It has been a whirlwind of a week! I just got back from my first trip to Cannes Lions, and I am still in the process of digesting all of the information and experiences I had this past week. Let me share with you some of the highlights and takeaways from the festival.

But first, how did I get to Cannes?
The journey pretty much started exactly a year ago, but it was years before that I first heard about Cannes Lions. Being in PR, you pretty much covered all of the campaigns that were featured in the festival for brands and agencies. It was part of our regular curriculum in my PR classes. However, I never would have ever imagined I would myself attending the festival and conference in person.

This is where we fast forward to last year. I saw the great things my good friend and colleague Bill Ward (Dr4Ward) was doing at Cannes Lions and he had been taking students to the festival for years both at Michigan State and at Syracuse. I immediately knew then, after hearing all of the benefits of attending and the possible sessions to be a part of, I needed to be there.

My goal has been to go to the festival to see the possibilities in setting up a study abroad program to take students from the University of Louisville over there. Our department has been very supportive and encouraging of us to explore international study abroad programs, so I knew I wanted to set one up.

My conclusion from attending? ABSOLUTELY. Not only is this a great conference and festival to attend, but it may be the only one I have been to that truly captures all aspects of the industry in one place and provides some once in a lifetime professional and personal opportunities. This is an experience students would be transformed by professionally, and as an educator, I want to look for these programs for my students.

There is so much to cover for Cannes Lions. What I will try to do is cover my highlights from my experience and takeaways. There has been already a lot discussed so far about the festival as far as trends from the event, how agencies like Publicis is not going next year because of costs, and why this festival has earned the reputation as the must go to place to see the transformation of the industry.

Seeing (and meeting the humans behind) the award winning work

This is one of the things that is great to see are some of the campaigns that were submitted by brands, agencies, and professionals to be considered for a Cannes Lion Award. It was fun to see the work that was submitted by PR, and see many familiar campaigns and examples I shared in class. As an educator, this was good to see not only to make sure I was covering some of these in class, but also to have the opportunity to actually SEE the people who were behind these campaigns. That’s what makes this festival so unique is to have the opportunity to chat, network, and talk with fellow attendees and speakers.

I got a chance to network and chat with people from agencies, brands, and even those who were working for companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Having the opportunity to chat with these professionals was wonderful.

What was interesting was when I started sharing my story, and why I was at Cannes Lions. A lot of people assumed I was working for a brand (I did wear some of my Adobe Max gear the first day of the festival), but when I told them I was an educator teaching social media, they were not only surprised, but they were excited. Many of the professionals I talked to did not know there were social media classes being taught, and that we were using certain programs like Facebook Blueprint in our classes. It was an opportunity to create a dialogue between these two worlds and form a stronger bridge, which was exciting.

The sessions

Like all conventions and conferences, it is sometimes really hard to determine which session to go to because there are SO many good ones! This is what happened to me as well at Cannes Lions. They had a great app for the conference that gave you an opportunity to see not only all of the great workshops and sessions, but meet ups and where certain brands and companies were going to have talks at their own locations.

I tried to go to as many sessions as possible that were related to social media, public relations, entertainment, and sports. I felt there were several that really stood out to me.

Favorite brand presentations for me actually go to two toy brands: Lego and Mattel. I would have to say Lars Silberbauer (Global Senior Director of Social Media for Lego) was FANTASTIC! His talk was probably my favorite of the conference. Not only did Lars share his own journey and how he got to Lego, but he really gave the attendees an insight into what the brand was doing from a strategic point of view, how they measure and evaluate social media, and samples of campaigns they have done that have been successful.

Mattel had a panel session that was part of their Lions Entertainment program (these sessions lasted two days and covered all aspects of the entertainment industry), and it showcased where the brand of Barbie has come from, and where the company is going with the brand. They were very transparent about some of the challenges (and even crises) the Barbie brand had to deal with over the years, but they are moving forward with some new campaigns, content that is branded by Mattel, and exciting new projects.

My favorite sports related session had to be with WME+IMG and Dana White (President of UFC). This was a great and very informative panel session not just on Dana’s journey, but also what to expect for the upcoming Mayweather and MacGregor fight. What I also liked about this panel is what happened after the panel. Dana hung out about 20 or so minutes after his talk to take selfies and chat with the attendees. Where else do you get a chance to do this? What an experience.

If you are in social media (working, teaching, or consulting), then you know of Casey Neistat. I have been following Casey for a few years now, and his personal brand and presence has grown substantially and is now part of the CNN group. This session with Casey was packed – they held it in one of the main rooms and every seat was filled. Again, having the opportunity to be just a few feet away from some of these professionals is nothing like anything you would have ever expected – at least for me! Casey spoke about his role as a content creator, what his journey has been like and what made him join the ranks with CNN with Beme, and what’s next in his personal brand journey.

I went to the panel session with Halsey and Ryan Seacrest for the write up I am planning to for PRSA Entertainment and Sports. This was a very interesting conversation not just on exploring the current trends in the music industry, but the role personal branding – and sustaining this after you get into the spotlight – is crucial. We saw this theme a lot during the conference amongst several panelists.

Brand Designated Stations at Cannes Lions

All of the social media brands came out in full force at the Cannes Lions Festival. Some were very noticeable and others were in their own area. Not only that, each place had swag to give out to the attendees as well.

As a social media professor, I felt I was like a kid in a candy store. Twitter gave out these amazing Hawkers sunglasses, and Facebook gave out some as well along with some branded flip flops and an IG hat. YouTube had a place where you could send out Cannes postcards and they would mail them off to you, and Pinterest gave out some pretty cute tote bags.

