Insider's guide to Cannes

PRWeek's tips on how to make the most out of your time on La Croisette.

Let's face it, the PR profession is not as au fait with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity as those advertising types who have been visiting the French Riviera for decades.

But in this, its 60th year, the festival is becoming a must attend for communications and marketing executives of all types. Rather than the creatives who once dominated this corner of the Côte d'Azur, you're just as likely to bump into a client these days – with almost a third of the 11,000 attendees now coming from the in-house side.
With this in mind, PRWeek has some useful tips to help you get the most out of the festival, which this year runs from June 16-22.

1. Cannes can be overwhelming as a newbie, so “figure out your game plan,” emphasizes Marina Maher, eponymous CEO of the Omnicom subsidiary. “Check the schedule well in advance, then plan out the seminars and workshops you want to attend,” she adds. The festival website is a great resource for this and it is extremely mobile-friendly.

2. While many festival attendees notoriously never go near the official screening theaters or exhibition halls, there's a lot of useful content and thought leadership on show.  

“If it appears to be a popular seminar with a big-name speaker, get there 45 minutes beforehand,” says Maher. “The popular events sell out. And standing in line gives you a terrific opportunity to meet new people.” Also “be sure to ‘shop' the exhibits on the lower level,” she adds. “Innovative software and ideas abound.”

3. If you get tired of seminars and workshops, you can always head to La Croisette for a stroll along the front and people watch, or cross the street to check out the numerous designer boutiques strategically placed to catch the eye of festival-goers.

4. The pace is brutal at Cannes and it is vital to refuel to keep your strength up. Food on offer varies from classic French restaurants to street-side fast-food joints. Maher recommends The Carlton Beach Club for a “decadent” lunch. A boat trip to Club 55 in St. Tropez is only for the seriously wealthy or keen to impress. La Palme d'Or at the Martinez Hotel is another luxurious option if you land that big award. La Pizza is good for those on a tighter budget.

5. As you gaze out onto the Mediterranean watching the sun set on another busy day there is only one thing to have in your hand: a glass of Domaines Ott rosé, the ubiquitous drink of the festival. Later on, you may be drawn to check out the Gutter Bar, where festivities don't get into full swing until 3am. Beware the hordes of English media types here. It's probably not the place to prepare for a breakfast meeting.

6. It is an indication of communications' place in the pecking order that the Cannes PR Lions are presented on Monday evening, days before many ad folks arrive in town.

Don't be dismayed when the main awards are annexed by some obscure ad firm from Venezuela. That's just the way things work around here. 

Remember ad shops are already working on their entries for the following year when Cannes rolls around, on campaigns produced with the sole intention of winning awards.

Console yourself that the call for entries for the real Oscars of the PR industry – the PRWeek Awards – is imminent.

7. It is an amazing coincidence how many people change jobs in the months following Cannes. That's because it's a great place to scout for new talent – or a new job – and meet a variety of people.

8. You see those yachts glinting in the sunlight reflecting off the azure ocean? That's where Sir Martin Sorrell and the other big network agency heads are having their annual get-togethers and entertaining global clients. 

If you get invited, grab the opportunity with both hands.

9. Remember lessons you will learn from attending this year. Festival days start early and finish late. Locals swear by a siesta in the afternoon to boost energy levels.

But unless you fancy lying on the beach you must ensure your accommodation is near the main drag so you can swiftly nip back for a break. Otherwise you'll find yourself 40 minutes out of town – book early and as close to La Croisette as you can. Book flights early as well, so you can go direct to Nice Airport and not have to change in Paris.

10. MaryLee Sachs, former Cannes PR Lions judge, emphasizes the benefits of networking and picking up new ideas. “It's a great opportunity to see a lot of people in one place,” she says.

“Go to as many drinks events as possible. You'll pick up more new ideas if you get out of your comfort zone.” Most of all; enjoy it.

Content Marketing can at last put PR on the creative stage
When it comes to awards shows, PR agencies often come in for a hard time for their apparent lack of creativity. 

“Why is it that the awards in the PR category at major creativity festivals such as Cannes Lions always go to advertising agencies?” people ask – and rightly so.

The truth is that, particularly in Asia, creativity has rarely been seen as a prerequisite for PR agencies. With the discipline relatively new in many markets, the focus has been on straightforward execution rather than conceptualization. The task of managing messages and building reputations does not necessarily yield great creative thinking. The good news is that the industry is at last changing course – if slowly – thanks to the recognition of content marketing.

Marketing disciplines have never been closer together than they are now. Advertising agencies are moving closer to PR firms in terms of facilitating direct interaction between brands and consumers, and PR agencies are gradually moving closer to advertising in terms of content creation. Arguably, they should be able to own that space. But for that to happen, some fundamental changes are needed.

David Blecken

Acceptance and understanding
The first thing the PR industry needs to accept is that there is far too much content in circulation, most of it irrelevant and uninteresting to consumers. The desire to be informed and entertained will always be there. But as Lou Hoffman, CEO of The Hoffman Agency, eloquently put it to me late last year, “Content itself is not king; compelling content is. The winning hand is when you can do it the right way. So few people can.”

