Publishers’ top tips for pitching advertisers at Cannes

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

Increasingly, publishers are flocking to the Cannes Lions Festival in June as an opportunity to pack six months’ worth of face-to-face selling opportunities with marketers and agency heads into the span of a week. 

But it’s not enough to just be present in Cannes to turn those meetings into lucrative deals

Executives from all genres of media companies — ranging from Future to The Wall Street Journal — shared with Digiday the best practices they’ve learned from pitching their publications at Cannes amid the chaos of the Croisette.

Casual, cool and go-with-the-flow

“Dress for warm weather and dress very casually. I think my first year, I wore a khaki suit, and now it’s like T-shirts and linen pants only. I bring nothing fancier than a T-shirt. Dress down,” said Josh Stinchcomb, global CRO of Dow Jones and the WSJ. 

“Ensure that you have a portable battery charger/battery pack for your phone,” said Jonathan Otto, gm of Axios Live. 

“Wear linen and flats and bring an outfit change, because you’re probably going to sweat through that outfit during the day because it’s so hot,” advised Lindsey Abramo, CEO of World of Good Brands. 

“Comfortable footwear matters. There’s a lot of walking. I definitely get my 30,000 steps in a day in Cannes,” said Jason Wagenheim, FootballCo’s CEO, North America.

“You do have to be quite fluid … When you schedule meetings, people [will] run late because everyone underestimates how long it’ll take them to get from one place to the other and they run into people along the way. So if you’re expecting diligent adherence to a calendar, like you might expect in Davos, you’re going to be disappointed. [But] some of your best conversations are the serendipitous ones, so that fluidity is important,” Stinchcomb added. 

Early bird and the night owl

“Go to those little side cafes, grab some eggs before your morning starts, so that you’re not starved the entire day. It’s well known that you just don’t eat a lot [during those] days because you’re running around the whole time, so fuel up early at one of those side street cafes and then go on with your day,” Ryan Harwood, CEO of Gallery Media Group.

“The cardinal rule, that I can give attribution to [ad exec] Lou Paskalis on, which is, don’t set meetings before 10 a.m. I’ve learned that the hard way. You think you’re being super productive, and then folks wind up not budgeting their time properly and they cancel on you,” said Geoff Schiller, CRO of Vox Media.

“Avoid the late night parties … It’s hard to do business development when it’s loud and crowded and then you’re just exhausted the next day because you were up drinking all night,” said Harwood. 

On and off the Croisette 

“The best place to have the meeting is where the conversation happens. Where I’ve actually found you go a little bit off course with Cannes is when you then go and try to find a quiet place to talk … and sometimes you’ll spend more time trying to find that place than actually focusing on the meaning of the discussion you want to have,” said Matt Trotta, svp of U.S. sales at Future. 

“[For meetings meant to impress marketers], we still use these ‘hidden gem’ areas in the neighboring towns like Antibes and Saint-Paul-de-Vence to get people up and out into a really unique experience,” said Abramo. 

“​​Really use [Cannes] as an opportunity to network and meet new people and expand your mind … You are at a lot of events with your competitors [but] you’ve got to be able to have fun at the same time,” Wagenheim said.

“A lot of our brand partners, both existing or prospective partners, that will be there have invested a ton of time, energy, dollars [and] strategy around building their own space and experience. And so it’s not just about hosting at our [venue], but also, how do we come to some of their places? How do we experience some of the narrative building that they’re putting into their efforts at Cannes? That allows for us to certainly be smarter in our partnerships as we look through the second half of the year and into 2025,” said Otto. 

The ROI of inspiration

“We want to separate education from inspiration … How quickly were we able to come to an agreement on an opportunity, whether it’s [at Cannes] or shortly thereafter? But making that delineation between education and inspiration and favoring inspiration in the meetings will be how we drive ROI,” said Schiller.

“There’s nothing worse than a follow-up after [Cannes] that just says, ‘Hey, it was great bumping into you,’ because that’s just going to die on the vine. If there’s something where you’re running into someone, you’re understanding their challenge, and you’re able to take that into [an action] that [your sales] team can build on, that’s where we see great things happen,” Trotta added. 

“I already have a list of like 10 meetings that we need to set up now to be a follow-up after Cannes that we just won’t actually probably have time to sit down and have an in-depth conversation [during the event itself]. So the ROI on that is like almost double of the meetings that we’ll have,” Abramo added.

“What we talk about [during Cannes meetings] … are cultural moments, and by extension, cultural moments are built on scarcity. We’re not going there and sharing things that have infinite supply [like our first-party data solution]. We’re going there sharing things that have high demand and constrained supply,” Schiller added.

And one fun recommendation 

“Definitely go to dinner at La Petite Maison at least once. It is very fun and the food is very good,” Harwood said. 

And for more suggestions on the best places to schmooze or dine in Cannes, check out last year’s publisher guide here

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