Another shipment of fresh ad industry meat dropped into the Cote d’Azur grinder last week. Bethan Keane recounts her survival.
“Cannes? What to say... We’re not going but I envy anyone’s first time. It’s like nothing you will have ever witnessed before. Whether that’s a good thing, we’ll leave that for you to decide, Beth. The world’s worst and best people drunk in one place. You’ll be fine – see you when you get back! X”
This time last week, I received the above email. This was before the madness had begun, before the Croisette, the wristbands, the rosé, the Carlton terrace. At this point, I was still happily sat with my green tea in Nice Shirt’s office. I had emailed two creative friends asking if I would see them in Cannes and had explained that it was my first time. As I clicked off their reply, I frowned. It was that sentence, the sentence I had been repeatedly told in the run up to Cannes, the reassuring “you’ll be fine”. I pondered, if people feel the need to reassure you when you haven’t expressed any concern, it can’t be a good sign of what’s to come, can it?
I joined the industry a little less than a year ago and ever since, I've heard tales of Cannes gone by. As a Directors Rep, I knew Cannes was a huge week for anyone with the badge ‘New Business’. I figured it would be like my usual job on speed, with the added bonus of sunshine.
As a Rep, the weeks leading up to Cannes your life becomes confined to your office, or to be exact, your inbox and the invites pinging through it. You fill out enough RSVP forms with the names and emails of your producers, directors and boss that when ordering a coffee from Pret, instead of saying thank you, you’ll simply go “Richard@niceshirtfilms.com”. True story.
Each confirmed RSVP you get, you’ll put on your itinerary and map that you will then laminate and make wallet sized so that your producers, directors and boss don’t get lost in a drunken haze. Then, to laminate your own wristband map, a Rep how-to guide to picking up your wristbands, which people tell you is as impossible as buying Glastonbury tickets on the first day of the festival. You will start resenting the laminating company near your office for their £19-for-six-copies pricing and decide to share this as the most boring anecdote of all time at a dinner party with your friends on the weekend.
You will debate what pyjamas are appropriate to wear in front of your entire company and think its acceptable to bring this up with your company’s accountant (“So do you think the little mermaid ones are too far?”).
Speaking of resentment, your office’s lovely French researcher will call the Carlton more times than is acceptable to add another person to your Friday lunch until you’re sure you owe him many, many beers and you’ll feel so far from fine, you’ll start to debate if all this preparation is even worth it. I promise, it is. This preparation for any Rep will make your life in Cannes that much easier and believe me, you’ll need all the past-you help you can get.
As Soho began thinning out, the Facebook check-ins from Nice airport mounted and after a 5am start, it was time to join the mayhem. Not before one of my directors gave me a heart palpitation when he texted saying he had just got to Stanstead… our flight was from Gatwick. This was followed by a professional “Just kidding, dumbass”. On arrival, I thought I would collect the wristbands in one sweep across the Croissette. Google Maps was my new best friend and after a hairy moment of my phone having 0 internet and having to switch it on airplane mode (the 2016 version of the 90s trick of taking out your Gameboy game and blowing it), I was on my way.
While picking up wristbands is the last thing you want to be doing when the rest of your company is easing their way into the Cannes experience, it really isn’t too bad. It’s unpleasant in the way that ironing is unpleasant: it's got to be done, it'll help you long term and really, it's a first-world problem. My advice would be to do your wristband haggling at home – not a great look standing in the heat. Ask for a few extra from the start so when you bump into your creative pal who spontaneously got the train to Cannes from his holiday in Paris, you can help him out.
What really struck me on my first day of the Cannes experience was the balance between the partying and the professional. After dropping my bags at the Nice Shirt villa and arriving at the amazing Sizzer beach party, I was handed a rosé and while paddling, caught up with some friends from agencies who had been out there for a few nights already. “I slept on the pavement for an hour last night” a deadpan friend of mine informed my director as they shook hands. “It’s actually really calmed down this year” another said as the waiter plonked four magnums of rosé in our ice bucket.
