In no place is the saying ‘burning the candle at both ends’ truer than at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. Especially if you’re a first timer.
With a week full of back-to-back meetings, endless high profile speakers, multiple Oscar-worthy award ceremonies, and enough parties, networking opportunities and bottles of rosé to sink any one of the hundreds of glamorous super yachts you will likely not be able to get on, the eternal quest for sleep is a futile one…
But why exactly would we want to do that anyway and risk missing the very best of this century’s Mad Men in their finest hour? Yes, you can expect to see ad land behaving badly, but so too will you feel you’ve just learnt, absorbed and experienced the very best of it all within the space of a week, not to mention in the luscious surrounds of the French Riviera.
By the end you’ll never be happier to go home again, but you’ll probably also want to come back next year. So here are some tips and tricks to help you get through it…
Take your prep with a pinch of salt
You’ll want to make a plan before you arrive. Know what’s ahead of you, whether it be seminars to attend or meetings to book. Figure out your game plan, RSVP to what you need to (bear in mind there are a lot of additional bits of content going on all day everyday up and down La Croisette, and nearly every hotel beachfront has a sponsored party each night), but don’t expect to keep to everything.
There’s a lot to be said at this type of event for getting swept up with a crowd and going with the flow. It often ends up just as fortuitous. Word of warning however: be careful trying to sneak around the front of a party by way of the ocean – a guard dog or two might be there to greet you. I learnt that the hard way.
It’s ok to be the keen one
One of the enormous benefits of Cannes Lions is that the content each day is of such curated high quality. With big name speakers like Will Smith, Anna Wintour and Harvey Weinstein this year however, you’re not going to be alone in wanting to attend, so ensure you get there early. It’s even worth arriving for the session before to be safe.
Believe me, some of the experiences you gain you’ll speak about for life (anyone else remember Yoko Ono in 2010?), so these are the plans you should stick to, even if the sun is gloriously shining (let’s hope) and calling you back outside. Take some snacks and sit it out. Seriously, do take snacks, and a sweater to fend against the air conditioning.
Network on rosé
Once all is said and done each day, there are happy hours galore to choose from. If you’re not into rosé however, you might want to think again about heading to Cannes. Then again, if you have never tasted the rosé in Cannes, I guarantee you it tastes better than any other you’ve ever tried. I’ve heard people wax lyrical in the past about something to do with temperature, locality and the size of the bottle they order (it’s not unusual to see ones the size of small children paraded about with sparklers coming out the top), though I’m pretty sure it’s far more a product of the situation. Either way, you’ll quickly learn to accept it.
Similarly you’ll need to accept that the place to drink it is on the Carlton Terrace. It might be a mess pit of hundreds of people, making it feel like a slightly more formal version of a fresher’s party, but it’s the only place to head. The masses flock thereafter just around the corner to the Gutter Bar. Expect lots of advertising guys flaunting their Lions around like it gives them dating prowess, and yes more rosé on tap, but the best networking of my life was also here post 2am. Safe to say, it’s almost impossible to be the last one standing, though everyone gives it a good try.
Suck up the long hours
Given how busy every location is and how late each night gets, expect to be on your feet for a lot of it. Ladies, don’t even bother packing any heels. In fact, unless you’re fortunate enough to be staying in one of the hotels along La Croisette, don’t assume you’ll get to go home from the moment you leave your accommodation each morning (or afternoon). You’ll be a sweaty mess by nightfall, but no one will judge you for it.
On a plus note, all the bathrooms are beautiful in Cannes (apart from some of the beach ones) so it’s easy to freshen up if you throw some bits in your bag. Men, that goes for you too.
Don’t book early appointments
Seriously, just don’t. No one ever shows up other than perhaps on their first day, and cancellations over and over again get tiresome. Let’s face it, you’d rather be in bed too. Anything post 3pm is probably safest.
Bring the corporate card
That rosé I keep mentioning is in endless supply in Cannes, but needless to say so therefore are the credit card expenses. You will spend a lot of money while you’re there – it’s not unusual for a bottle of water to set you back 14 euros at the Gutter Bar and a slice of pizza in the region of 20 euros (honestly it’s often cheaper just to get the rose!)
If you’ve got a limit, eat and drink before you get there. Or better yet, buddy up with someone else with slightly looser purse strings. Rumour has it the ad industry is pretty good at that sort of thing.
If all else fails…
If you’ve gone hard, but you haven’t got as much content as you needed to and your boss back home is expecting a rundown of what was what, keep an eye both on here for daily coverage related to our industries, and on Twitter for live updates. I’m also going to be offering a series of seminars once back in London and a live event in early July (2016) that will cover highlights from the festival as well as insights into what they mean for the broader creative communications space over the year ahead. Stay tuned for more about that soon, or do shoot me a note if you’re interested ahead of time.
A version of this post first appeared on The Drum in 2015