Each brand had a different space where they were able to open it up to badge owners at certain times of the day. Some were open more often than others, and they each had different activities. Oracle held morning workout sessions (which were awesome!) and a great way to start the day. YouTube had lightening talks with their own speakers and had a customized t-shirt station (yes!), and Facebook had a pier and beach area where people could meet or go parasailing (only in Cannes, right?!)

You might be asking yourself – what did Snapchat do? Well, they just had a giant ferris wheel right in front of the main conference area. That’s all! Plus, this was open not just to attendees, but to the public as well. At the end of the right, you got a Snapchat lollipop. What was also great was the fact they had a Spectacles bot right near the ferris wheel so people could get a pair of Spectacles while they where in Cannes.

Snapchat did have another spot that was private as well in Cannes, but I only got to see the branded ghost gate from the outside. You can see the rest of the branded displays here from this Mashable article (one of my pictures is featured here! Thanks, Kerry!)

So, who won the brand station contest in my book? I think all did win in certain categories:

  • Facebook: Best use of space – had the atmosphere, food and services, and location.
  • Twitter: Best outdoor space location. Had the beach in mind, but also covering so you wouldn’t get sunburned.
  • YouTube: Best ice cream and swag stations. Great play and relaxing atmosphere for people to chill and hangout.
  • Instagram: Best display and application of their platform. They had different IG live video sessions on certain themes (ex. luxury, travel, food, etc) that were tied to the Cannes location.
  • Pinterest: Best new feature display with Lens all over the beach.
  • Snapchat: Best in your face branding. EVERYBODY was taking pictures of the ferris wheel and going on it. There was one person that said in a span of just a few hours, they had over 700 people ride it.

Exploring Cannes

When you are in Cannes, you not only have to be a good attendee of the festival, but you want to make sure to explore a bit around town and see the sites. There are of course a lot of shops and places to eat by the beach, but visiting Old Cannes was very cool. They had some of the best Italian places I have ever been to – and the atmosphere was friendly, inviting, and wonderful. Plus, it was very affordable.

You also want to make sure you get outside of the city as well. I did this for one day and ventured out to Monte Carlo (about an 1 1/2 hr boat ride) and it was fantastic. Spending the day touring the sites, seeing the palace, visiting the church where Prince Rainer III and Princess Grace Kelly were wed, and seeing the beauty of the city were some of my highlights from the day trip.

There are others to take advantage of – which is perfect if you want to bring along students to the festival.

Final thoughts and tips for future Cannes Lions attendees

Overall, I was beyond thrilled with the experience I had at Cannes this past week. There were so many great things that I was able to experience and it was absolutely amazing.

For those of you who are thinking about attending, here are some tips to think about:

  • Think about your dress. Do not bring suits unless you are going to a meeting. The weather was very warm and the last thing you want to be in is a suit walking around Cannes. Think about business casual – french style.
  • Plan your schedule ahead of time. You want to make sure you do this so you do not miss out a session. Even if that means going to the session before the one you want to get a seat. I did that for two of my sessions – I knew that it was going to be packed, so I stayed in the room after the first session was over and got a front row seat for the second.
  • Take initiatives and reach out. The best thing you can do is take advantage of every meeting, brand event you go to, and session you attend. Chat and reach out to people throughout your time in Cannes. Connect on social media and you never know who you may meet up with and what possibilities may arise.

You may want to take a look at what Twitter created with this Twitter Moment of theirs showcasing some of the winning campaigns. I also think it is good to see Cannes Lions form a committee to see what can be done to help shape the future of the festival.

Some suggestions for Cannes Lions for the future

There have again been many write ups about how Cannes Lions can go about in improving the convention more, etc. I think what they are doing is great – but there are a few ideas perhaps I think they may want to consider:

  • Propose an Educators Summit for Cannes Lions. This was something I immediately thought of when I first attended the festival. You see veteran professionals and young professionals, but you really didn’t see educators. There is a big focus here for education and mentoring at Cannes Lions, which is fantastic. However, I think the missing link here are the educators. In higher education, we are seeing more pressure put on educators to be relevant and up-to-speed on what needs to be taught and emphasized in our classes to make sure our students are best equipped with the best tools possible. We have seen brands like Adobe (with Adobe EDUMax) and agencies (Edelman) host Educator Summits before. These are usually two days of workshops, talks, and sessions dedicated to educators on case studies, practices, and lessons they can integrate into their classes. Also, you would be able to see the bridge between Young Lions (students and young professionals) and Lions (Veterans in the industry) come together with this missing link.
  • Integrating Educators + Young Professionals to the Conference Process + Planning more. I also think it is good to see Cannes Lions form a committee to see what can be done to help shape the future of the festival. I think they have some great representation already in place, but one suggestion I would make is to see if there could be any educator representation on this committee. This comes from the fact they have many schools, programs, and Young Lions attending – and these individuals are the future of the industry. It would be wonderful to have some representation (and possible feedback and influence perhaps) into this young audience and demographic. Plus, one of the themes I heard at the festival amongst the attendees is to have more opportunities to mentor and reach out to younger audiences. This may be another way in doing this. I am sure young professionals (and even educators perhaps!) would be thrilled to be part of this committee.

I would like to send out a special shout out to Simona Morar and Mark St. Andrews of Cannes Lions. Simona was great in her social media correspondence and Mark gave me the opportunity to be interviewed for Cannes Lions. These are two amazing professionals! Major thanks to the entire team at Cannes Lions for their fantastic work during the festival. This was an epic event, filled with great sessions and opportunities.

So, Cannes Lions, you can expect a group from Louisville (or otherwise known as #CannesCards) to come and learn from the best again in 2018.

Let me know what you think and if you have any questions. More than happy to answer them! Have a great day.

Best Wishes,