Had a teeny, tiny pathogen called Covid-19 not turned the world upside down, it’s likely that many ad industry people would be sipping a glass of rose on the beach at this very moment. Or steeling themselves to navigate Nice airport and its reliable degrees while nursing a hangover. Close your eyes and you can almost taste the ‘sweaty fromage et jambon al la rubber sandwich’.
Carly Stone, co-founder of production service company Madam which she runs with Pippa Bhatt and Michelle Stapleton, has been attending Cannes for 18 years and has experienced every permutation of the festival. Old school Cannes, high tech Cannes, crazy Cannes, dry Cannes, quiet Cannes, hectic Cannes… and while she’s never stepped foot in the Palais, it’s been a key place to network and do business.
LBB’s Laura Swinton chatted to Carly about what the absence of a physical festival means to an independent business like Madam, how the festival has changed and how the business is finding new ways to connect and keep its carbon footprint down.
LBB> How did the early experiences of Cannes shape your career and understanding of the industry?
Carly> Experiencing Cannes as a young production assistant was one of the best education paths into adland and to the industry. My first Cannes in 2002 was a decadent eye opener, an entire day’s per-diem spent on one pina colada at Hotel Du Cap. The freshest tuna niscoise salad washed down with that first glass of rosé and sea view. Dancing to a portable grammaphone on the Crosiette as the sun rises, making long standing friendships and wondering at which part of dawn should the walk-of shame commence. Norman Jay, Zero 7, lavish villas and long lunches in a truly beautiful part of the world.
It was evident to me that Cannes was not just about the creativity and the awards, it was an opportunity to build upon existing relationships and create many new ones. In the early days, global connections were still very far from the agenda of the production company I worked at, but I could see the immense value and took a focused interest in the global networking opportunities and flourishing my palm-pilot’s address book.
My first Cannes was so impressive, however cut to…Friday 21st June 2002-World Cup quarter final, England v Brazil, I was ordered to fly home during the game due to a last-minute project. Mortified, an avid football fan, I couldn’t understand the injustice of it and the power of the employer - and the bloody job never happened! I soon learnt the uncertainty and fast pace of production as well as the problem-solving role of a production company producer.
LBB> Now that you're a business owner, why is Cannes useful to you?
Carly> It is a much more serious affair for Madam given that 90% of our clients are global. Hooking up with our international friends, colleagues and those we have pitched with but not met face to face has been so important in cementing the relationships and friendships we have developed.
The annual APA/AICP/CFPE World Producers Summit has always been on my agenda since its first event. Global producers get to voice and share experience, raising hope of an alliance for better production practices. As much as the week is about learning and growing, it has always been about supporting. The amazing Fire Flies arriving in Cannes after a gruelling 1000km charity cycle ride, the unique bond and journey this group endure and sharing that welcome into the Croisette is a little bit of a ritual. Young Director Award and Straight 8 screenings, these competitions have sat firm over the years, nurturing talent and bringing the global production communities together.
LBB> How many leads and connections do you think you've opened up thanks to encounters on the Croisette over the years?
Carly> Always a hard one to quantify. Board flow increases and the Cannes experiences definitely assist in getting projects confirmed.
As a service company it has led to instant projects. For the last five years, we have spent a good proportion of our time at Cannes budgeting either beachside, at the apartment or on the journey home. A new contact whom I met on a yacht, confirmed a job four days later; that was worth the terrible sea sickness and being stuck out on a very choppy sea for three hours.
The previous two years, not as many of our long-haul clients are making the journey; it’s mostly budget-driven and they’re putting their focus into different areas. It is how to use Cannes to your advantage and I believe that you need to know the exact reasons why you are attending and the outcome that you want to achieve.
LBB> And how are you approaching that side of things now that you're grounded in the UK this year?
Carly> Conversation, care and share has never been more essential. Understanding our clients’ current issues and how their business has been affected during the last few months. We have formed new global partnerships that open further connections. Face to faces as well as reputation have been the forefront of our business, however sustainability has been a big focus this year.
Before C-19 we were very carefully planning out our company travel and making more concise decisions about our carbon footprint before just jumping on a plane. It’s a big re-think and sales strategy where we question, ‘who needs to essentially travel? Which events we will attend? Is there another mode of travel than air?’ We are, as well, raising glasses of rosé from our gardens via Zoom and one plus is I don’t have to worry about appropriate Croisette stomping footwear!
LBB> As someone who hasn't been to the Palais because you've been busy doing business at Cannes, how have you found all the webinars and panels that are available right now - is that something you've engaged with? If so, has the online format been easier or useful to you?
Carly> The inbox has never been so bombarded with countless industry webinars, inspiring content and also mandatory content for our business practices. It can be overwhelming and especially when you are on a tight working day schedule.
I am loving the Lions webinars, it is a platform to address recent issues and open to all, which as somebody who has never had a pavilion pass has been an amazing tool. I am enjoying the variety of content all in one place allowing you watch on demand at your own leisure, a huge importance to me. I have probably engaged more with the festival content this year than any other year due to it being online. The Work section and its search tools is really relevant, I can easily get lost on here for a good few hours.
LBB> What do you feel about the fact that we haven't had that big release and celebration this year? With all the struggles and stresses of the industry (which look like they will only get worse) is that bit of escape important? Is Cannes still relevant to the industry today?
Carly> This year’s Cannes Lions has never been more important as we unite by sitting in front of our screens and giving a virtual toast, contemplating the future of our society, our planet, our future generations and how we bounce back.
As much as our industry and most human beings are crying for a big unite and the rosé-fuelled debauchery, having a year off is not a bad thing – just think of the carbon footprint of the festival. The festival can use its virtual 2020 experience and feedback for Cannes 2021, there are a multitude of possibilities to change the structure.
Before the brands, the yachts, the celebs, the technology, back when the Gutter Bar was really in the gutter, Cannes seemed a little simpler in its offering. There is an abundance of choice in venues, content and interaction of learning which are mirrored nicely with the many yoga classes, massage options and running groups. Cannes wellbeing has never seemed so applicable or appreciated. Of course, we all want to have that release at The Shots party, dive from party to party and randomly bump into celebs in the ever-growing toilet queues. That will have to wait until next year, where we [will have to] evaluate every pound spent to attend Cannes to be of value.