Cannes MD Talks Ads, Innovation and Hotel Access
Facing his first Lions as festival MD, Jose Papa reveals why Cannes will always be at the heart of the ad industry.
Taking over from Philip Thomas as managing director of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity in August of last year, former CEO of global fashion trend forecasting service, WGSN, Jose Papa [below], talks to shots.net about hitting the ground running, managing such a huge annual event, why altered access to main hotels and bars won't impact the Cannes vibe and why the Lions will always have advertising at its heart.
You were installed as MD of the Lions in August of last year, making this year’s festival your first; how have the 2017 preparations gone and how have you been finding the role so far?
For me, personally, this year has been a phenomenal journey. I would say it was less of a learning curve and more of a learning mountain! I’d been to the festival before as a delegate, but that only gives you a limited view of the operation. Because we have many different types of customer, I don’t think many people appreciate the true scale of the production and logistics behind the event. This year’s delegates are in for some incredible surprises.
When you took on the role were there particular elements of the festival that you wanted to engage with, or transform?
We haven’t launched any Lions or specialist streams, so in some ways 2017 has been a year of consolidation. That said, one of the areas I’m focusing on is a move towards building a truly global Cannes Lions community, with the festival at the centre.
That community and connection element is paramount, and one of the things people will notice this year is the attention given to the networking experience. The Cannes environment brings its own magic to meetings at the festival, but we’ve grown and improved our structured networking opportunities. From new tools to an expanded meet-up programme, it’s never been easier to meet the people you need to meet.
The Entertainment and Innovation Lions seems to have been very successful; do you think the festival might diversify further, with other specific sectors highlighted, in the coming years?
We don’t expand the festival or add new Lions at a whim, and we engage in sustained and detailed consultation with the industry ahead of making any changes or additions. A single Lion can spend several years in development as we make sure it’s absolutely right.
In reality there are always a few Lions under discussion, but it’s too early to talk specifics for 2018, and much depends on the creative trends revealed this year, but it’s likely there will be some new members of the family.
The festival is criticised by some for being too focused on technology rather than advertising creativity; how would you respond to that?
Whatever the Croisette looks like, and whichever sponsor logos you see around Cannes, nothing will ever change the fact that the Lions sits at the absolute heart of the festival. It’s the globally recognised symbol of creative achievement. We are its guardians, and it’s a role and responsibility we extremely seriously.
Cannes Lions is a festival of creativity and while this will always remain the main focus, it’s true that technology surrounds us and plays a bigger part in the campaigns we see today. Lions Innovation is now in its third year and aims to bring these two sides even closer together, but that’s just one element of the festival.
For those who come inside the Palais, this commitment to creativity is made tangible by the scale of the exhibition of shortlisted work, which covers an area of five Olympic-sized swimming pools.
This year the delegate access stretches as far as the main hotels and bars, which will not allow non-delegates in without prior confirmation via the Lions app; can you tell us a little bit about the thinking behind that and is there any worry it might affect the celebrated Cannes Lions vibe?
During the festival, official Cannes Lions attendees will have priority access to the main bars and restaurants of the ‘Palace’ hotels along the Croisette between 8am and 6pm. Attendees without badges will still be able to use the hotels during these hours (subject to capacity as always) but will need to register for Hotel Access. It takes seconds to set up, you can register on the door or in advance, and you just keep it on your phone while in Cannes.
As the festival has grown, demand is high for access to hotel bars and restaurants, which in turn makes it difficult to book tables and find places for meetings during the day. We’ve taken feedback from delegates on this and how we can manage these exclusive spaces better, whilst also protecting the importance of after-hours socialising. We’re confident that this year will, as ever, be thoroughly enjoyable for all attendees!
What seminars/events are you most looking forward to over the course of the festival?
That’s such a tough question. Coming from WGSN, I’m pleased to see we have a few speakers from the fashion world. It wouldn’t be right for me to show any favouritism, but I promise you that from the first session at 10am Saturday to the closing gala on the following Saturday night, every day has some truly magical moments. The sessions with the famous names naturally get a lot of attention, but I would encourage people to take in a variety of talks and activities.
What have been the biggest challenges for you over the last nine months?
For an event the size and scale of Cannes, the planning of the next festival begins almost immediately, and sometimes even before, the current year’s edition. There’s very little downtime in the production cycle over the year, especially with three regional events – Eurobest, Spikes Asia and Dubai Lynx – to be delivered at the same time, so I’ve really had to hit the ground running. The last nine months have gone by extremely quickly.
What will be the toughest part of your time in Cannes once the festival starts?
I am an eternal optimist at heart and Cannes Lions is a festival built on optimism. There’s nothing more positive than the acts of celebration, discovery and human connections, and I struggle to identify any part of that as being tough. That said, myself and the team work some very long days, and while the festival starts on Saturday 17 June, we’ve already been running a full week of judging.
And the most rewarding?
For me the most rewarding moments are the stories I hear from our community. Some of them are winners, others are visiting for the first time, and weeks later our team get emails from people talking about the fantastic connections they made. I always say Cannes Lions is a transformative experience, and hearing the effect it has on other people is a wonderful thing.
Why do you think the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is such an important part of the advertising calendar?
Our heritage obviously plays a big part. We’re 64 years old, and it’s mind-blowing to think there are generations of professional creatives for whom the Lion has existed throughout their entire career. But the real magic of Cannes Lions is how it adapts and changes with the industry we serve and celebrate. We articulate this best in our campaign for creativity, where we believe that creativity is a positive force for business, change and good in the world.