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Cannes: the value of awards, relationships – and getting away from the crowds

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Chris Childs, managing director at TabMo UK, reviews the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Cannes LionsIt’s that time of year when the great and the good of the advertising world return from the south of France and the obligatory post-event analysis of the Cannes Festival of Creativity begins. 

Is it still relevant? Does it reward advertising that is clever but obscure, thereby losing touch with peoples’ everyday needs? Does ad tech have a place at a festival that celebrates creativity? Where are the agencies? How much for a cup of coffee? (20 euros according to one source.)

There’s no doubt that it’s easy to knock Cannes.  It is expensive (with anecdotal evidence that venues increase their prices to make the most of the free-flowing expense accounts for the week). Countless vats of rose wine are sunk in the name of business, while the Festival’s global ambitions are somewhat dimmed by visitors being predominantly British and American.

And it can’t be denied that some of the romance of the location is lost; the iconic Carlton Hotel for example shrouds its elegant façade in advertising banners and removes any possibility of relaxing on its outside terrace with a plethora of temporary bars.

Etcetera. Etcetera.

But that’s only part of the story.

Winning a Cannes Lion is still a very, very Big Deal.  Seeing the adulation as one of the 26 Grand Prix trophies was reverently passed round and admired by the victors’ peers and colleagues left no doubt about the value this prize held for the brand and creatives responsible for it.

This point was reinforced by Alan Jope at this year’s Unilever Beach lunch.  Along with highlighting that the island extravaganza is an opportunity for the company to celebrate and thank its partners, the CEO was explicit in his desire to ‘clean up on awards’ – encouraging teams to be bold and invest in the big ideas that would achieve both business growth and trophies.

But awards aside, Cannes is the ultimate occasion to build and cement the personal relationships that underpin business partnerships throughout the rest of the year.  It’s about meeting industry peers and agency decision-makers in a different context – and away from the more pressured environment of the office.

As is widely publicised, there is no shortage of occasions to do this. The Spotify party was a great way for us to broaden our agency network, while Captify’s now legendary Tuesday pool party in a hillside villa welcomed 1000 guests this year (with rumours suggesting that more than three times that number subscribed).

Poolside is the ideal place to meet day-to-day agency decision-makers, as an increasing number attend the festival courtesy of invitations from ad industry suppliers, and seeing so many of the UK media gathered in one spot is proof if any were needed that Cannes is viewed as a flagship event in the advertising calendar. 

Cost and experience-wise, Cannes is a lesson in doing your homework and planning accordingly.  With the big buzz of the festival concentrated around the Croisette, it’s easy to forget what else the town and beautiful surrounding regions have to offer, at a fraction of the price and only just off the main drag.

We headed out a few days early, taking key clients, and hired a boat for a relaxed exploration of the Riviera coast before the hordes arrived. Planned as an exclusive and personal gathering, the informal setting provided a useful reminder that, while we may speak to people every day during normal working hours, there is no substitute for face-to-face contact when no-one is in a hurry.

Later in the week we again avoided the crowds, heading instead with clients for lunch in Mandelieu-La Napoule, a small town across the bay; work was the underlying connection, but we savoured the France that is a world away from advertising and technology.

In short, Cannes is a vital part of the advertising year but, unless you are one of the big guys with deep pockets, it’s a beast that needs to be tamed if it’s not to run up big bills and deliver poor return on the hangovers. Work out who you’d like to meet and why and – if you’re doing the entertaining – create a compelling and personalised experience that is too enticing to turn down.

And then enjoy it…