‘Trust your gut and take risks’

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

TV Industry trailblazer Kerry Washington was the star attraction at yesterday’s Cannes Lions session Future is Female: Women & the Direct to Consumer Economy.

Washington’s portrayal of crisis management expert Olivia Pope in ABC hit series Scandal is widely-recognised as having transformed the global TV industry’s openness to casting both female and black actors in lead roles. “Scandal was the first US network show for 40 years to put a black woman at the centre, so that was perceived as taking a risk,” Washington told a packed audience. “But to really disrupt you have to trust your gut and take risks. And then you discover that it wasn’t really a risk at all and people were hungry for it.”

Washington, who is now working with Hulu on a limited series called Little Fires Everywhere, said the decision to go with that platform was partly down to data which pointed to the likely success of the series. However, she stressed that data is only one part of an equation that also needs to factor in “empathy and your internal creative impulse”.

Washington says her focus on empathy extends to anyone, male or female, that is peripheral to the TV storytelling culture. “My company Simpson Street is developing a show about male models who, interestingly, experience a lot of the same challenges associated with women, ranging from eating disorders to pay inequality. We’re interested in any stories that speak to our shared humanity.”

With Washington on the panel were Hulu chief marketing officer Kelly Campbell and Stitch Fix chief marketing officer Deidre Findlay, who shared their perspectives on the pivotal role women are playing in driving the direct-to-consumer economy. Both agreed the data science works best when integrated with a human touch. Washington also described her role working with skincare brand Neutrogena, “not just as an ambassador but as a creative consultant with a hands on role”.

Harriet Palmer