Julie Thompson has been riding her scooter at Cannes Lions for the last 16 years and has not only seen it all in terms of attendee behavior, crisis and sometimes redemption, but also witnessed Cannes morph into the creativity-meets-technology mega festival it is today.
Based in New York, Thompson, who specializes in ad industry outreach and startup marketing, has compiled a Cannes Lions 2015 survival guide, useful for newbies as well as the most seasoned Croisette hopper.
Before you go
Digitize your docs: Scan, cloud-save and email your documents to yourself. Keep a copy of your passport, driver's license and credit cards with someone back home—to fax to a local embassy if yours are lost or stolen. When abroad, store your passport in a hotel safe, and only carry a copy.
Be smart with your smartphone: Update your international mobile and data plans. Max out plans for roaming phone/text/data. Use WiFi where you can for free data and free video-call apps whenever possible. Protect your phone on café tables and in open bags as pickpockets in Cannes run rampant.
Power up: Remember to pack all chargers, adapters, devices. Powersticks are great to have. Wireless in Cannes can be dodgy, even in the best hotels, so have a backup plan in case of no service. If you're presenting on stage, never rely on a live Internet connection.
Don't lose your luggage: Luggage gets famously lost going to Nice, even on direct flights. Pack your first two to three days in a carry-on, and be prepared to shop. An ad blogger from Dubai lost her luggage on British Airways for seven days, and was awarded the princely sum of 50 pounds as reimbursement. Lost luggage or not, know about Rue d'Antibes, a.k.a. "The Shopping Street."
About your schedule
Say 'no' to meetings as a metric: No one wants to meet in Cannes if you can meet in your home country. Everyone is wildly over-booked, so be extremely selective with meetings. Be brief and make it substantive. Don't be surprised at difficulty scheduling, and/or no-shows on site. This isn't a sales meeting or typical conference. Don't judge your success on the number of meetings. No one wants to hear a routine salespitch in the south of France.
Say yes to everything: Build in free time for spontaneous lunches/dinners/coffees and boat/helicopter/scooter rides—that's where relationships are built and the magic happens. Last year's Finnish Sauna on the beach, by Favex Film, was a novel, impromptu experience. Go to that Brazilian production company's villa in Super Cannes, kite-surf with media buyers at Le Palm Beach, meet your client for bouillabaisse in Juan-les-Pins. Go fishing with that startup founder.
While in Cannes
Make your own jaw drop: Remember, Cannes is about the best, stop-in-your-tracks, jaw-dropping marketing from all over the world. If you don't check out the creative in the Palais—or take one of the Festival's new Tours of the Work—you've wasted the trip and your Euros. Check out all the shortlists and awards, and the new categories like Glass Lion and Creative Data. Saatchi's New Directors' Showcase, celebrating its 25th year in 2015, will be well worth the queue. There are 40,000 great ideas on display this year, so sponge it up.
Fight for creativity: Tune in to the festival vibe. Creativity must remain king, at the core of even the most advanced tech stack. See how technology powers the awesome creativity on display. Big ideas that touch the minds and hearts of consumers are still paramount. If you are in ad tech and don't understand the creative part of the business, ad dollars won't come your way. And they shouldn't.
Expand globally: Cannes is one-stop-shopping for the world's top ad talent. Don't spend all your time with your colleagues from home. Purposefully meet new contacts. Learn something new from a Young Lion from Kuala Lumpur. The Google, Facebook and iHeartMedia invitations are highly coveted, but get invited to the Times of India's Bollywood extravaganza, or Dentsu's fest with world-renown sushi chefs flown in from Japan. Go outside your comfort zone. Bring lots of business cards.
Be gracious, manners matter: Thank your party hosts for inviting you. Don't bring along uninvited guests or transfer your invites—ask first. Good manners get noticed. Be gracious to all event teams, hotel staff, restaurant workers—you'll see them again next year and the next.
Be nice to the judges: Don't forget the jury presidents who are locked in dark rooms judging thousands of pieces of work all week. BBDO's David Lubars, Leo Burnett's Judy John, Coke's Wendy Clark, Mixer's João Daniel Tikhomiroff, FCB's Joanna Monteiro, DDB's Juan Carlos Ortiz … all need some extra appreciation. And espresso.
Advice to remember
Rosé reminder: No matter how much rosé you drink, this is still a work event. Don't be "that guy" or "that girl." What happens in Cannes never stays in Cannes. Stories of past hijinks are told for years to come.
Hydrate, hydrate, hydrate: Evian and Badoit will be your new BFF's in Cannes. Drink water even when you're not thirsty. You'll thank me later for that bit of simple wisdom.
Beware Cannes' dirty little secret: Crime has gone way up in Cannes. In a terrible new trend, drinks are being spiked with date-rape drugs—GHB and Rohypnol. Don't leave drinks unattended, or accept beverages or mints from strangers. Watch unknown people hanging around your colleagues. Don't walk back to your hotel at night alone—even on the Croisette, and certainly never on back streets. Last year, muggings, thefts and druggings occurred to festival-goers in record numbers.
Turn off and take a moment: Despite the work, despite the warnings, remember that you are in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. Check out the Lérins Islands across the bay, or the red-clay Estérel Mountains just to the West. Grab a moment to yourself. Turn off your devices. Take a daily swim in the magical waters of the Côte d'Azur.
Garçon, S'il Vous Plaît!: Finally, know how to order your beverages in Cannes. Learn the difference between a Jeroboam and a Nebuchadnezzar, and then order both.