Feature

How to do Cannes

With most of you likely to be bleary-eyed under duvets during the festival's new early morning 'How To Cannes' sessions, Cannes veteran Tim Lindsay offers his very personal induction.

Strange to relate, but there was a time when Cannes didn't matter. I mean, it doesn't matter, of course, in the great scheme of things, but it didn't matter to the ad industry. Or, at least, that bit of the ad industry that, in its own estimation, counted for anything: the London ad industry.

I'm talking back in the 80s and early 90s here. When we won Grands Prix and gold Lions at Bartle Bogle Hegarty, we used to get the production company to pick them up. D&AD ruled.

So if you haven't been, what's it all about? Cannes is a lot of different things to different people. I love it because I love the business, the people in the business, the work, food, wine and South of France.

Oh yes, and the luxurious hotels, enormous boats, parties and bars. If you have even the narrowest streak of hedonism, there's not a lot to dislike about Cannes. So what are the important things?

The people

If advertising is about talented people getting together to make exciting stuff, then this is it on a global scale. It's a great celebration of the business. You meet so many old mates and colleagues that it can take an hour to walk along La Croisette.

The awards

They matter now, with the advent of league tables and creative reports. The business has globalised and even we Londoners now acknowledge that the epicentre of the business has shifted.

My favourite award memories were winning back-to-back Grands Prix with Lowe with the Independent and Stella press.

But the year Sir Frank Lowe chaired the jury was pretty momentous. He was also hosting the Stella Artois tennis tournament in London that week, so he made the jury sit at night and jetted in daily.

Spookily, Lowe Howard-Spink won the Agency of the Year award. When Paul Weinberger went up to get the statuette (from Frank), he was greeted by 10 minutes of vicious booing. I believe he's still in therapy.

Anyway, he couldn't lay eyes on it without shaking uncontrollably for months afterwards, so it resided in my office.

The places

The Eden Roc hotel didn't take plastic back in the day. It's the only place I've gone to for the day, with the missus, with EUR700 or so in my pocket, and had to borrow money off our head of TV, Colin Hickson, to pay the bar bill.

The Gutter Bar, or 72 Croisette, as it's actually called, is where the drinks pricing is randomly extortionate and hours pass in an instant as a thousand people talk nonsense until the sun comes up. (Don't go before 2.30am. People will think you're German).

And there's La Colombe d'Or, up in beautiful Saint-Paul de Vence. Famously the venue for Blake's 7's summer lunch, this awesome restaurant is the place for dinner, where the art in the dining room puts many metropolitan galleries to shame.

There's also the Carlton Terrace. This is where everyone meets throughout the day for business and in the evening before dinner. One morning, I watched Lee Clow and John Wren having breakfast together.

They munched through acres of bacon and eggs, in silence. They finished and both lit up a contemplative Marlboro Red, in silence. They got up and genially grunted farewell. Very civilised.

The hotels

Basically, if you're not staying at the Carlton, the Majestic (where the juries stay because it's close to the Palais des Festivals) or the Martinez, you ain't shit. Or maybe you're someone who actually does the work. Whatever.

There's no point in pretending that Juan-les-Pins is so much more glamourous and only a short cab ride away. Have you tried getting a cab at 5.30am, completely drunk, to take you back to the Belles Rives? Even Johnny Hornby can't do that. Stay in Cannes and if you're in a pension, lie. Or make friends with someone.

Of course, if you aren't an actual festival delegate, you can't get a frontline hotel room, period.

The clients

Since Procter & Gamble descended on the festival en masse in 2004, clients have come in increasing numbers. And I have to say, it's a good thing for our business.

However, speaking as someone who once advised a colleague going for the first time to make it a rule not to see a client or an ad, it hasn't, in all honesty, made it more fun.

Being confronted by a carbonated soft-drink marketer at 4am, demanding to know what I was going to do as a result of being confronted by "half our global spend," is but one example. (I went to buy him a Coke and didn't come back, since you ask).

The seminars

Oh yeah, apparently there's loads of seminars and stuff, but I've never been. A bit slack, I know – and, to be serious, there is some good stuff. But, actually, a lot of it is self-serving and you can watch the ads when you get home.

The real value lies outside the Palais.

A lot of people didn't go last year. It doesn't look great to be photographed with a glass of Ott in your hand on the Terrace if you've just laid off 5% of your workforce. But things are looking up.

I remember taking Grant Duncan (the former Publicis chief executive) for the first time. Now Grant has a really unhealthy work ethic – he feels guilty if he isn't. But after a six-hour lunch at Carlton Beach Club on the first day, during which le tout Cannes came by our table, he was converted. And if you go, so will you be.

Tim Lindsay is a non-executive director of Media Square.

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