A Week of Cannes: 2 - Waste and Investment

A week at Cannes is hard work. Physically. Financially. And emotionally. The relentlessness of what’s next being punctuated by the constant evaluation of how we’re doing.

How we’re doing is relative. To the day, the hour, the occasion and the group we are with. 

Cannes is geo-locational and hierarchical. Success being measured on a complex, unwritten, but widely known metric. Lunch at du Cap with two prospective clients is trumped by a boat ride to St Tropez with one, but beats drinks at the Carlton with three. And La Colombe d’Or is worth changing your flight home for. 

For many that don’t go to Cannes, particularly those that pay the bills, the week is seen as a waste. Of money, of focus and the opportunity to do meaningful work at home. 

It’s easy to see why. Four days in the South of France comes conceptually attached to the world of Ian Fleming. Beautiful, powerful women mingling with men in white suits in the pursuit of global domination. Proof that every spy novel comes from a basis of fact.

But beyond the billionaire’s yachts’ moored off St Tropez, or Cap d’Antibes - is that a helipad or a swimming pool on the aft deck and is Armani on board this week? - beyond the glistening sheet metal of the most expensive motors, beyond the limitless supply of rosé, the simple truth is that for any advertising-related business, Cannes is the most valuable investment of the year.

People comes to Cannes wanting to engage. Heads of companies, thought leaders, decision makers, movers and shakers. All are willing to meet, to talk and to explore what might be made of this. The blue and white strata of Ralph Lauren-inspired summer vistas removing limitations of imagination that otherwise restrict the vision of those paid to have one.

This alone makes Cannes worth the price of admission. The limitless possibility of meaningful and memorable conversation with people that can make things happen.

The other return on investment is membership to the club that Cannes represents. The club of, ‘I’m serious.’

If you go to Cannes you’re tempted by the potential. If you’re there it’s because you’re serious. Oh, the beauty and booze are part of the compensation. But use them as motivation even once and you’re not going back. Because if that’s why you’re there you don’t get it. And Cannes separates the don’t get its from everyone else like a canning factory.    

But there is waste at Cannes. Sleep for instance. Cannes operates in a different reality. Time passing six to eight times faster. That boat ride to St. Tropez for lunch takes 30 minutes, though your watch tells you it's seven hours since you left. Lunch at du Cap? 15. It is a reality that makes sleep impractical, every moment of disengagement a wasted opportunity to make a connection, have a conversation, promote an idea.

Fortunately, most people don’t. Sleep. At least not much. The four hours a night that seemed like a bare minimum when the week began, is reduced to nothing by the time Saturday come along - sixteen hours after we arrived on Tuesday.

The other waste at Cannes, is opportunity. Wasted by the ocean-full.

There are obvious examples. And some that are almost imperceptible.

Of the former, this year’s winner was Yahoo. A company desperate to be seen as relevant. Proving that money and its spending are not dispositive in an attempt at brand significance. Yahoo sponsored the Gutter Bar, a folly of immense proportions. Sponsoring the Gutter Bar is like sponsoring air. Everyone knows it's not true.

Yahoo also handed out purple flip flops to anyone they could find on the Croissette. All of which went un-worn, from what I could see. And promoted a branded sand castle event on the beach, at reportedly vast expense. Somehow seeing a team of people put Yahoo’s logo into a pile of sand does not convince me I should do something about my relationship with Yahoo. Nor does it tell me what they would like that relationship to be. In a world in which consumers and brands are having conversations, sticking your logo on my feet and in my face, morning noon and night is the act of a bored child, or a dying brand. Not a company trying to solve my problems or provide me with value.

Yahoo’s waste did inspire me to think about how to create the most effective brand placement at Cannes next year. The idea I came up with would change the way Cannes works for everyone that attends. And I’m going to suggest it to one of our clients. I’ll let you know if it goes anywhere.

But the greatest waste at Cannes this year was the opportunity for re-definition. By the Festival itself.

