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Cannes Lions 2023 Survival Guide: 9 Tips for Marketers


The global production director at MCA and Reckitt, Steffen Gentis, and a seasoned festival attendee, shares his insight and expertise for marketers on making the most of it this year

Cannes Lions 2023 Survival Guide: 9 Tips for Marketers

It may be your first Cannes Lions festival as a marketer or maybe you’ve lost count of the number of times you’ve enjoyed the talks, the awards, and the obligatory glass of rosé on the La Croisette. With every festival - which doesn’t come cheap to attend - the question of “How do I get the most ROI?” surfaces again and again. 

That’s why we asked Steffen Gentis, the global production director at Reckitt and MCA, what every marketer needs to know about attending the festival in 2023. Below, Steffen shares his insights, advice, and learnings on attending, the programme essentials, and ways to unwind after a hard day’s work. 

This year, MCA is proudly partnering with LBB as the official sponsor of LBB Beach. Find out more about the four-day content programme that will run Tuesday to Friday on the LBB and Friends Beach during Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity in association with MCA. 

Steffen Gentis’ Guide to Cannes 

Watching the ‘Cannes Reel’ in the cinema as a photography student in South Africa was an annual inspiration highlight, and even though it seemed so far away, I knew that one day I wanted to be part of this. It’s been a huge privilege that my dream came true, allowing me to participate in Cannes regularly since the early ‘90s, experiencing it from the different points of view of my career path. First as a freelance photographer, then as a director, as a producer with my own company, then from the agency side with BBDO, and now from the brand side with Reckitt.

It’s also a different experience whether you are registered as a delegate or not, and it’s a very unique experience when you are serving on one of the juries or attending as a speaker.

What each visit has in common though is a constant source of inspiration. It has genuinely broadened my horizons and helped me to grow over the years. So, I am happy to give a little bit back and share my guide with you. 

TIp 1: Getting there

It is strange and wonderful how quickly we’ve all gotten used to travelling again, but it’s a real pity if we just carry on like before covid. The carbon footprint of the entire festival is massive. You can easily contribute towards reducing this by offsetting your travel. I offset, for example, with Atmosfair - they have supported my CUT!CO2 app for over a decade now with an API and free data! Use it to calculate the CO2 emissions of your Cannes trip or your TVC production travel.

You could also travel to the festival by bike, like the annual FireFlies Tour to Cannes, which raises money for charity and which you can support here.

And when you do land in Nice, why not trade a tiny bit of your time to choose an electric ride? It helps to keep your carbon footprint small; the price is the same, and it is invariably worth the wait (the drivers are more discerning, the cars invariably more comfortable, the whole Cannes experience kicks off better overall). 

And why not share your ride? I have made some of the best connections and lifelong friends sharing rides.

Tip 2: Plan ahead and pace yourself

I know I really sound like a producer when I suggest you schedule your Cannes programme weeks in advance but it really does make sense to plan ahead and pace yourself, because the week is shorter than you think, and so much going on at the same time. The festival program is already online. Lock the sessions you don’t want to miss into your calendar now and leave a lot of space for the unexpected.

Tip 3: Programme highlights 

My favourite series is the ‘Inside the Jury Room sessions. If you are ever submitting creative work to any awards competitions, it’s the opportunity to learn what makes the juries tick. Here are the smartest minds in our industry, spontaneously sharing their collective insight on creative excellence. No fancy presentations, no staged self promo, just authentic creative people sharing how they think. The price of a delegate pass is worth just this alone.

Every year, Saatchi & Saatchi present my favourite show on Thursday morning at 10.30am in the big Lumiere Theatre - the New Creators Showcase or NCS (which used to be the New Directors Showcase). It’s probably the best new talent curation in the world. The excellent insight and effort that goes into this production makes it the one showcase I never miss. It’s great to be there live, but you can also normally follow it live on YouTube too – keep an eye open for this!

If you do want to attend any of the big popular sessions like the NCS, the queue starts to form very early, and not everyone will make it into the auditorium - my tip is to start queuing at least an hour beforehand – or attend the previous session to ensure you have a good seat. 

Tip 4: Taking a break

There are so many stimulating talks running simultaneously on different stages and so much inspiring work from around the world on show in the Palais that at some point you will need a break. Stay hydrated, tote your own water. The only refreshments inside the Palais are from the central cafeteria in the sky-lit cellar. Over the years the variety and quality of the food has improved and it’s a good place to chill between sessions and charge your phone. Sip an espresso from a paper cup, letting all that you have just seen and heard soak in….without actually leaving the Festival Palais. 

