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Cannes Lions

How to Do Cannes On the Cheap (It's Possible -- Kinda)

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Animation by Ad Age. Composite images iStock.

If you go the route of fine rosé, luxe hotel rooms and chopper rides, Cannes can cost a minor fortune. A major fortune, even.

But for young, job-hopping creatives looking to cozy up to executives at big-name agencies, the festival can be priceless (though with new Hotel Access passes for unregistered delegates, that may one day be more difficult).

Advertising's young guns have traditionally done Cannes the way they can afford it: crashing on strangers' couches, camping, lodging on the fringes of town, finding budget hotels—or even staying in a wooden motor yacht in the middle of the bay.

Sebastian Olar, a copywriter from Romania, was on the hunt for a job in New York in 2015 when he decided to attend Cannes to network. He found a connection through Couchsurfing.com in Nice, more than 20 miles away from the festival, and decided to bike in every day.

"The distance was longer than I expected," he admits, noting that the South of France heat made for a tiring, difficult ride back and forth every day. On the last day of his visit, he fell and broke three ribs. But he did come close to landing a short-term gig in New York.

Couch surfing allowed Olar to sprinkle cooking and beach visits with his host into the days of networking. "It proved to be more of a vacation than a professional thing," he said.

For Gijs Determeijer, who runs an Amsterdam-based production agency, he and his business partners sought affordable accommodations not too far from the Cannes action. Last spring, the group found a wooden motor yacht, called "El Toro," that was docked in the middle of the bay and cost 125 euros per person per night.

"We were taken to and from the boat whenever we wanted, we had breakfast on the deck and we swam two times a day. Friends could come and hang out. We even took the boat out to the island one afternoon," Determeijer wrote in an email. "The center of the bay was quite noisy because the parties went on much later than usual, so we decided to stay out later than that and we were fine. Sleeping in a small cabin in a bunk bed is not glamorous, big waves and drinking too much don't go together well, but still it was the best place we ever slept in Cannes. We immediately booked it again for the coming years."

Eszter Kazinczy, an art director from Hungary, stayed with a stranger when she attended Cannes several years ago while a student at the Miami Ad School Europe in Hamburg, Germany.

"I wanted to go back, but of course when you are a student you don't have too much money," she said. "The Cannes Lions festival is the best place to boost your career, especially if you're a student or looking for an ambitious job. ... That week is the most important week in our business. It's almost mandatory to be there." After Kazinczy's couch-surfing arrangement fell through, the host set her up with a friend, who let her stay for the duration of the festival.

Even if you're staying somewhere less glamorous than the Croisette, being there is worth it, Kazinczy said.

"When somebody is asking you to meet at Cannes, they become much more friendly," she said. "They are willing to meet with you and speak with you. They see you are taking this seriously."

The Jonge Honden, Dutch for "Young Dogs," is a group of young creatives that has brought a new group to Cannes every year for two decades. The group used to bus down from the Netherlands and stay at a campground. Today, they fly down together in a group and stay at a budget hotel, Hotel Ibis Cannes Centre, near the festival.

But with the rising cost of fees for students and young creatives, Amsterdam-based strategy planner Munise Can said the group might explore going to another festival like South by Southwest next year.

"It's super expensive, and it's getting more and more expensive," she said. "We're not bound to staying in Europe anymore. If the Cannes organization doesn't let us young people feel we're super welcome, why should we keep going there? There's a lot of other great places that we can visit."