The industry likes to criticise Cannes Lions. If I had a dollar for every time an exec told me it had “lost its way”, I could probably afford a bottle of rosé at the Carlton Terrace.
The last 12 months have been rife with negative Cannes Lions headlines. Publicis pulled out, WPP threatened to boycott, and almost every Australian agency said they were sending less execs than in previous years.
So when I descended to the South of France to the festival of creativity for the first time in my career last week, I was sceptical.
I was ready to jump on the bandwagon and complain about the slate of celebrities on stage, the dominance of tech players and the lack of focus on creativity. But if I said that today, I’d be lying.
Whether it was listening to Marc Pritchard speak beach front, or watching Fatboy Slim perform at News Corp’s chateau party, I found it hard to sympathise with those who had “Cannes fatigue”.
I’ve come to realise if that’s your attitude, then you’re doing Cannes wrong.
Too many execs told me they’d be lucky to attend one session at the Palais, if any. Some hadn’t even bothered buying passes.
When I rattled off the three or four sessions I’d attended that day at happy hour, a handful looked puzzled. Some envious, tied up with too many client shindigs.
“You actually go to the Palais?!” one exec said to me.
“I go to one session a day just to make sure I have something to say if the boss asks me,” another admitted.
Initiative global CEO Mat Baxter said he was disappointed the Palais had become a second act to the networking and parties along the beach front. But how many sessions did he attend? When I saw him midweek, it was zero.
Baxter blamed Cannes, as many do, for becoming a networking beast, rather than focusing on education and celebration of the work.
He said his absence was merely a symptom of the Cannes beast. And while I see his point, having received more than 60 invites to various events in the lead up, I disagree that it’s Cannes' fault.
Cannes Lions is what you make it. You can sleep in until midday, roll out of bed and start your day with overpriced rosé before hitting the next beach party.
You can spend everyday “networking” on the Facebook deck, or figuring out how to get your name on the Spotify list to see Travis Scott.
Or you can drag yourself out of bed, hangover and all, and spend the day learning from the top marketers in the industry.
The choice is yours, and if you’re not doing the latter, one has to question the worth of you flying 24+ hours and spending thousands of dollars of company money.
To even out this debate and make sure I’m not painting the wrong picture of the hard working Aussies on the ground, there were also execs like Chris Howatson, CHE Proximity CEO, who penned about his own experience at Cannes, citing four sessions he drew inspiration from. Others, like the TBWA crew and VML’s Aden Hepburn, I saw in the line for the Palais several times.
Admittedly, it was my first Cannes, so I’m yet to become jaded by the experience. According to regular attendees, it was also a much smaller and more sober affair this year.
Through my admittedly wide eyes, it was everything I’d hoped; inspiring, educating, bloody hard work but also a lot of fun.
Thanks to all the agencies that took me under their wing for the week and showed me the best of Cannes Lions.
It’s an experience I’ll never forget and one I hope to repeat.