Now and then when you need a break from the Palais aircon, I suggest you try a sandwich at the Café Key West - across the road from the Palais, corner of Rue Buttura and Sq. Mérimée - just opposite the beautiful gothic style church, Eglise de Notre Dame de Bon Voyage. It’s half the price and double the quality.

Tip 5: The award shows

If you’ve never been to an award show, this is an absolute must. The final evening is always the best. Huge shout out and congratulations if you are collecting your Grand Prix or Golden Lion – then you get to come in through the side door of the auditorium and sit in the specially reserved front rows, and it’s early enough if you are there 30 minutes before the show begins. 

If you are not one of the lucky ones, join the queue very early, at least 0.5 hours before opening, bring food and drinks for the wait – you’ll be standing in the sun, and queuing again later for dinner. The earlier you arrive the better the seats, but regardless of where you are seated, the award show experience is awesome, and it will spur you on to want to be on that stage one day as well.

Tip 6: Wining and dining

Take a break, your feet in the sand, settled into one of the deep comfy sofas on the private beach of the Plage Croisette Beach Restaurant - one of the best places to catch a stunning view of sunset over the Estérel Massif. 

Cannes is great for seafood lovers. My all time favourite is chef Ludovic Konig’s Tartare de Thon with a chilli-wasabi-sesame marinade. This Australian-Mediterranean fusion plate is legendary. Prices on the beach are obviously legendary too, but it’s definitely worth it once.

The further you get away from the Croisette, the less expensive the food gets. There are some absolute gems a few streets away from the beach. Exploring Cannes restaurants is really fabulous: Check out Rue Saint-Antoine, the little street that goes up the hill behind the harbour. It leads up to the Chateau de la Castre, the beautiful old Fort that is also worth a visit for the best view of Cannes. Marché Forville is in the old town – this beautiful market with surrounding cafés is a great breakfast location. The whole area between the Chateau and the Marché is dotted with really excellent small restaurants, quite different and far more authentic than the ones around Rue d’Antibes and the Croisette.

Rosé wine is the preferred drink served on the Côte d'Azur, and the rosé in Cannes is legendary. My best survival tip is to try rosé spritzers in a big wine glass filled with ice, and I don’t take a refill until the ice has melted and the glass is completely empty.

For a refreshing and great palate-cleansing pre-dinner drink, another survival tip: try a lime-and-tonic instead of the traditional G&T.

Tip 7: Baie de Cannes 

Bump into the ‘who’s who’ of advertising jogging along the Baie de Cannes in the early morning hours. My favourite run starts from the Palais, heads 2km down the Croisette, right across the Roseraie park and through the yacht basin all the way to the raunchy ‘Atlante’ mermaid statue by Amaryllis Dierks at the entrance of the harbour; before running back. Ogle the breathtaking mega-yachts parked along the quayside here. Or, ‘wake up’ on the bay when it is at its best; waterski or wakeboard early in the morning before the water gets too choppy and crowded.

I can't say it loud enough: from growing up on the beaches of Malibu and Cape Town, I learned at an early age how important sunscreen is. Even better, just stay in the shade – especially between 10am and 3pm - a slow tan lasts longer anyway. Of course you can buy sunscreen, sunglasses, and hats from the beach vendors but it will cost you double.

Tip 8: Going out

One useful tip I picked up from friends: photograph your wardrobe combinations in advance so that you don’t have to think about it in Cannes. 

Sometimes it seems to me that the most valuable fashion accessories in Cannes are the event bracelets, often worn proudly like a status symbol. The most valuable is obviously the Little Black Book bracelet, it’s excellent for networking and this year with MCA, it gives you access to an exciting lineup of guests and discussions. 

Expect the best music at the legendary Shots’ and Massive Music’s parties, but don’t go too late – doors close on full capacity, even if you have a coveted bracelet. 

‘72 Croisette’ is by day a typical Cannes café with 9€ cappuccinos. It earned the official name ‘The Gutter Bar’ as the after-dinner crowds congregate there, spill out over the sidewalk and into the Boulevard, which the police then close to traffic. If you go, keep your eyes peeled, and you will bump into many friends from around the world! 

Tip 9: Doing the right thing

If you want to attend Cannes for the programming, and aren't that fussed about the in-person networking, why not consider attending digitally? Your carbon footprint will thank you. Participate digitally here.

And next time you are creating content, be sure to draw on the inspiration you felt from Cannes and follow Ad Net Zero.

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Murphy Cobb & Associates, Wed, 31 May 2023 13:38:00 GMT