Who wouldn't relish the opportunity to spend a week along the French Riviera enjoying some of the world's best beaches? And, with 1999 being media's inaugural year as a category in the festival's competitions, I could even ration-alize that I was going for business reasons.
As it turned out, my feet never touched the sand. I can honestly say my week in Cannes was one of the hardest I ever worked away from the office. I will also say it was an experience I wouldn't have wanted to miss.
As a first-time Cannes attendee, I came away impressed and somewhat awed by the magnitude of preparation involved in bringing together members of the global advertising community to compete in our industry's premier creative showcase.
It all started innocently enough for me last fall when Romain Hatchuel, the festival's CEO, asked me to attend a meeting in London to discuss the idea of media being included in this year's Cannes competition. As communications continues to spawn an unprecedented fusion of media and message, I shared his belief that advertising is now every bit as much about media as it is about copy.
My participation in that initial meeting, combined with the experience I gained through Starcom's internal global media competition, led to my being asked to be a judge.
I landed in France on the Friday before the event started and that evening enjoyed a wonderful welcoming dinner thrown by our Cannes hosts. At this point, things were looking pretty good and my decision to be a judge was looking better by the minute.
The next morning was when the real work started.
For the next five days, I was sequestered in a room with 11 other international judges from 8:15 a.m. to 6 p.m. as we pored over 425 media entries competing in 16 categories.
Working alongside the other judges, some important insights came to the surface that made all the time and energy invested worthwhile.
DEVELOPING A BAROMETER
In judging the entries, we were looking for innovation that was strategically on target or that used media in an unusually effective manner. We began to work against a barometer of excellence-seeking the work that made us scream "I wish I would have done that!"
Despite the fact that the judges came from all over the world, there was a universal appreciation of creativity and innovation, and we simultaneously recognized that world-class ideas were being executed in all corners of the world.
It was both invigorating and creatively agitating to learn that some of the best strategic thinking was happening outside the U.S.
Judging by the work, there is an ever-broadening definition of media. Certainly, the Internet has quickly made its mark as a communications tool, creating an increased need for broad consumer "contact" planning rather than traditional media planning.
Other increasingly important media initiatives include what was called "stunt" (I like to think of it as street theater) or event planning-ingenious initiatives that get clients' products connected to consumers at festivals, on the street and so on.
As media practitioners, we will need to continually explore these innovative options, breaking new ground to leverage our intimate knowledge of consumers to build clients' brands.
THE GOLDEN MEAN:
Perhaps the most telling discovery during my service as a judge at the Cannes festival was the growing irrelevance of traditional media measurement tools.
While reach and frequency, CPMs and GRPs obviously still have a place in a media accountability-focused world, the bottom line is that sales results are becoming the only truly meaningful benchmark. No matter what the locale, tangible sales increases are the universal language of clients.
Looking back on my whirlwind visit to Cannes, I have an even greater appreciation for the advertising industry.
I'm impressed by the dedication and singular vision practiced by media professionals from around the world on behalf of our clients. While many of my peers may say that the recognition of media at the festival is long overdue, I say let's move forward rather than focusing on the past. To do anything else would be counterproductive. It would cause us to lose the momentum that media has gained over the past couple of years as we have become more valued business partners to our clients and more integral members of our clients' brand teams.