What We Learned From Our Week in Cannes
In the midst of a never-ending wave of press releases, analyst reports, and industry coverage, it’s easy to forget that corporations are made up of people. Later in life, with a company’s brand well-developed, its reputation cemented, and decades of history behind it, the potential impact of an individual is somewhat limited. But this is certainly not the case in the rapid growth stage when it feels like every day births some new major development. During this period, people are the root of all success.
Throughout VidMob’s second Cannes experience last week, I found myself coming back to this thought over and over. Our first Cannes exactly one year ago was great. We were new to the scene but had just enough of a track record to find our way into meaningful conversations. We still had to begin each meeting by explaining how we thought mobile-first marketing was changing, the role of video in that evolution, and what we were building to help mitigate some of the emerging pain points. But at least we were in the conversation. And between the excitement of the break-in to our villa and the fact that we were quietly negotiating the closing of our Series A after getting home each evening, it made for an unforgettable week.
This year was entirely different.
First of all, instead of the four people from last year, this year we brought eleven. This seemed like a lot in a year when global powers like Publicis had very publicly decided to sit Cannes out, but we had so many meetings scheduled that the additional coverage was needed.
THAT SAID, NUMBERS TELL ONLY A PART OF THE STORY.
The bigger difference was the tenor of the actual conversations in those meetings. In the intervening twelve months, we had materially advanced our partnerships with Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Twitter, had done great work for hundreds of major brands, had grown the quality of our creator network significantly, advanced our technology platform immeasurably, and closed not one, but two rounds of financing.
When we went into meetings this year, we no longer had to start by talking about how mobile video was going to be big. Everyone knew that already. And we no longer had to talk about how great our platform was. Our partners and clients had first-hand experience with that too. This enabled us to jump right to the meat of the question in nearly every meeting—how can we help our partners get ahead in a video-first world and eliminate the creative friction being felt by every marketer on the planet?
DAY 1 | MONDAY
For the advance crew that arrived on Monday, the first order of business was to set up the two villas that we’d rented through Airbnb. We’d gambled a bit on the main villa, ultimately choosing to rent a place that didn’t have any reviews. But when we arrived, we were pleasantly surprised to find an absolutely incredible house, with a stunning view overlooking the entire Cannes valley.
WITH HOME BASE ESTABLISHED, THE GROUP HEADED OFF TO VARIOUS DINNER APPOINTMENTS.
One group headed to an event with our new friends and partners at You & Mr. Jones. The other headed over to the famed La Palme d’Or restaurant in the Hotel Martinez for a dinner that we were hosting with a number of our partners. This was a bit of an experiment, as we had no idea how it would work to have an intimate event with a number of seemingly competitive platforms around the same small table. But the invited guests had all become good friends of ours throughout our work together, and we had a feeling that would outweigh any other factors. This turned out to be entirely correct, and we had a wonderful evening with good friends from Facebook, Snapchat, Pinterest, and Twitter. During this meal, it occurred to me how lucky we are to work so closely with partners who we genuinely enjoy spending time with.
Later that night, the team regrouped back at the Villa to recount the events of the night and prepare for the big week ahead. It was the first of many late-night sessions discussing the future of video while overlooking the bright lights of Cannes far below. And if we established anything, it’s that (a) when you’re six hours ahead, you get sleepy far later than you’d expect, and (b) when executed properly, cannonballs can have a proper place in productive business meetings.
DAY 2 | TUESDAY
Tuesday started early with a meeting with Oath’s president of Ad Platforms, Tim Mahlman. With Verizon’s creation of Oath from AOL/Yahoo and AT&T’s recent acquisition of AppNexus, the mobile providers are proving to be increasingly significant players in digital/mobile advertising. To that point, Tim and his team are building a very impressive ad platform somewhat under the radar, and, needless to say, I was very excited about this meeting. Later in the morning, the team split up, with one group meeting with the head of the Pinterest Marketing Partner program and the new COO of Pinterest, while another met with Facebook’s head of marketing partnerships.
We split up again after that, as I went to a Facebook partner lunch, and others on the team met with senior executives from Energy BBDO. Establishing VidMob as a non-competitive resource to agencies interested in helping their clients scale their video output is a major priority for us this year, and this was the first of many meetings at Cannes aimed at continuing this effort.
Meanwhile, another group was over meeting with executives from two other members of the FMP program, Shuttlerock, and Shutterstock Custom. It would be easy to view all of the other FMP’s as competitive, but we tend to take a different view at VidMob. Our view is that the shared message being preached by the group positively impacts us all, and we believe that this is truly a situation where a rising tide raises all boats. Additionally, we actually all do different things well, so there is ample room for collaboration.
AS THE AFTERNOON PROGRESSED, TUESDAY TURNED INTO AN ALL-FACEBOOK AFFAIR.
It started with a cocktail reception for current partners. Craig showed his dedication to the partnership by unveiling his new legal name, “CraInstagram Coblenz,” showing once again that some give all in the restaurants and meeting rooms of southern France.
From there, we walked directly to the Facebook party at their beach venue. This was a terrific event, and with so much work going on with Facebook now, there was no shortage of topics of conversation. It was Jill Gray’s second week at VidMob, having previously headed Facebook’s Creative Shop in the UK, Middle East, and Africa, so this provided a great venue to get to spend time with a number of her old friends and colleagues, including Kofi Amoo-Gottfried (the head of brand marketing) and Ari Kesisoglu (the regional director of Middle East, Turkey, and Africa).