It started to dawn on me that it was going to be tricky to tread the fine line between having a good time and doing what I was out there to do – work. This was brought home to me when I was splashing around at the Little Black Book beach and was promptly hoicked out of the sea for a business meeting. Word to the wise, it’s incredibly hard to be taken seriously listing your directors’ preferred DOPs in a bikini. Perhaps taking our industry’s usual casual dress code a little too far.
At the end of the day, everyone from your company trusted you to plan this week so at 2am, they will turn and ask where you’re all heading to next and which wristband they’ll need. Keep it together enough to be able to do that, even if all your friends around you are cutting loose. They can, you can’t. Well, until at least 3am when your directors will throw your laminated map over their shoulder so they can dance more freely at Tropicool.
Likewise at lunch meetings, as great as the Martinez and Carlton are for a backdrop, remember you are the only person that knows everyone at the table. Research that situation like you would any meeting back in London so that you know who has worked with who long before you joined your company and which director suits which creative. Before everything gets blurry, when your creative pals are telling you about their latest script they want to send over to you, make a note on your phone so when you’re back in the office, you remember to hit them up. As much as your company may appreciate your offbeat dance moves, this is why they’ve taken you out here.
That’s not to say there is no fun to be had for Reps. Cannes is more full on than anything I’ve experience before, think of Soho in December as the warm up. The beach is cut into sections so with wristbands up to your elbows, you can bounce from one party to the next, day or night. You can sit on sun loungers with some of your producers and the agencies they’ve worked with and order in drinks or see all the usual suspects from the Grey bar at the beautiful Grey party.
Without bursting into song, at times Cannes felt like a parade of all my favourite people in the industry, especially after seeing a CEO getting thrown in the pool and taking it in his stride. It perfectly sums up what this industry is about – really great, creative people simply having a good time while furthering relationships and connections.
Warning though, nobody likes forced fun. While your itinerary is good, if not extremely nerdy, it is not always the way forward. As tempting as it is to show off to your directors and EP about how jam packed your Cannes week is, if they're as laid back as the team at Nice Shirt, they'll want a few hours in the day to refuel. One afternoon we did this by plonking ourselves in the infamous Carlton terrace (the Cannes equivalent of the Shaston) and ordering espresso martinis, which are as punchy from their taste to their 30-Euro price tag. The best way to bump into old and new faces while gearing up for the next wave of parties.
The following are the last few lessons that my first Cannes taught me:
You may lose more than your dignity.
As day fell to night with another incredible sunset, I still had my brand-new airport-bought Ray Bans on my head. I dealt with this to avoid being a sunglasses-when-not-necessary wanker by tucking them into my dress then proceeded to dance and spin the night way. Inevitably losing my beloved Ray Bans. Accept the Croisette has taken more from you than you were willing to give and move on. Don’t do what I did and bore one of your producers to death on the taxi ride home. Apologies again, Luke.
Stick with the group.
The gutter bar is more fun with thirty of you than three of you. Saying that, the gutter bar is horrific. Stay on the outskirts at all times or be sucked into the outrageous happenings.
Don't depend on taxis
If you heard a noise that sounded like a seal sliding off a rock in a huge amount of pain, that was me from the Nice Shirt villa as yet another Über cancelled. Just stay in the centre, no villa pool is worth that amount of stress before your lunch meeting.
Expect the unexpected
Sitting down at the Martinez hotel, I heard an almighty rip as my white sundress ripped right down the middle. Thank you to the lovely Claire Stokes from BBH for getting me through that hard time.
And that is that! I have officially been Cannes de-flowered and it’s safe to say, I’ll never be the same again. Broken, slightly more tanned, Ray-Ban-less and have had enough parties to last until at least the industry Summer parties begin…
Bethan Keane is Directors Representative at Nice Shirt Films.