, great, but where is the mobile component?” I’ve only seen two or three things related to IoT and product development. I want to see more examples how to use the technology for new solutions, not only contributions that produces apps and websites that you could just as well have done five years ago. But I hope I get to see more of it when I get to take on some of the other entries down in Cannes.

In last year’s jury at the Cannes Lions, only one out of three were women. They have been struggling with a poor gender balance for a long time. This year, the objective was to have 40 percent women in the juries.
– Gender balance is heading in the right direction and that is good. It is important that women are represented on the jury and I hope to be a role model and inspiration to many. For example, in the French creative industry, it is still extremely difficult to be a woman. It is difficult to get recognition and neither customers nor managers are especially nice. Female creative directors are barely even a thing.

 

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Photo: Mårten Färlin

 

It was fifteen years ago Zélia Sakhi realized that the creative path was her thing. She certainly made a detour and got herself a degree in economics before juimping on art history and finally graphic design at a school in her home town Caen. She interned at several agencies in the city and was offered a job at Casus Belli before the training even ended.

There she was both the youngest and the only woman at the agency.
– I started as a “super junior” and worked like hell. After a year, I became the art director and the following year senior art director. After four years I was made partner.

The agency’s niche was to step in when the major agencies in Paris did not manage to deliver a campaign on time. Most often they reached out the last two weeks before deadline.
– They have a very strong position on the market. We worked on major campaigns, such as Time Warner and Cartoon Network, and were really good at getting things done.

But like many others in Zélia Sakhi’s generation, and generally within the creative sector, she started to look towards London.
– All our friends have left Caen. Even Paris begins to be empty. It is difficult to get a job and even harder to advance when the economy is doing poorly. Salaries are low and although you work hard, it’s hard to climb, she says somewhat contradictory, but believes that her own development at the French agency is an exception.

After six years at the agency, she decided to try her wings on the other side of the English Channel, and about the same time she had her first child with the boyfriend she had since she was 15 years old. Not that it stopped her.
– In this situation, many may choose a quieter career to spend more time with their child, but we decided to leave our car and house and took our one-year-old under one arm and a suitcase in the other, and moved to London.

Once in London, Zélia Sakhi took the job as a senior design specialist on American-owned Amazon, which was about to launch the e-book reader Kindle.
– It was a mess. I worked with these ads which appeared when you started the Kindle. Unfortunately, nobody at Amazon could handle the ads, nor could the agencies. At the same time, you were supposed to comply with extreme censorship. Imagine doing an ad for James Bond, when you were not allowed to show weapons, nor women whose dresses had open backs. So I had to pretend to believe in these limitations to be able to lead and coordinate my designers who were situated around Europe, while getting everything approved by the United States.

– To get this to work, I practically worked around the clock. It was important to be always available and sometimes be on call at three o’clock in the morning. I worked crazy hard.


How did you manage to cope with family life?

– Complicated. Especially considering the kindergarten situation in England. It was not a peak year in terms of being with my child. We made it, but I was very tired at the end of the year.

The top manager at Amazon told Zélia Sakhi that “you will burn-out here,” and that “you have to choose between family and work.” Most of the 75 employees in her department were women, all between 25-35 years old. But only three of them had children.
– He said it straight to my face, that I had to choose between career and family. At one point, he had not seen his own children in three weeks. I had a hard time accepting this, and it felt wrong on so many levels.

The workload and the situation led her to move away from Amazon. Around the same time her boyfriend got to know that the London office of the agency he was working on would close, and that he had to choose between the offices in New York or Stockholm if he wanted to remain at the company. As if some supernatural force wanted the family to leave London, only a few days thereafter they got to know that their landlord was selling the house that they lived in, and that they had to move.

– Well, we took it as a sign. We had heard very nice things about Sweden and decided to try it. I did a Skype interview with Mobiento and it was “love at first sight” from both sides. So we again took our daughter under one arm, and our two cats under the other and moved to Stockholm.

Mobiento is part of Deloitte Digital, and was previously limited to being a mobile niche agency, but is growing into being a broader digital innovation agency. It covers advisory services, user research, and product design and has clients such as H & M, Electrolux and Volvo Cars. 2014 Mobiento showed black figures and had a turnover of 40 million SEK and an operating profit of a million. In recent months there have been a number of new hires, but according Zélia Sakhi there is a need for more hires the coming years due to high demand.

Zélia Sakhi has now worked at Mobiento for three years as Head of creative, a role that could be defined as being in “the intersection of everything.”
– My creative team works with both design and strategy. It’s really fun to be able to combine the two, she says, and says that she now owns a share of the agency and that her boyfriend is head of technology.

In Sweden, the glass ceiling is not as low as in other countries such as France, says Zélia Sakhi.
– It is easier to get around as a woman. And you can make a career while living a happy life and be with your kids – at Mobiento you are even encouraged to do so, which is amazing and a big difference compared to, for example, Amazon in London.

 

The future then – when you take the “daughter under one arm and bags under the other” next time?
– We’ll stay here for a while. We are happy and everything is going well. Then again, we are who we are, so who knows where we are heading in the future. Maybe Asia? says Zélia Sakhi who claims to speak better Japanese than Swedish.

– We are really having a great time here, so it will probably not happen soon. If you leave aside the damn weather, of course. But on the other hand, in Caen you only have memorial ceremonies and rain.

by Mårten Färlin

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Photo: Mårten Färlin

About Zélia Sakhi

Age: 30.
Born: Caen, Frankrike.
Lives: Södermalm in Stockholm.
Family: Boyfriend, daughter and two black cats.
Does: Creative direction, strategy and advisory at Mobiento.
Education: Arts and graphic design.
Career:  Casus Belli in Caen, Amazon.com in London and Mobiento in Stockholm.
Leisure activities: Reading (started my 26th book this year), video games, procrastination on the Internet, and lots of travel.
Last book read: The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.
Movie tips: Bollywood. My favorite is Om Shanti Om, it is very funny.
Media habits: I do not own a television and rarely watch any series. Get stuck mostly in reading news on mobile.
Unexpected talent: I’m good at Japanese and pretty good at crocheting.
Role models: John Maeda, for his design and business acumen. Margaret Atwood, for her creative force, and independent mind reading.