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Creative Works OOH Rory Sutherland

Reflections from a Cannes Lions virgin: Is the festival becoming gentrified?

By Benjamin Fishlock, Head of client strategy

Global Street Art


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July 2, 2024 | 7 min read

After 20 years in marketing, Benjamin Fishlock of Global Street Art finally visited Cannes Lions this year. He wrote this diary, the fifth in a mini-series from event attendees, reflecting on how to find your festival feet.

Benjamin Fishlock of Global Street Art and System1's Andrew Tindall at Cannes Lions

Benjamin Fishlock and Sam Berry of Global Street Art at Cannes Lions / Benjamin Fishlock

The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was already in its 50th year when I joined the advertising industry 20 years ago. While interning at Ogilvy (then Ogilvy&Mather), I remember my curiosity about this celebrated event. What even was it? And, would I ever get the chance to attend…?

This year, for the first time, the answer was yes. Going to Cannes Lions 2024 was a decision driven largely by clients asking if I would be there. With Global Street Art growing globally, I had the opportunity to meet with people rarely in the UK. This made for an obvious business case for a visit.

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I was also keen to explore the full gamut of award-winning work being showcased. Working for a business that sits naturally at the fame-cultivating end of out-of-home (OOH), the importance of the Cannes Lions ecosystem is clear. But I still wrestle with the feeling of being enslaved by awards. And as an ‘outdoor nerd,’ the absence of OOH knowledge from the judges did grate on me.

Fortunately, Global Street Art already has a brace of Cannes Lions in the office, among myriad awards – including The Drum’s Leader of the Year award for our CEO, Dr Lee Bofkin. Our company attitude to awards is that while we enjoy winning them, our best work very much speaks for itself.

We aren’t the sort of business with our awards lined up in an illuminated cabinet. Our awards are un-ceremonially piled into a huge bucket. Above the bucket is the famous Percy Bysshe Shelley quote: “Nothing wilts faster than laurels that have been rested upon.”

On the front foot

In terms of business and networking, I got off to a fast start by joining the Stagwell Beach Cannes Run Club – a suggestion from Jay Young, MD of Grand Visual. This was a brilliant way to start the week. Although, my first run in circa five years – at 7:30 am on a Monday morning, no less – was a bit of a shock to the system.

I had two pre-planned meetings each day. And while I was warned of the cost of eating and drinking in Cannes, a five-minute walk from the Croisette, prices were very reasonable. As an unashamed coffee snob, I had concerns, as French coffee is often incredibly dark-roasted and bitter. But I was lucky to find a cafe in the town called Saddle. It served a single-origin Costa Rican bean available on V60 – a personal highlight. This ended up being my go-to breakfast spot with clients on three occasions.

There were some brilliant talks inside the Palais, with a lot of hype about Elon Musk speaking on the main stage. My absolute favorite was Creatives on the Terrace which saw Aaron Starkman, global chief creative officer at Rethink, sharing the story of his Coors Light ‘Hitting the Spot’ idea.

I also particularly enjoyed Jon Evans and Adam Morgan’s session on The Extraordinary Cost of Dull. This covered a topic about which I know a lot: the power of watching paint dry. All of these talks were full to the brim and incredibly well run.

The best of the rest

My attendance of official and fringe sessions (for which Lions passes aren’t necessary) ended up being a pretty even split. The best event I attended all week was System1’s Uncensored Cocktails on the Cloud 9 Rooftop, a 25-minute walk from the Palais. Here, I saw a brilliant chat between Jon Evans, Rory Sutherland and Mark Ritson. I got to meet nearly all of my effectiveness heroes, too, including Les Binet – an absolute legend. I also loved the Business of Creativity meet-and-greet with Sir John Hegarty, hosted at Whalar House.

The Cannes Lions app was incredibly helpful for navigating the official events, as it allowed me to pull together a schedule with ease. The fringe events and the beaches required more thought. I had friends share with me three different fringe lists as Google Docs. There was a fair bit of overlap but they covered well over 200 events and had links for all the ‘beaches’ to arrange access before arriving.

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While Cannes was a bit more gentrified than I had hoped, and the landscape of the beaches felt dominated by big tech, the event knew how to put on a great party. I have a little saying: ‘In a world preoccupied with all new things, it is creativity that makes all things new.’ I genuinely think The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is underpinned by a similar philosophy.

Creative Works OOH Rory Sutherland

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