Beyond the rosé: Navigating Cannes Lions as a sober attendee

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

‘Tis the season of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, where there’s a seemingly endless supply of rosé. 

For some, the constant flow of booze and cocktails is all part of the schmoozing that comes with Cannes. Others, however, may be looking for a Cannes Lions experience sans alcohol-induced nausea, focused more on the spirit of the festival than the spirits that come in a glass.

“People are looking at it through a different lens and they want to be able to get the most out of Cannes,” said Michele Fournier, global director of events and partnerships at VML ad agency, adding that she’s been sober for the past two years. “It’s such a privilege to be able to go to Cannes Lions. I want to be able to take the most advantage of it in every which way.”

Without further ado, here are a few tips and events to enjoy an alcohol-free (or sober curious) Cannes:

Get active: 

Cannes can be a busy environment with everyone shuffling up and down the Croisette. But there are a few opportunities to break away from the wheelings and dealings of the festival while still maintaining those endorphins with a 5K group run or a round of pickleball at Stagwell’s Sport Beach.

“You have this opportunity to start the week fresh face, running on the Riviera. Then, you get those running endorphins,” said Hollis Guerra, svp of strategic partnerships at Daddi Brand Communications. “Then, that’s led to conversations and partnerships even and opportunities. So I would never discount the early networking at 7 a.m.”

Last year, Guerra said she met Rihanna on her morning run. So who knows? You may even spot a celebrity wandering about. 

Here’s quick rundown of the events at Stagwell’s Sport Beach:

  • Runners World x Saucony Monday Run Club – Monday at 7:30 a.m.
  • Pickleball Clinic – Monday at 9:30 a.m. 
  • Runners World x Saucony Monday Run Club – Tuesday at 7:30 a.m.
  • HIIT workout with Alexy Posner – Tuesday at 8 a.m.
  • Pickleball Clinic – Tuesday at 10 a.m.
  • Workout with Pilates – Wednesday at 7:15 a.m.
  • Pickleball Tournament – Wednesday at 8:30 a.m.

Alternatively, join MarketMakers’ Active Catch Me If You Cannes 5K run on Monday or consider Run the Riviera, a 5K and 10K on Tuesday hosted by digital recruitment agency Ultimate Asset that even comes with a dedicated playlist. Another way to stay active is to use Airbnb experiences, said Jennifer White, COO of My Code, a digital media and marketing company. In the past, White has visited local and small businesses for cooking classes, yoga and even e-bike rentals to explore the city. 

Alcohol-free happenings

A key element of navigating the madness of Cannes is finding moments of peace and quiet, something that can be tough to do without the flurry of drinks. Inherently, the festival is overwhelming, with a beating sun as well as schedule juggling acts between the event itself and teams back home. 

Rachel Brandt, co-founder of the content shop Corner Table Creative, said that within the past few years of attending, she’s made jumping into the ocean early every morning a priority. Often, Brandt leaves dinner or parties early to get enough rest ahead of the morning dip, even encouraging others to join.

“It’s the easiest way to put into perspective where you are — the cold water waking up your body and giving you a sense of presence and grounding to carry throughout your day,” she said in an email to Digiday. 

If you’re looking for a place to duck off and recenter, consider the Deep Blue Sports and Entertainment “Women’s Sports House” on Tuesday morning. Host Dr. Deepak Chopra is set to lead a guided meditation for attendees, and will be on a panel about the importance of mental health and wellness. The Sports House will also host “Recess Hours” each day, which also focuses on mental health. 

Quad, a marketing experience company, is hosting coffee in the morning and Gelato with Quad every night around 10:30 or 11 p.m., according to Josh Golden, CMO of Quad.

New this year is Empower Cafe, a women-centric, inclusive space from PR shop Propeller Group with alcohol-free options open Monday through Thursday, hosting speakers and discussions. 

Try a mocktail

First and foremost, under the hot sun, be sure to locate various sources of water to help keep yourself hydrated. If you’re able to land yourself an iced coffee in the morning, hats off to you. But for other moments, whether you find yourself offered a glass of rosé while partying on yacht row or ending the night at the infamous Gutter Bar, a mocktail is a solid alternative to an alcoholic drink, per execs.

“I have found that bartenders and bars will usually accommodate such requests and if not, sparkling water is usually readily available,” said My Code’s White. 

If you must…

If all else fails, here’s a tip from Craig Atkinson, CEO of Code3 digital marketing agency: treat that glass of rosé as camouflage. “It’s not for drinking, it’s for holding and to point with for emphasis. The real trick is to make it last as long as possible, then discreetly dispose of it barely touched,” he said in an email. 

Julia Linehan, CEO and founder of The Digital Voice, a specialist ad tech B2B PR agency, has done the Cannes circuit at least nine times, five of them schmoozing with rosé and four of them as a “sober lush” as Linehan puts it. 

“I loved both, I really did,” she said in an email to Digiday. “I laughed more, attended four times more events, remembered everything, took in every single mind blowing, pinch me, ‘Aren’t we bloody lucky’ moment.”

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