The issue, as with anything, comes down to people. In order to create anything that consumers are going to want to spend time with, PR agencies need to change their hiring policy. They need to bring in genuinely creative people. That doesn't necessarily mean creative directors in the advertising sense – they could be journalists; they could be film directors.

What is important is that they are able to generate original ideas and sense what will engage their audiences in a way that is authentic and true to the brand. Just as importantly, they also need to understand how to distribute that content so it will reach the right people.

The industry is not there yet. Finding and attracting that talent is no easy task. But things are moving in the right direction. Weber Shandwick is one firm that recently invested in a creative director in Asia. 

We are also at last seeing investment in production and digital capabilities. If the industry keeps this up, we can expect it to step up to the Cannes stage very soon.
–David Blecken, deputy editor, Campaign Asia-Pacific, (PRWeek's sister title)

Compelling efforts key to PR celebrating at festival

Gail Heimann
Public relations has been a part of the Cannes Lions for almost five years – roughly the time it takes a small human to learn to eat solid food and understand that by acting in a winning way, you get the good stuff – such as ice cream and cool toys.

It's that last bylaw of kindergarten success that's the lynchpin to PR's future triumphs at the Lions.

Much has been said and written about the PR world's wimpy showing at the most gloriously buff of marketing services festivals. We PR agency people have bemoaned our lack of Cannes medals, especially at a time when the ad world is turning in our direction, desperately trying to capture the authenticity and agility we've been deploying since the time of Plato, Aristotle, and Edward Bernays. 

As an industry, we've tugged our chairs away from the kids' table everywhere else but Cannes; but we are the discipline to watch and the one to beat.

What can we learn from the history of our advertising brethren? How can we win at the world's most prestigious collision of creative ideas and people?  And, perhaps more importantly, why should we care?

Leaders, not followers
We should care because creativity is what we practice. An idea – powerful, resonant, transcendent – is at the core of every PR campaign, in every discipline, region, and channel. Where there is a festival of creativity, PR should be leading, not following. 

And now that we know we should care, we should help our clients care. We should prove to them that a PR campaign that triumphs on the global stage at Cannes is the sine qua non of engagement excellence. It's the only Super Bowl ring they're giving out in the south of France. And winning one changes everything.

So why are we being beaten and how can we win? We're being beaten because we didn't get the memo about packaging. We do great work, engage billions, and change society. But we haven't mastered the packaging of our genius and our results in a gut-wrenchingly emotional or funny two-minute video that is relevant. We are the original storytellers, but to win at Cannes, you've got to whittle the story down to its essence and craft it into a spectacular, memorable 120-second movie. The ad world does one of these every second so they have a leg up on us.
Creating engaging content
But now that most of us are moving headlong into creating and distributing compelling content across platforms and channels, we have no reason to winge. We've got to get our best storytellers focused on telling the stories of our best campaigns in the most compelling way we can. 

And we've got to be somewhat judicious about what we enter. Cannes is not the place to enter the vin ordinaire of efforts. It's the place to enter the breakthrough ideas that are born of deep understanding and conviction,and the campaigns with energy, vision, and purpose.

If the Cannes Lions rigor can shape our approach to planning, if it can lead us toward bold campaigns that capture imaginations and deliver huge impacts, then the Cannes payoff is much bigger than a trophy. 

Swilling rosé on the Côte d'Azur is enviable, but designing and activating ideas that make a difference is our collective raison d'être. That's what Cannes celebrates. And that's why PR people should celebrate and be celebrated there.
–Gail Heimann, president and chief strategy officer, Weber Shandwick

Is PR finding its place at Cannes? 
Yes, we are finding our way, but more slowly than I expected. However, our industry is learning how to compete at the festival, and Cannes this year provided new guidance on results from the festival that are more representative of what great PR actually accomplishes. I'm hopeful our industry will have a breakthrough year.

What can we do to compete better? 
Our industry still doesn't have the premeditation exhibited by the ad agencies who think about Cannes from day one in the creation of programming. We must do better at using burning insights to create a transformative idea that makes things happen.
–Dave Senay, president & CEO, FleishmanHillard

How can PR have a stronger showing at Cannes?
We need to find new creative ways of telling our award stories. We must adapt to sharing our entries in a standout, visually creative video-case format.

Secondly, we are challenged to demonstrate effectiveness at the level of behavior change. Often PR clients cannot invest in research to measure campaign outcomes such as purchase behavior. Even so, we have to find smart ways of demonstrating that our work does have a real impact at that level.

What are you most looking forward to?
I am fascinated to see how my colleagues in advertising are framing communications challenges and responding to them in a world where third-party advocacy and social media is becoming so powerful.
–Jennifer Scott, MD, strategy and planning, Ogilvy Public Relations, Cannes judge

What will be some of the common threads in this year's entries?
The work is judged in categories, but more and more we see that it's impossible to hold a big idea within a category, so we will see the best and biggest ideas winning in multiple categories. You don't even understand why, you only understand that it's a good idea.

What are you most looking forward to?
Cannes is the time of the year I get to look at great work with some of the clients I work with. And having the chance to spend some time together, looking at and debating about good ideas is crucial for the relationship. It reminds both you and your client why you work together and it gives you the wish to do better in the future.
–Icaro Doria, executive creative director, Wieden+Kennedy São Paulo

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