Cannes operated under the theme of  “Connections Made Easy.” As an example of truth in advertising, it leaves a little room for improvement.

Cannes is an analog event. It has a badly designed, difficult to navigate, hierarchical (that word again) website. And offered ‘Cannes Connect’. An unintuitive online delegate tool.

But at check-in you are handed an enormous canvas shoulder bag filled with reams of printed paper. You could hear trees crashing in Brazillian rain forests. The week’s schedule is offered in a booklet that has no page numbers. And is too large for any short or shirt pocket. 

“Connections Made Easy” is the foundational Purpose of advertising. And there is much about the Festival that encourages those connections. 

But the “Made Easy” part is a work in progress. 

Which makes sense.

Because Cannes is a reflection of an industry.

One struggling to separate from its past and embrace its future.

But one with the ability to change the way we see things. In this case, in 72 seconds.

Happy 4th of July.

Can. Do.

I walked past a homeless man last night. Chris and I were on our way to shop for dinner.  A brief interlude of being husband and wife at a time of intense professional focus and opportunity.

He was sitting on the still damp sidewalk leaning against the wall that separates Starbucks and the dry cleaners - an example of retail location management that I hope is an indicator of somebody’s ability to turn strategy into real estate reality.   

As we passed he reached out towards us and mumbled something. “Can you help me out?”

There are some people that ask for money that appear to me to be using it as a way to pass the time. They are both diffident and menacing. A difficult combination to express in the few seconds it takes for the exchange to take place. Dressed too well. Disinterested too quickly. They leave you with a feeling of relief as they fade into the immediate past.

This man was not one of those. This man sat on cold, wet concrete and looked up with anxiety in his face. This man was dressed in newspapers.

These were not newspapers he had wrapped around him at random. These were newspapers he had made carefully and artfully into clothing. These were newspapers whose purpose had reached new heights through this man’s endeavor. These were newspapers that told you more about the man than any study of his history could have revealed in an hour of conversation.

I was startled. Not by his situation, which is all too common on the streets of New York these days. But by his solution. And I wanted to help.

I reached into my pocket and felt a few coins. Insufficient either to help him significantly or reward him appropriately, his need and his artistry both vying for attention in my conscience.

“Do you have any cash on you,” I asked Chris.

She shook her head. “You were buying my dinner, remember?”

I did. And my wallet was safely tucked away underneath two layers of coat and jacket. And it was cold.

“I’ll give him something on the way back. We’ll only be ten minutes.” I smiled at him as I withdrew my hand from my pocket. “We’ll be back,” I said.

The line at the take-out counter was a little longer than I expected, and we stopped into another shop along the way that we had walked past for two years without venturing inside. The image of the newspaper man strayed into my mind, and I felt for the bills that I had stuffed in my pocket at the register.

It had started to rain, softly and without menace, but I was glad for the weather-proof shell and rubber soled boots I was wearing. And as I stood on the street corner, waiting for the light to change, I wondered what it would be like to wear newspapers for clothes. Wondered whether he had learned the skill from someone else. Wondered how often he  had to replace them. Wondered which papers worked best. Wondered what he will do if we really do start to get all our news electronically. I’m a fan of the iPad, but as a way to keep warm, it leaves a lot to be desired.

As the light changed and the mass of people on either side of 23rd street began their journeys towards the middle the crowd parted just enough for me to see the wall where he had been sitting.

It was empty. He was gone.

Suddenly the money rolled up in my hand felt like newspaper. And utterly useless. Its purpose taken away. I stopped for a moment as we reached Starbucks and looked inside, hoping to see him sitting in a chair. With or without a laptop. I wouldn’t have minded either way.

Chis went into the dry cleaners and asked about their drop off hours for this morning. The warmth of the dryers and the smell of the chemicals rolled into the night like excited children on Halloween.

I looked across 6th Avenue, and then back the way we came. There were people everywhere. Clothed. And invisible.

As we walked the final two blocks home I wondered why I hadn’t taken the time to follow my instinct when I first saw him.

