Does pressing the flesh at Cannes really help you win new business?

This article was originally posted on The Drum.

Adopt David Attenborough-esque hushed tones…

“And from here we can see the lesser spotted CMO cautiously approach the watering hole, a raised area known locally as the Carlton Terrace. She looks tentatively side to side, and sensing the coast is clear she enters, at last sipping a cool rosé…she begins to relax. But what’s this? A disturbance, as all too soon as the super friendly and slightly over-enthusiastic agency new business director, business card extended approaches at speed, keen for a chat…”

Cannes really is the attention economy writ large. The entire advertising/media/technology business (we really need a new collective term) descends on the South of France for our annual mid-year migration to the sun, and it’s hard to stand out from the crowd. High hopes and big bets buzz tangibly through the throngs, with over 13,000 delegates from all over the world, and every conceivable sector of our increasingly diverse industry attending.

Given the investment we all make, it’s a fair question to assess the returns in terms of new business success and it might explain why some in our trade will leap to create a relationship and some budget holders may feel like a gazelle on the African savannah. Whether you’re Google with acres of prime beach front, or a tech start up buying people coffee – you will naturally want a return, but I’d argue the ROI in Cannes is long-term. So is it worth it?

For the media and tech vendors, the festival is a chance to connect, show their wares and have those beloved ‘top to tops’. I’m sure they claim some tangible business is done (important when signing off the yacht or villa in the hills) but again largely a longer-term play – which is important when one considers the ‘Lumascape’ of viable ad tech options. Indeed the win here perhaps isn’t so much the media/client investment but the further funding from the deep pockets of VCs and M&A folk who also take the time to head to the Croisette. I wonder if they also try to blag tickets to the Spotify party?

If you are going as an agency new business leader, with a brief to land a big fish there and then – my view, don’t bother. These fish are closely monitored and often tied in a ‘net’ of out-of-Palais content streams; you just won’t see them. Better to take time with your existing clients, curate an interesting week, relax in less formal environs and learn more – taking a more consultative approach and helping solve issues they may be more free to chat about away from the office. It’s also well worth spending time with your routes to market: hang out with influential vendors, creative agency suits, journalists. Everyone is happy to chat in the Gutter bar.

For us at Maxus, Cannes is predominantly a current and future talent play.  We’ll have a lean team of young guns and establishment folks in town and we’ll take some key clients and curate an action-packed five days for them. Our young guns will look at the work and the content on display through fresh eyes – seeking out what is meaningful to them. They’ll have a chance to see masters of their art talking through their thinking, to see what it takes to win as Cannes continues to set the bar – in terms of creativity at least; tangible campaign results can seem to take a back seat.

We’ll share our views and content widely so future Maxus talent get a sense of what we’re about and see our take on change in creativity and media technology. They’ll see that we’re a special place to build a career. And if some clients also like what they see – all the better.

Of course the big winner at Cannes, in the short term, is Cannes. Little wonder festival owner Ascential launched a £800m IPO and is trading handsomely. The FOMO is beyond belief, so you have to be there. Just don’t expect to bring a new client home with you.

Richard Stokes is global development officer at Maxus

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