Beach parties, free booze and selfies with superstars – find out what it’s like to mingle with the elite at a premier event in France.
From rubbing shoulders with A$AP Rocky and Nick Jonas, to networking with the who’s who of the advertising world (all while guzzling free-flow champagne), my experience at this year’s Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity was more than I could ever ask for.
The annual event in the south of France is the place where thousands in the advertising field congregate for a week. Advertising agencies from all around the globe send their best, and marketers dish out thousands in a bid to bring their brands to the next level. Earlier this year, I received an email from my school, offering 10 students the opportunity to attend the event as part of a module. With free air tickets and accommodation included, I jumped at the opportunity and never looked back.
Before we got to play hard, we had to work hard, which at the festival meant attending talks and presentations by industry moguls. To be honest, we were so in awe of the line-up that it barely felt like ‘work’ at all.
We sat in for a talk by advertising legend David Droga of Droga5; we learnt the struggles that pop singer Halsey faced in her journey while making her mark in the industry; we were awestruck looking at supermodel Karlie Kloss, and we discovered more about legendary fashion photographer Mario Testino; we laughed as Stan Smith declared “I’m not just a shoe!”; and clutched our hearts when Sir Ian McKellen talked about his struggle as a gay actor in the 80s. More than anything, we were inspired and invigorated by each speaker we saw.
There were about ten talks scheduled every day for us to pick and choose from. That meant spending hours listening to professionals, from their respective fields, who gave us a peek into their world and shared tips for the future. I found myself frantically scribbling down notes as these industry leaders handed out valuable insight.
By evening, most of the talks would be done and we would spend our time exploring the festival grounds and socializing with the other festival attendees. There was an entire beach, aptly named Connections Beach, dedicated to networking. There were deck chairs for us to lounge on and even a beach volleyball area. Of course, it didn’t hurt that there was an open bar from 4pm. Yes, 4pm. In the afternoon.
Twitter, Facebook and YouTube all had their own beaches, where we were offered hors d’oeuvres, pressed juices and flat whites. Besides food, there were also exhibitions for us to explore. YouTube Beach had an exhibit where we had to slide into a massive ball pit in order to exit (no complaints there), while Facebook Beach hosted American artist Alexa Meade in action.
There were also private parties at night, but despite trying our very best, none of us were able to get our names on the guest lists of any of those coveted parties. Perhaps we should have spent a little more time at Connections Beach.
We did manage to get into some of the other less-exclusive parties, and they were still pretty lit. My favourite was the ‘Pride’-themed party at YouTube Beach, which reigned from noon to midnight. There was glitter everywhere, a silent disco room and drag queens. It was simply refreshing to bask in a place where inclusivity was king (or in this case, yaaaaaas queen).
For me, the best part was meeting people. And I’m not just talking about celebrities – but that was insane too.
Being big fans of Nick Jonas, a few of us scrambled towards the stage exit in an attempt to get a picture with him. We were lucky enough to shimmy our way towards him for a quick snap before he was ushered away. Four words, though: Hottie with a body!
Shortly after that, A$AP Rocky, the one person I was looking forward to the most, came on stage. His talk was perhaps the most interesting, as it opened my eyes to the creative genius that he is. On top of directing, modeling, producing, having his own clothing label, VLONE, and collaborating with numerous big brands (no points for guessing Gucci), he also signed a deal to serve as Creative Director at media giant Viacom. Talk about being an overachiever! At the top of my to-do list for this trip was to get a selfie with him. I figured that it was pretty much impossible, especially since he was surrounded these massive security details who had no issue shoving a small Asian girl out of the way. Perhaps it was being at the right place at the right time, but my friends somehow managed to snatch an opportunity (they quite literally had to drag me by the collar) and we huddled for a picture. Selfie with A$AP? Check!
As for Ryan Seacrest, we actually spotted him casually walking on the festival grounds with two friends. I ran towards him, all nervous and expecting either a cold-blooded rejection, or that perhaps it was just a very handsome doppelgänger (he was, after all, wearing shades). Turns out it was actually him and yes, he was really cool and even chatted with us for a little bit after the selfie. But before the conversation could continue, other people soon realised it was Ryan Seacrest and he was swarmed soon after. We definitely should’ve been more covert.
We also got to meet influential advertising magnates who, upon discovering that we were students, were surprisingly not disinclined to talk to us but instead, were very enthusiastic about sharing their knowledge with us. So many people we met were C-Suite individuals, people who started their own agency or crazy-talented individuals who are young and have made it.
At Connections Beach, I spoke to someone who founded his own agency in South Brazil when he was just 21. I became buddies with a Puerto Rican who (I found out later), despite only entering the world of advertising just two months earlier, was there representing her company as a competitor. I also met last year’s Gold Lion winner in the Cyber category for the Young Lions competition (a first for Singapore). She let us in on the fact that she had embarked on a career change into advertising just a few short months prior to last year’s Cannes.
It was meeting these passionate, talented individuals and hearing their stories, that really made my trip to Cannes so special. Every individual I spoke to inspired me in one way or another, whether it was to take a leap of faith or to not doubt myself. Hearing their success stories made me reevaluate my still-an-intern-at-22 self (after all, David Droga was already Executive Creative Director at my age). But more than that, it gave me a drive to work my butt off and make it big, just like them.
Who knows, maybe I’ll be back next year to win my own Cannes Lion.