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Conquering Cannes: How to make Cannes pay off through networking, networking & networking


By Richard Draycott, Associate Editor

June 12, 2024 | 9 min read

Veterans of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity share sage advice on how agencies and individuals attending for the first time can make sure it is money well spent and that it delivers a long-term return on their investment.


Cannes is all about who you meet

You’ve convinced the MD you can make it pay. The eye-wateringly expensive flights are booked and the extortionate hotel room is reserved. You’re heading to Cannes Lions. While there will be thousands of Cannes veterans out there in 2024, there’ll be a good smattering of Cannes virgins, too, experiencing it for the first time. It’s a hefty investment for any agency to send its people to Cannes to network, meet with current and potential clients, celebrate the creative work and absorb the creative vibe, attending events, parties and brand experiences.

Part three of our Conquering Cannes series (part two covered the importance of preparation and planning) is all about networking.

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James Kirkham, CEO and founder, ICO: “You can’t hold back; there’s no room for a tentative approach to Cannes Lions. You need to absolutely launch yourself in. The best conversations always happen on the periphery, so find invitations and blags to everything you possibly can. Be it poolside at villa parties, bumping into folks on the Croisette, or even in the early hours at a taxi rank trying to find your way back home. There’s no dead time; every moment is a surprising opportunity to meet someone interesting. If there’s a villa party hosting the football this year, then jump a lift with people heading up through the winding hills, stride purposely in behind those who were genuinely invited, take a sneaky look at the guestlist and point confidently to one of the names saying that’s you.”

Stuart Bowden, global chief strategy and product officer, Wavemaker: “So, it’s your first time in Cannes? Congratulations. Let me show you around and help you get your bearings. Yes, you’re quite right; there are an awful lot of companies you’ve never heard of down at the harbor. Don’t worry about getting to know them all; they’ll find you if they think you can help them sell something. But you’ve spotted something important; well done. Cannes is about money and it’s about growth and it’s about networking. That lucky person weaving down the Croisette with a Lion on her arm? Don’t be jealous; this is truly a place where careers can be made. But Cannes isn’t really a place for individual heroics, it’s a place for companies to meet companies and for teams to meet teams and for idea sellers to find idea buyers. One last thing before I have to dash: if you’re here, then you’re here because your company thinks you can help your company. Don’t prove them wrong and don’t confuse being in the sunshine for being on holiday.”

Raphael Bouquillon, vice-president of account management, SPCSHP: “When it comes to the Lions, having realistic expectations and hedging your bets is the way to go. With every leading agency attending, it’s not realistic to expect access to all key brands spotlighted in the main sessions, but there are a lot of networking opportunities if you plan. From building around events with your current clients and partners to hosting smaller sessions appealing to prospects, you can unlock new leads and partnerships. From experience, though, evaluating ROI right after the event can be misleading; I would recommend revisiting six months later, too. Sometimes that first intro on La Croisette can take a bit of time to move down the funnel, but are very worth it.”

Louisa O’Connor, managing director, See Presents: “This will be my ninth Lions and it can be hugely overwhelming. Outside of pre-planned business meetings, the best ROI comes from the genuine connections you make with people at the brand activations, sessions, panels and parties. Although planning and signing up is a proactive way to get to see as much as possible, leave at least a quarter of your time free for those ad hoc invites; they will happen! My last tip is, if you can bear it, go to things alone; it will ensure you make the effort to talk to new contacts versus just talking to your colleagues and drinking free drinks!”

Stacy Kemp, executive lead of Deloitte’s CMO Program and principal at Deloitte Consulting: “Getting out of the office and meeting with marketing leaders has been the O2 of my career - I try to stay present to make meaningful connections with people who found success seeing the world differently. It’s also important to know my worth and value the expertise I bring. Let’s move past collecting contacts and develop long-term, mutually beneficial relationships. Cannes is a whirlwind of creativity! I recommend being a sponge, connecting with the humans behind the badges and embracing the openness of the experience. When you’re back in the office, you can apply new perspectives to transform your business.”

Shannon Jones, co-founder, Verb: “You’re making a significant investment of time and money to be in Cannes, and it can be tempting to take a very transactional approach to every encounter. You need that ROI, right? It’s important to focus on building genuine connections, as those relationships pay dividends down the line. The week is truly a marathon, not a sprint - don’t feel pressured to do everything, everywhere, all at once. Pace yourself. Rotate between rosé and water throughout the day. One other fun hack at Vesuvio/Gutter Bar - buy a whole pizza to share and make some new friends in the street.”

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Micky Ogando, founder and CCO, Bakery: “Cannes Lions is the big draw for influential marketers and creatives from all corners of our industry. And the higher up the chain, the more disassociated you get with being harangued at panels or official speaking events. I wouldn’t push for someone’s attention in those spaces. If you’re heading there, my advice is simple: just go with the flow and keep it casual. Cannes is a very small town and the festival space is even smaller. You might find yourself grabbing a bite or a coffee right next to a big-name CMO, CEO, celebrity or an award-winning creative. Those moments won’t usually repeat themselves when you’re back in Boise or York – take advantage and strike up a chat then. Connect naturally. You’re both in the same club for that split moment in time. You’ll be surprised how much you can learn and the connections you can make just by being yourself in these casual encounters.”

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