How Agencies Are Changing Their Approach to Recruiting Talent at Cannes

Fewer recruiters are making the trip

The Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity has long been a celebration of some of the most inspiring and creative work, which in turn means some of the most talented creative minds descend on Cannes each year to honor that work. It's a rare opportunity for agencies to track down and acquire some of the top talent in the business.

For some recruiters, the strategy is to hunker down and research a few potential candidates and set up meetings during the week of Cannes. For others it's all about the spontaneous meet ups and conversations at the Gutter Bar over a beer. Everyone has their different strategies, but most recruiters would agree, Cannes is the place to be if you want access to the best talent out there. 

So what is it really like on the Croisette when recruiters are doing their best to scout out some of the biggest names in the business? 

It's not any sort of secret James Bond type mission with people sneaking onto yachts for private meetings according to headhunter Jay Haines, founding partner, Grace Blue. It does, however, require "a huge amount of planning. It requires some strategic thinking upfront and a lot of energy to begin to get in touch with those people," Haines said.

Cannes can be an especially valuable time to recruit when an agency has a specific position to fill. Looking for a batch of the best creative directors in the world? Look no further than the Cannes judging rooms. Last year, when 180LA was in the market for a new creative director, it decided to target Cannes judges by creating a sneaky recruitment ad which it entered into four different categories. The video, a mock case study, called out a number of creative directors by name and provided them with the agency's contact information. In the end, 180LA ended up snatching up Jessica Schnurr.

While the stunt paid off for the agency, William Gelner, managing partner and chief creative officer for 180LA, noted that the agency will not be sending any recruiters this year (but does have a stunt up its sleeves). More and more, agencies have opted to not send recruiters for a number of reasons. Cost tends to be a major factor.

"I don't want to sit here and bash Cannes because I have personally had a lot of good things come out of it. Those serendipitous moments are very productive," Melanie Myers, global director of creative recruiting for Wieden + Kennedy, said. "But it's really expensive, and due to that fact, there's a lot of people that can't go, which is unfortunate."

After attending Cannes for nine consecutive years, Myers decided that instead of investing a ton of money to "fish from the same pool of talent as everyone else," she would look on less mainstream creative events "that aren't necessarily award shows, and to be blunt maybe aren't so much about the industry self congratulating," she said. That doesn't mean the agency won't be back next year, but it's simply trying something different.

Some agencies have found a way around the additional cost problem. Rather than sending a group of recruiters, they rely instead on the senior level executives that make the trip each year to do the heavy lifting. SapientNitro, for example, did not send a recruiter to Cannes last year and will opt out again this year.

Kristina Shedd, director, global hiring at SapientNitro, explained that while the agency realizes that Cannes is the perfect place to find the best talent, "it's difficult to have conversations there. There are so many parties and events and people aren't necessarily focused on having those meaningful conversations." Leading up to Cannes, recruiters will spend a few hours with some of its executives, giving them the low down on talent gaps and a handful of names that have been on their radar.

Once the executives are in Cannes, the process for meeting the talent is both strategic and straightforward. Last year, rather than renting out a room and booking back-to-back meetings with people the agency is interested in hiring, the recruitment team planned a lunch event (avoiding any kind of party atmosphere) and invited some candidates to attend. This year, SapientNitro is holding a panel discussion on diversity and inclusion and reaching out to those on its radar who might have similar interests, "creating an opportunity to invite them to the panel and meet someone from the senior leadership team."

Shedd added that her team pays extra attention to detail when it comes to matching personalities and interests between current employees and prospective ones, doing "a fair amount of research on people, especially if we haven't had conversations with them or spoken to them in the past," Shedd noted.

There's still value to getting recruiters on the ground during that week, despite the chaos. Haines said he continues to recognize the importance of Cannes to the industry, but notes that the talent component, while important, is simply a "byproduct to the main event," he said. "The show is very important from an international perspective because it's the only chance where you get all of the best talent in one place at one time at any given moment," Haines added.

It's also a place for an agency to find a diverse group of people. This year in particular, recruiters believe the focus on a potential new hire's skill set will continue to shift with the addition of new award categories including the digital craft category (which includes everything from user experience design to typography) and the entertainment Lions. Gone are the days when agencies only needed creative copywriters, art directors or designers. Nowadays, creativity in an agency has expanded. The new Cannes categories reflect that and recruiters are taking note.

"We live in a different time and it's quickly accelerating the need for people form more technical backgrounds who can code, who can think and produce quickly. Those types of makers are attracted to Cannes because there are so many different types of categories, so many different types of awards are given to really unorthodox and innovative ideas," Gelner told Adweek.

"This year there's a particular focus on the technology brands who will dominate the live space. It's a much broader canvas and a much broader group to get to know," Haines added.

Tim Nudd contributed to this report.