To Cannes or not to Cannes?

Ben Plomion’s not got going to Cannes Lions this year. Here’s why.

Cannes Lions is now in full swing, which means a week of boats, booze, business and beautiful weather. Last year, I attended the festival as a delegate for GumGum, which was definitely a worthy investment for the company. But in 2017, we’ve decided to skip the French Riviera.

There are several reasons behind this decision, but it comes down to something very simple: For all Cannes’ wonders, it doesn’t yet attract the stakeholders essential to our future.

Last year was our inaugural year at Cannes Lions and we wanted to make an impression. Our centerpiece was a yacht that we rented for the duration of the festival. Working closely with partners, we held daily workshops and parties on the boat.

We also designed and delivered a Cannes Lions Survival Kit to premium delegates’ hotel rooms. Our investment paid off in productive networking and free-flowing conversation. We drove more than 1,000 visitors to our boat, scheduled more than 150 meetings and ultimately closed sizeable revenue directly attributed to Cannes.

As a Frenchman, it pains me not to return. But as a businessman, I came to an inevitable conclusion: as attendees strive for increasingly extravagant displays, it becomes harder for any individual company to stand out. You can’t make much of a splash when everyone dives into the water at once.

Cannes Lions is a substantial commitment for both attendees and sponsors. Delegates have to spend at least 3,000 euros to secure a classic pass. Technology providers unfamiliar with the Riviera typically choose from a variety of sponsorship options.

In our experience, the low-cost packages aren’t worth it; you either have to make larger commitments or ‘hack Cannes.’

Renting a boat starts at about 50,000 euros a week, but that’s just the beginning. Other line items like crew, lighting, food, regulatory fees, transportation and lodging – to name a few – can easily double the bill.

It has also become prohibitively difficult to reach the relevant audiences. There are hundreds of agencies, vendors and publishers trying to capture the attention of brands in attendance. When we do manage to secure a meeting with a client or prospect, the no-show rate is higher than at an industry event.

Frankly, the returns are much better when we travel to New York, Chicago or Sydney. While boats have historically been an effective way to get that magical impromptu meeting, those days may be over.

Cannes Lions has established new rules requiring visitors to boats before 8pm to buy a pass. This will inevitably impact daytime foot traffic to the docks.

Finally, we realised that many of our clients and partners just don’t attend Cannes Lions. Often, they’re at a senior level and don’t have the time or budget. This is unfortunate: As much as we enjoy hanging out with agency executives, the ‘people in the weeds’ are usually the ones signing new business.

It feels that Cannes Lions has neglected a critical population of senior media agency representatives.

The marketing conference circuit presents an interesting dilemma. Sitting face-to-face with so many like-minded people with similar goals is a great way to develop relationships. But there’s also a fear of missing out that drives people to commit: “If everyone else is going, I should too!” That bet comes with huge risks – namely, opportunity costs and unpredictable ROI.

As marketers, it’s important to differentiate ourselves rather than just conform to what’s been done before.

That’s not to say we’re never going back, or that it’s a bad investment for everyone. But for now, we’re excited to give our clients another option. There will still be plenty of entertainment and schmoozing, but instead of the French Riviera, we’ll be floating comfortably on Lake Michigan, the Marina Del Rey and the River Thames (and hopefully Sydney next year, difference in seasons notwithstanding).

 

Ben Plomion is CMO at GumGum.

 

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