Digiday’s Sober Guide to Cannes

Digiday covers that latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Sign up for the Cannes Briefing for daily updates on what Digiday is doing this year at Cannes delivered every morning.

For many, the thought of attempting Cannes Lions sober evokes a feeling of cold dread.

Cannes Lions is an endurance test. For that reason, boozing can be a useful prop to help sustain mind and body through the week’s conveyor belt of non-stop networking, meetings, long lunches and evening parties.

That can sometimes lead to issues. “One year I was so hungover, tired, and confused, I got trapped in the revolving doors of the Carlton Terrace,” recalls Jane Austin, founder of Persuasion Communications. “Did anyone help me as I crumpled due to my body’s [alcoholic] ketoacidosis? No, they took pics for Instagram and my world took on even more weirdness when Marilyn Manson pushed the door and set me free.”

But for some of the more seasoned Cannes veterans, memories of their previous drunken debacles and hangover guilt are enough to justify their swapping the rosé and bad dancing at 3 a.m. for the fruit smoothies, early wake-ups and genuine productivity. An increasing number of execs, tired of enduring the fumes of alcohol dispelled from their own pores during meetings, are taking on Cannes sober.

Early bike rides
If you want a shot at meeting a global CEO, you won’t find them in the gutter bar. You’re far more likely to encounter them on one of the numerous organized bike rides. Usually there are several early-morning 20-kilometer cycle rides and a couple of half-day cycles along the coast. You need to get on the right lists, but once you do, they’re a must-have. “The conversations are very relaxed, and usually a lot about cycling,” says Andrew Buckman, COO of Sublime. “It’s a nice sedate pace so people can chat. But we’ll always get to talking shop, and they will always make introductions to the people who can take it further with me. These introductory meetings [with global CEOs] happen like this, with a swim, a jog or a cycle ride in Cannes. Contracts are then signed in Dmexco.”

Find new ice breakers
Nothing quite breaks the ice like sharing a bottle (or three) over lunch or dinner on the beach. It can lubricate awkward conversations, even if in hindsight, it acts more as a much-regretted truth serum. But there are other, perhaps even more effective, ways to gel with people in Cannes. One tip: If the only time you can squeeze someone into your packed schedule is during your 7 a.m. swim — offer for them to join you. This is becoming a common go-to method, particularly for very senior executives.

Morning Carlton Terrace tips
By day the Carlton Hotel’s terrace is an elegant sun trap where visitors can quickly spy celebrities and CEOs enjoying a ferociously overpriced breakfast. For early birds, there are gains to be had, according to Rob Schwartz, CEO of TBWA. “If you get there early enough, you’ll be able to snag a good table on the patio out of the sun, and get a great view of the industry’s movers and shakers plotting their world domination,” he says. “You’ll also have your pick of the best smoked salmon as it goes quickly from the buffet.”

Evening Carlton Terrace tips
By night, the hotel descends into a heaving, sweaty pit of drunken ad execs happily and noisily jabbering at each other. But being sober makes for an effective people filter. “Scan the terrace to find your soulmates: the pregnant women, Narcotics or Alcoholics Anonymous members, people from California,” says Austin. “I can negotiate my way around the Carlton Terrace better because I don’t get stuck in conversations — it’s a lot easier to extricate yourself from a drunken conversation when you’re the sober one in the group.” Mastering the Irish goodbye is a must. You won’t regret it, and no one will remember you did it.

Admire the view at sunrise
The view of the bay at sunrise is stunning, and more so when soberly appreciated. “A morning walk toward the south allows you to experience the bay as a sheet of glass, magnificent light and a gorgeous purview of all of boats and yachts,” says Schwartz.

Stock up on fresh, local fruit and vegetables
With so much happening along the Croisette itself, it’s easy to forget there’s a dizzying array of beautiful, quieter cobbled streets running parallel to it. For the more adventurous, there’s a very nice farmer’s market selling fresh fruit and veggies a couple of blocks behind the Carlton.


More in Media

NewFronts Briefing: Samsung, Condé Nast, Roku focus presentations on new ad formats and category-specific inventory

Day two of IAB’s NewFronts featured presentations from Samsung, Condé Nast and Roku, highlighting new partnerships, ad formats and inventory, as well as new AI capabilities.

The Athletic to raise ad prices as it paces to hit 3 million newsletter subscribers

The New York Times’ sports site The Athletic is about to hit 3 million total newsletter subscribers. It plans to raise ad prices as as a result of this nearly 20% year over year increase.

NewFronts Briefing: Google, Vizio and news publishers pitch marketers with new ad offerings and range of content categories

Day one of the 2024 IAB NewFronts featured presentations from Google and Vizio, as well as a spotlight on news publishers.