Is Cannes worth the investment?

While Cannes can be a blow-out of egos, expenses and effort, for some businesses it remains a worthwhile opportunity to make new contacts and reinforce client relationships, says Ben Plomion.

It was interesting to read Mumbrella’s take on Cannes Lions this week, not least as I’ve just returned, albeit as one of the companies characterised as a ‘looming menace’ one of the marketing technology companies that have started to show up in recent years.

We thought long and hard before committing to attend. Would it be worth it? Was the quality of the audience on the wane? Will I get fired for signing off on the ROI?

ben plomion - cmo - gum gum

Happily for my employment prospects it turned out to be totally worth it. And this is why.

It’s all about the people

You go into this knowing it is all about network and relationship building. But if you are the one that has to sign off on the budget then you need more than a ‘gut feel’ to justify, lest it be seen as a vanity play to swan around on fancy yachts (word on the street was that the Daily Mail one cost $2 million for the week) or chug down the $500 rosé that Alex referenced (which I’m a bit aghast to say isn’t just apocryphal).

cannes lions logo

So the most common metric is the number of meetings held with new potential clients. Most actively track these in their CRM, and then tie them to business opportunities. For others, it’s about nurturing and strengthening relationships with existing clients.

For us, it turned out to be a bit of both. We had more than 150 meetings in Cannes, and for every current client we were able to catch up with and build on an existing relationship, we were able to meet with a lot more prospective clients – including, to be honest, some that weren’t even on our radar – thanks to the breadth of Cannes Lions’ scope.

We work with agencies, brands, publishers and demand-side so when you add in the international element of the event, we were able to meet with leads that simply wouldn’t have otherwise been possible (more on this below).

Cannes Lions logo

Global stage
Two years ago if we had have come to Cannes it would have been a waste of time. But fast forward to now and it’s probably the only international advertising event where you can have, for example, Australian, American, British, French and Chinese attendees together at the same dinner table.

We’ve recently expanded our presence internationally to Australia, Europe and Canada – and we’re growing that part of the business quickly – so Cannes this year made sense.

Don’t knock the schmooze
In a business with so much competition and sometimes complex technology offerings that distinguish you, relationships are absolutely key. Simply put: the best way to distinguish one’s self from the snake-oil sellers is to show-and-tell in person.

The more casual setting of Cannes (read: bars, or yachts with bars) allows for unofficial conversations, brainstorms and the type of non-linear thinking that can often and eventually lead to new business initiatives or strategic solutions.

For example, our CTO had an impromptu meeting with another CTO in the programmatic space. Over late night drinks they discussed different techniques to optimise our programmatic solutions offering. We are confident that this conversation will now save us more than $100k.

Boating Cannes StyleYou don’t have to bankrupt yourself to stand out
Look, of course it isn’t cheap to go to Cannes. But although it’s big and easy to get overwhelmed there are opportunities to get attention without spending a fortune.

Yes, you can rent a yacht, as we did, and that certainly builds buzz and ensures that people will come to your event and meet with you, but we also had success with our Cannes Lions Survival Kits. These were delivered to more than 1,000 people, including all the premium delegates, and resulted in meetings and word-of-mouth buzz for us. And the cost of doing something like this was relatively tiny.

So for us, Cannes worked.

Sure, like Diageo’s marketing boss, I think I’d learn more at SXSW, too. But we didn’t come here to learn. We came here to do business. And that worked out pretty well.

What will be interesting to see for future years, is not only whether the awards can remain coveted, relevant and scam-free (and I fervently hope the organisers will move to stamp out the kind of practices highlighted) but also how successfully they are able to evolve to reflect the changing dynamics of the advertising world.

Ben Plomion is the CMO of Gum Gum, and attended Cannes as a delegate


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