Why I had thought that to put off an action now would give me an equal opportunity to carry it out later. Why I had assumed that circumstances wouldn’t change. That my plan would fit everyone else’s plan.

There is a difference between intent and action.

It is called opportunity.

And we miss them every single day.

Change - An Epilogue

We left Chicago yesterday after a four day visit. It was our first trip back since we sold our house in July.

We saw friends, went shopping and felt as comfortable and as warm as if we had returned to the womb.

In many ways we had. Chicago is where we met, fell in love, built a business, adopted five dogs, and sucked the marrow out of a temporary retirement. It has been safety and security for as long as we can remember.

It is a beautiful city. The most beautiful in the world to my eyes. And in many ways we found it better than when we left. We had dinner in the new Trump Hotel, which might be the most magical setting in Chicago. We drove the newly resurfaced Lakeshore Drive, marveled at the new wing of the Art Institute, and walked the Christmas lights of Michigan Avenue. Yesterday morning we woke to a perfect snowfall. Light enough to offer no impediment. Dense enough to paint everything perfectly, gently white.

It felt like a personal acknowledgement that we were in town.

And yet, yesterday evening as we boarded the plane to Los Angeles I was certain of two things.

Chicago is not our home. That, and our lives lie in New York. A decision that was hard to come by but which has become more obviously right as the year has gone by.

And we will be back.

We have not done everything right over the last couple of years. But we end 2009 where we should be.

And, at least for now, exactly where we want to be.

Guest Blog - Jon Collins

Over the last couple of years I've been fortunate to work with a number of people who have a unique point of view about business ownership.

From time to time I'm going to ask some of them to contribute to this blog.

The first of those is Jon Collins - President of Framestore, New York, one of the world's leading film and commercial special effects companies. Click their link. Their work is astounding.

Jon has worked for Framestore since 1996, starting in their London office before moving to New York in January 2004 to launch Framestore in the US.

The company has gone from strength to strength in the US under his leadership, and Jon's down to earth and sensitive approach has allowed this powerful UK brand to establish itself in its own right in the American market. Cultural transitions are the hardest for an established company to navigate. Jon has made Framestore's look effortless. I hope you enjoy his post.


I know that I may not be entirely the same as many of Charles' readers: for a start, there are times when even I am amazed that I am running VFX/CGi company in NYC. And then there are other times when I think that - after being Everton's centre forward or one of the Beatles - this is what I was born to do. I have times of great clarity and times of navel gazing.

I never intended being a 'businessman' - I was always more interested in creating something. I think what I have now created is a team. And running the business then makes sense if I apply it to what I know about football (English football, but I guess most if not all team sports work for this metaphor). I have built a team of people looking for certain skills in certain areas and selecting them so that they will work well together. I motivate them and train them and finally I create an environment in which they can perform to their best ability.

You get the picture.

All this was making sense to me until quite recently. As a team we have been used to competing with the very best both nationally and internationally. We may not win everything but we are focussed and we don't dwell on victories or defeat but we assess what can be improved and we look to the next 'match'.

The only problem is that instead of competing in the Premier League, we now have combined all the leagues into one. One week we may be competing against Real Madrid but the next we are playing against Doncaster. Okay...we should be able to adapt to that. It's not always easy to play attractive football on a muddy pitch but, like I say, we have some very talented people and we should be able to adapt.

Yes, but what do you do when you are not getting the money from huge crowds every week and the gate receipts are non-existent every few weeks? Well, you can send out a few less players and get them to work a lot harder covering the vacant positions. They should be fit enough...we've trained them well.

But what happens when they take away the ball?

Well I guess it stops being football and we have to invent our own new sport. I have a sentimentality borne out of nostalgia for the old game….but the old game doesn’t work without the ball. What I am trying to focus on as the coach is coming up with new rules so that my team can play a new, exciting game competing against the best. A game full of challenges and clear goals.

I haven’t worked out the rules yet but when I do I hope that we meet on the new playing field.