Few of us can imagine the horrors of spending a week in Cannes as a rep. Sophia Melvin just did it for the first time.
The author. Before her Cannes defloration.
DIARY OF A CANNES VIRGIN
If I’m completely honest when Cut+Run’s MD first approached me about going to Cannes this year, I imagined a holiday disguised as work (don’t tell Tobes I said that) – the bright soothing sun twinned with a soft balmy breeze, the elegant stretch of the Croisette sprinkled with folk of the a la mode type, dipping their toes in the Mediterranean blue of the French Riviera - with no thought of advertising types (like myself) shadowing the view of the somewhat ostentatious utopia that awaited me.
Being a “Cannes Virgin” though, it was no surprise to me that every industry individual I spoke to prior to apocalyptic week felt it was their duty to scare the shit out of me (excuse my French) with apocryphal tales of Cannes Festivals gone by. Brazen and blissfully naïve I thought, “I’m 22, I’ve done freshers week, I can handle this”. It is however no amplification to say that Cannes Lions was nothing like I’d ever experienced before. Nothing at all. Apart from maybe losing your virginity, so I guess the title of this piece is apt.
AT THE END OF THE DAY… IT’S A WORK THING
I’ve come to learn that, as a Rep, Cannes is the highlight of your working / social calendar and not something to be treated lightly (however much you dislike the potent taste of French rosé). In fact, it’s near on a week of drinking rosé, seeing old faces, meeting new faces, drinking more rosé, booking lunches, knocking back even more rosé, securing party invitations (that’s a biggie), doing shots of rosé, entertaining your clients, feeling the rosé burning a hole in your chest, until you finally reach the safety of your desk in Soho with that famous couplet “new business”. So ultimately, it’s your day job - just revved up to a Formula 1 break-neck speed. So you may have a nervous breakdown by Saturday (if not before).
…BUT, YOU’RE ALLOWED PARTY?!
But yes, you are allowed to party! When nighttime falls, the elegant promenade of the Croisette transforms into an obnoxious 18-30s holiday destination and… it’s awesome. You’re a free spirit and you can let loose (I’ll admit some seem to let loose more than they should) but ultimately the parties were such a release. A breath of fresh air from the endless networking, small talk and exchanging of business cards between the awards ceremonies (oh yeah, there are awards ceremonies going on, but I’ll get back to that in a bit).
Though it was the sundown beach parties that really made me find a deeper appreciation for the people in our industry. The fact that you can talk serious business with a CEO by day and then dance around with them (whilst sporting the hat you just whipped from their head) by night, is pretty cool.
THAT FATEFUL WORD… WRISTBANDS
Although, collating the party invites takes much preparation. Months in advance your entire company waits on tenterhooks at the anticipation of which party invitations you manage to get your little rep paws on and for the rep, it becomes a complete addiction (I swear RSVPs became like dope to me) I found myself RSVPing to parties that I didn’t even want to go to, just to prove that I could get a wristband for it (which I could).
But it’s actually collecting the damn wristbands that becomes the bane of your life (orienteering is suddenly a key skill you wished you’d tried harder at during your school days). Hours are spent trekking up and down the Croisette, accompanied by your faithful bosom buddy Google Maps (generally smack bang in the middle of your very important lunch date) to pick up wristbands and it’s a bloody nightmare! To the point where I think even the word wristbands will forever send chills down my spine (I’m sure the reps of the world can concur).
Spare wristbands on the other hand are music to my ears. they’re like gold dust. I’m not complaining, but who knew my “cute British accent” (bearing in mind I’m from Stevenage) could get me a load more wristbands? There is no better feeling than producing an extra golden strip of plastic out of your handbag and casually handing it over to wide-eyed receiver who would otherwise be banished to the Gutter Bar. You feel like Willy-fucking-Wonka.
Villa life is a weird one. You’re suddenly thrown into an apartment crowded with people that you have a professional relationship with and expected to live with them (or in their defense, they’re expected to live with you) for a week like it’s the Big Brother house. Fortunately my OCD tendencies were warmly received after our Tuesday night mash-up, unlike my morning face (we all have one) that almost shocked three of our senior editors into cardiac arrest on more than one occasion.
Though we were the lucky ones - a stylish city apartment a minutes walk from the Croisette and all its festivities, including the awards (oh yeah, the awards, I’ll get back to those later). It was the glitterati who resided in the hills on the other hand who suffered from what will always be known as the Great Cannes cab strike / Über apocalypse of 2015. With no means of transport back to their vast abodes (one of the many tragic first world problems we face in advertising) for lots, Cannes became something of a rambling holiday. I distinctly remember a female creative arriving at a party in a hot sweat with a broken Michael Koors sandle post-hike from the hills - so if ever I make it into one of those beautiful villas from MTV Cribs someday, I’m booking a driver for the week.
THE GREAT, THE GOOD AND EVEN JAMIE OLIVER ARE THERE…
The great and the good and even Jamie Oliver graced the Cannes Lions Festival this year - as did the infamous “Selfie stick”. Like Disneyland Florida they should been banned. They were everywhere! If someone wasn’t using one to take a ‘hilarious’ selfie with a giant pepper grinder or an oversized bottle of rosé, someone along the Croisette was trying to sell you one… #irritating
Although, I really could have done with one outside the Giorgio Armani café on the Wednesday when I was trying to keep up with Kim Kardashian, before a brigade of seasoned paparazzi photographers on mopeds came storming out of a side street behind Christian Dior and crowded me out. Never mind, catch you next time, Kim.
A VIRGIN’S THOUGHTS ON THE HOTSPOTS
So I can officially say that I made it to not all, but most of the Cannes hotspots this year, so here’s a word or two on my experiences:
Gutter Bar – Everything you heard is true plus more. Your innocence will be taken from you in the blink of an eye. I watched someone get arrested and then a random person stroked my face before throwing up at my feet (nothing personal I hope).
The Carlton – They meant it when they said it was expensive (bear that in mind before you order a couple of bottles of rosé for the table) and their staff get sassy if you don’t pay before they’ve finished their shift. But they do make a mean Bloody Mary for 25 Euros if you need a break from the old rosé or a seriously good hangover cure.
Île Sainte Marguerite – The most beautiful sanctuary on earth. Definitely the greatest place to spend your last day in Cannes. Also a good port of call before checking into rehab - Massive recommendation!
Radisson Blu Rooftop Bar – I recommend the Banana Colãda and it’s the best view for the Cannes Lions closing fireworks (they even turn all the lights off and play pretty music for you).
La Pizzaiola pizzeria – The manager Marco is an ultimate babe. He makes the best pizza you will ever eat when you’re staggering back to your apartment at dawn and need a quick fix (of the food variety).
Palais de Festival – I’ve come to learn you can only go into this magical place if you’re a delegate, whatever that is? (I don’t think anyone really knows to be honest. Not even the delegates)
Thus the legendary Cannes Lions Festival in all its glory is over for another year and whilst that infamous strip of the Riviera attempts to return to its peaceful normality, the Shaston Arms awaits the world of advertising where we will reflect on the unmentionable sagas that took place during the 2015 festivities – but what happens in Cannes stays in Cannes right? So I may have been brutally deflowered by the Cannes Lions Festival this past June, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way. So… Who’s up for Cannes 2016?!
Oh wait, what was that? Oh yes, the awards….
Sophia Melvin is PR + Sales Rep at Cut+Run.