Cannes may have been built for agencies, but clients are the real stars now. Too bad there's a price to stardom, as marketers including Kim Kadlec well know. The former Johnson & Johnson executive was recently in charge of global clients for Publicis Groupe, but returned to the client side with Visa late last year as senior VP-global marketing platforms.
Now as Cannes looms? "It's total invitation overload, and it's incredibly important to have a discipline around what strategy you're going to have for that year, what are three or four things to focus on," Kadlec said. "You can literally do meetings every half hour from morning to night and not scratch
Visa is focused this year on technology, and using Cannes to develop talent, pairing five senior leaders with five future leaders, or "high-potential millennials," Kadlec said. Medialink, Starcom and BBDO helped create an itinerary with learning tracks, including tours of work led by top creatives.
"A lot of the optics around Cannes can lead people in a different direction, but there's a lot of great talent and a lot of great thinking there to take advantage of," she said. "You will certainly see some of us attending an evening event, but it will not be without a full day of work."
When she was last there on the agency side, she wasn't in a business development role, so wasn't looking to win accounts. Part of her job was to help global clients develop agendas and network, much like her agencies are doing now.
"It is tough from an agency perspective because you're competing with so many invitations and also focused on big announcements you want to get out there about your business," Kadlec said.
A big part of the work as an agency executive was essentially "watching what your competition is doing," she said. That wasn't so much about keeping them away from her clients, but competitive intelligence. "It's more learning about their models, partnerships they're announcing, the way they're going to market, how they're experimenting with technology investments," she said.
Contrast her experience with that of Babs Rangaiah, heading to his 13th straight Cannes. Most of those years, he was on the client side with Unilever, but now for the second year, he'll attend as global partner-marketing for IBM iX, the tech and consulting giant's agency offering.
Planning is important for anyone, he said. But despite the strong urge by clients to plan everything, and the growing sense that random encounters with heavily scheduled and secluded clients are harder to come by, he said chance meetings are still among the best things about Cannes.
"I felt like I learned more just from meeting some of the newer people on the street or wherever than from some of the scripted meetings, because those are the ones I didn't know about," Rangaiah said.
He recounted that one year during his Unilever days, he made an arrangement with a video blogger who wasn't on the original schedule but became a key part of a user-generated content program.
"Keep yourself open to meeting with a lot of different companies," he said. "Go out of your comfort zone to meet people you ordinarily wouldn't. It can potentially give you a huge competitive advantage."
Another thing he recommends from his Unilever time is a client-hosted event for all agencies to brief them on objectives—which saves time that would otherwise be devoured meeting each individually.
On the agency side, Rangaiah is discovering it's important to work on the elevator, er, Croisette pitch. "It's really about understanding your own story, your own product and what you do best, then making sure you can tell it quickly," he said. "You have to sell it in five or 10 minutes, sometimes less. And make it interesting."