A chaotically awesome bubble of creatives: The four things I learned at my first Cannes Lions Festival

In 2018, Issa Rae told Stephen Colbert that the best advice she received from her mentors was, “Don’t be afraid to be a b**ch.”

This powerful message was brought up again at June’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity during a conversation with Issa Rae and Liz Taylor, global chief creative officer at Ogilvy.

This session was just one of my many favorite experiences at the festival — a place that I could only describe as a chaotically awesome bubble of creatives. I had the opportunity to attend this year to represent Bospar at the Cannes Lions Award ceremony. ICYMI, we were shortlisted for our work with NFT platform Neon in the Best Use of Events and Stunts category.

I was constantly inspired, and I learned so much about this beautiful industry of ours. So, to give the next first timer a real snapshot of Cannes, I’ve compiled a list of my four takeaways to better help navigate and understand the experience. At the very least, it’ll remind someone to bring earplugs for the club bangers they’ll inevitably hear from their hotel room.

1. Year 1 is for learning

Our amazingly awesome Cannes guru, Karen Cage from KLD Consulting, said it best: “Take it all in. This year is to listen and learn so you can be pros next year.”

There is so much to see that we spent a full day just getting the lay of the land. There are day-long sessions at the main venue, and big tech giants like Spotify, TikTok and Meta also sponsored beach cabanas with their own schedules. Notable brands like The Female Quotient and The Wall Street Journal had the same. In addition, there was a row of yachts rented by various companies who were inviting people to exclusive events and cocktail hours that overlooked the Mediterranean.

Since there is so much content to consume it’s difficult to schedule all the sessions you want to attend. And lines build up for big sessions. This year, the room was packed for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s address on the power of creativity to promote change and on Ukraine’s bravery in their battle with Russia.

My advice: pick the sessions you want to see before you arrive, and make sure that they are spread out.

2. “That’s hot”

So, you may be wondering how one is supposed to dress “profesh” but also practically, so your hair doesn’t get stuck to your face by the time you get to the festival strip.

Because it’s over 85 degrees and humid this time of year, our guru Karen mentioned that people dressed more casually — I believe her exact words were that the dress code was “exclusive club chic” — so linen and short sleeves are the way to go. Check the weather app a few weeks before the event to see what you’re in for.

And bring whatever you know you would need in hot weather, including a hat, sunglasses and an umbrella or face fan if you’re fancy. It’s also vital to bring multiple forms of sunscreen. I brought a sunscreen face stick, Chapstick with SPF, and an SPF 50 sunscreen spray that I would spray throughout the day.

3. Be prepared

There are many little things to think about when packing and traveling to Cannes.

Here are a few things you should bring:

  • The right attire for different weather. There was potential for rain the week I was there, so I brought a poncho (yes, the ponchos you get at amusement parks) in case it rained — and it did! Also, comfy shoes are necessary for all the walking.
  • An extra bag. There was definitely a lot of merch like tote bags at the event once you got there, but an extra bag that can carry your essentials during the week when you’re walking from venue to venue will help a lot.
  • Earplugs. There was a dance party at a restaurant next to my hotel that kept me up one night. Bring earplugs.
  • Correct travel converter/adapter for your electronics. Aside from needing a different adapter for France, you also need a converter for the voltage. This is especially important if you have a laptop, iPad and/or any hair tools. If not, you are sure to fry your important plug-ins!

4. It’s one of the best places to network

Cannes is a top-tier place for networking and conversations. Between the sessions and various sponsored lounges/beaches, there are many people eager to network. It made the initial awkwardness of networking practically non-existent!

I recommend having one day where you are camped out at one location so you can meet new people. For example, on day 1, our principal Curtis Sparrer spoke at The Female Quotient’s Equality Lounge, and we spent hours ahead of his session in this one location, which ended up being the best idea. There were many people filtering through that one suite, making it easy to speak to a variety of people.

I also recommend signing up for the sponsored happy hours that happen all week. Something about being right on the beach with a cocktail in hand makes networking so easy!

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About the author

Alisha Alvarez is a PR and communications professional with a passion for creating award-winning storytelling. Alisha is known for curating and executing PR programs that drive exceptional client outcomes. Along with her expertise in providing strategic counsel to clients, she is known for her work ethic and ability to lead with empathy and kindness. Alishais a firm believer in paying it forward and mentors junior PR colleagues, becoming their biggest cheerleader as they achieve new levels of success.

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