Last month, I had the opportunity to attend the Cannes Lions International Creative Festival. And having previously worked many of the largest trade shows, I thought I had a decent idea of what to expect.
However, Cannes is not a show, it’s a festival – part awards show, part trade show, and 100% spectacle. But at its core Cannes is still like any other corporate event whose focus is on people having meaningful conversations, even if those are occurring on yachts and balconies and in highly curated booths on the beach.
What I’ve learned is that whether you are attending a small industry trade show or huge event like Cannes, there are three ways PR pros can win.
Everyone understands the importance of networking, and everyone has varying degrees of comfort with doing so, so suggesting that it’s vital or central to succeeding at an event is neither interesting nor profound. However, simply understanding the personas and roles of fellow attendees will dramatically improve your results and productivity.
It’s fine to seek out people with roles that align with your skillsets. Any PR pro can tell you the value of having relationships with reporters and editors or the importance for your pipeline to having dialogues with founders and CMOs. But how can you move the needle when the people there aren’t buying what you’re selling?
Similar to how the best PR pros will find success by providing value to a reporter, when networking you’re best served thinking about how you can be of assistance to others and not how they can help you. By positioning your strengths as an asset or by thinking about how you can benefit the person you’re speaking with, you can provide value that might later come back around.
Prepare ahead – but don’t overbook
It’s good to get an idea of what you’re interested in before the show – which speakers you want to see, what panels you find most interesting, what meetings you can set up in advance. But overbooking yourself can be counterproductive, especially at an event the size of Cannes.
Filling your calendar can leave little time for any of the organic conversations that are part of the magic of being at an event. Additionally, some shows are so spread out that solely attending events or panels means most of your time will be spent waiting in line or traveling from stage to stage.
Repurpose your learnings
Industry events can be fun, exhausting and time-consuming, all at the same time. Travel has become much less convenient since the pandemic. So, why would you go through all the hassle if you’re not going to learn something along the way?
With so many industry experts gathered in one place, it would be difficult to not pick something up that could be helpful for you, your organization or your clients. In the era of digital media, content is king, and attending these shows gives you access to some really great minds, ideas and insights. What you learn can be repurposed as blog posts and podcasts, for example.
So often in PR, it’s easy to fall into a routine or chase the easy wins, but attending an insightful industry event can be a reminder that it’s also more fulfilling to leverage all that you learn at a truly inspiring event.