From building meaningful relationships to generating big ideas, here are expert tips to help you make the most of your time at the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity
The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity attracts some of the brightest minds in the industry, from executives to creatives, to showcase their work, learn from each other, and be recognized for their achievements.
But most importantly, Cannes offers the chance to break away from the day-to-day and “see what is possible through the magic of creativity,” says creative director Karen Howe. “You are immersed in a curiously potent alchemy of inspiration and intel for five days straight.”
Thousands of people from nearly 100 countries attend the festival in the south of France. The jam-packed week is filled with keynotes, panels, and workshops featuring the who’s who of advertising, business, tech, entertainment, and culture.
To make the most of your experience, it’s important to be prepared, both mentally and logistically, says creative recruiter James Coburn. “The heat mixed with the time difference, anticipation, and the Mediterranean air can be a lot to take in.”
A brisk 30-minute walk up the hill can do wonders, he says. “In mere minutes, the light, air, and sounds will invigorate you. By grounding yourself, stretching out, and clearing your mind, you’ll stay ahead of the game.”
For Young Lions competing in the festival, communications strategist Alessia Grosso suggests keeping an open mind. “To be creative, you must be curious. Find inspiration in everything around you, explore your interests, and make sure to write down your ideas.”
Although Grosso says there’s no guidebook for Cannes, she also underscores the importance of having fun. “If you’re not having fun, you’re not winning… Remember that enjoyment is essential to success.”
But as much as you prepare, you’ll undoubtedly have FOMO at some point, Howe cautions. “There is so much happening that you need to accept that no matter what you do, you are missing something else incredible,” she says. The good news is, Cannes posts the content after the fact, so you can catch up.
To make the most of your time at the festival, Coburn suggests focusing on the talks that best align with your interests and priorities.
Howe also suggests venturing beyond the Palais along the Croisette. “There are dozens of pavilions by brands like Google, Meta, Pinterest, the Wall Street Journal, and The Economist that host events, speakers, and demonstrate leading-edge technology,” she says.
The nightly award show is also a highlight of the festival. There’s nothing like the energy of seeing the winners of the work that you admire most claim their Lions.
Fun fact: Canada achieved sixth place last year for the most Lions won globally, she says. “I am proud to say that as a country, we really punch above our weight creatively. In a typical year, we place in the top ten for wins.”
For Howe, Coburn, and Grosso, the festival is also the ultimate place to meet creatives from all over the world.
“You will be surrounded by top talent from around the world, all bringing uniquely innovative perspectives to the table. Approach with openness to learn something new,” Grosso says.
“You just never know who you will see,” adds Howe, who suggests attending the end-of-day cocktails at the back of the Palais. “It’s a great chance to raise a glass with the ad folks of the world and talk creative. Don’t miss out.”
“Dive into conversations, network relentlessly, and embrace fresh ideas and perspectives,” Coburn adds. “Anything can happen here as long as you’re open to it.”
Karen Howe, founder of The Township Group, has not only won several Lions for her work but also represents Canada as a judge and serves on the Cannes Advisory Board.
James Coburn is one of the industries top creative recruiters, who casts global talent at Mandrake Human Capital.
Alessia Grosso, an award-winning strategist and marketing leader, leads the Strategy & Insights Department in Canada at Havas Media.