The 65th Annual Cannes International Festival of Creativity takes place June 18-22, 2018. Why am I writing about it in February? Well, this is around the time I usually weigh the possibility of attending. For ten consecutive years, from 2003-2013, I happily attended the fest, spending a full week in the South of France, celebrating with – and, in many cases, handling PR for – the many talented ad bizzers on hand.
The allure of Cannes and its surrounding areas in summer is obvious. Yet there was something more that appealed to me: with thousands of people in attendance, it felt intimate. In whatever corner of La Croisette, Old Town, or Antibes we found ourselves, we had access, and we belonged. Sure, part of my job was to get my clients into whatever hard-to-get-into party would be best for business, but the environment was warm, welcoming and collegiate throughout. It was also a peerless opportunity to meet people from other countries, forming lifelong friendships with contacts across the globe.
I took a well-deserved break in 2014, during my stint in standup comedy (I’d merely transferred my schmoozing skills from the Carlton terrace to the stage). Coming full-circle as a podcaster, consultant and speaker, I returned, along with my Propeller 5 partner Isack Fadlon, in 2017, for Cannes #11. It was fabulous, and there’s no doubt the rose flowed this year as in years past (and on the heels of Cannes, joining Birkenstock in Paris for an historic fashion week was a phenomenal stand-alone experience). I mean, come on, at the Hotel Du Cap, Kelly Slater dove into the ocean to retrieve Isack’s sunglasses.
Three things had changed, however:
- Publicis Groupe’s new CEO Arthur Sadoun had pulled out of the fest, questioning its relevance (WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell had cut his delegation in half; and
- Brands had overwhelmed the space, with Snapchat installing a ferris wheel outside the Palais, and a row of branded booth installed along the beach side of the Croisette.
- The perfect, affordable little Carlton-adjacent hotel where I’d held court for several years was now only selling blocks of rooms to agencies, and was no longer accommodating comedian-led boutique consulting firms.
A new committee was formed in the wake of these developments, and 2018 promises a shorter fest with more “woke” content for attendees. Certainly, there will be some impressive speakers this year. And with Airbnb, the loss of my favorite hotel opens the door to countless possibilities.
But I’m not sure if being in Cannes is the statement I want to make. Maybe it’s time to step outside the center of the branded universe. The idea of living in a world owned and operated by two brands is unsettling, and certainly not celebratory. The answer definitely is not simply staying away. It’s not “staying” anywhere. The move now is something audacious a forward-thinking. And, of course, something branded (but not borrowed).
So, I’m open to ideas. Whatever we end up doing, it should still include a high dive of some kind.