After the party, we headed into the back streets of Cannes with a big group to find a place for dinner. We ended up finding a small spot about five minutes in from La Croisette and had one of the more hilarious dinners of my life with the co-founder of Jebbit, our lead investor Paul Falzone from Manifest Growth, and good friends from Snapchat and Facebook. As dinner wound down, I thought to myself that this was about as good a day as you could hope for, but then we started playing Heads Up and I found myself on multiple occasions laughing so hard I couldn’t breathe. We learned a few things this evening—namely, that (a) the Duran Duran song is NOT Hungry like the Lamb, and (b) when it comes to animals, Jill plays Heads Up like Lebron plays basketball.
DAY 3 | WEDNESDAY
Wednesday dawned another spectacular day, and after a big Tuesday, we decided to kick things off with a dip in the pool to clear the head and get ready for another great day.
After that, a group peeled off to go meet with senior marketing execs from Reckitt Benckiser. Greg headed off to meet the director of Revenue Product at Snap, while Joline and Hayley began prep work for the event that we were co-hosting with Pinterest on Thursday at their beach venue.
I headed off with Jill and James Bacon to film a segment on the Facebook Beach with Sid Mankour, the Market & Sales Development lead for EMEA. It may look shaded in the picture, but I assure you it was so hot in that “studio” that you could have baked a pizza.
Sid asked a number of great questions about VidMob’s raison d’être, the future of work, and trends that we were seeing emerge in mobile marketing.
After this, we went directly over to meet with Facebook’s Director of UK & Ireland, along with the group head for agency partnerships. We had a great chat about VidMob Creative Studio, and how we are enabling brands to use creative analytics to inform creative strategy.
Elsewhere, other members of our team were meeting with Snap’s East Coast head of Creative Strategy. I hustled over from FB to join them and kick off a meeting with our friend Steve Hwang, Snap’s head of Corporate Development. It’s always great meeting with him to discuss how VidMob can best support Snap as their business continues to evolve.
From here, Jason and I headed over to the You & Mr. Jones beach venue for a meeting with our investor David Jones and Rebecca Sykes, the CEO of MoFilm. We are beginning to work more and more closely the various member companies of the You & Mr. Jones family, and it’s exciting seeing this coordinated platform come together. On our way out, we had an impromptu meeting with the CMO of Adobe, which is the kind of thing that only happens at Cannes.
I then headed to the You & Mr. Jones client dinner with Lisa. This was an incredible event, and we were honored to be a part of it. The room was filled with senior executives from Samsung, Unilever, Danone, Accenture, Diageo, Marchon, L’Oreal, Kraft Heinz, Visa, and Shell, among many others.
After dinner, we met up with the rest of the team in the backstreets of Cannes. Another wonderful dinner followed and only came to a close when momentum started building for a pool party back at our villa. We loaded up a number of Ubers, kidnapped one of Facebook Europe’s senior marketing executives, and headed for the hills. It was late, and I had an early flight the next morning so that I could be home for my son’s elementary school graduation, but we were having too much fun to go to bed.
As I sat there talking with the team and looking down at the lights of the city far below, a couple of thoughts went through my head. First, with the clock ticking towards 5am and my alarm set for 7am, I once again remembered my old friend’s advice to me from a decade ago that “there’s plenty of sleep in the grave.” As always, he was right. But the more important point lay just below the surface. This team—both the employees that make up VidMob and the partners that help make it possible—are actually worth missing sleep to be around. Aside from being with my wife and kids, there was nowhere on earth I’d rather have been in that moment than with my VidMob family. I know that this is unusual, and it’s something for which I’m grateful every day.
DAY 4 | THURSDAY
I was on my way home on Thursday, but the show continued without me. In fact, it was probably our biggest and most important day. The main activity was an event that we were co-hosting with Pinterest at their beach venue. As a way of demonstrating the power and simplicity of the VidMob platform, folks at the Pinterest event were capturing media in real-time and uploading it through the VidMob app to an editor (Hayley), who was at the ready to turn the stream of raw footage into stunning, Pin-ready media that could be displayed on giant screens at the Pinterest event.
THE WHOLE EVENT WAS A GREAT SUCCESS, AS WELL AS BOTH AN INNOVATIVE AND FUN WAY TO SUCCINCTLY DEMONSTRATE VIDMOB’S “CREATIVITY AT PLAY” MINDSET.
Meanwhile, I was back in the office in New York, feeling worlds away but excited to be back with the rest of the team and happy with the knowledge that efforts back in France wouldn’t miss a beat without me.
BACK AT HOME
The week after Cannes is always a mixed bag of emotions. You struggle to catch up on everything that you fell behind on during the week out of the office, while also following up with everyone that you met with during the helter-skelter days of the festival. As the unread email number ticks closer and closer to a manageable level, I often challenge myself to look back and try to find the key takeaways. Usually, that exercise is more difficult, as there are many competing threads and trying to find the one meta-story is close to impossible.
BUT THIS YEAR WAS DIFFERENT. I COULDN’T STOP THINKING ABOUT IMPACT.
Walking about Facebook’s giant party on the beach Tuesday night, there are so many ways to be impressed by the company. Everything is so well thought-through. The people are all so impressive. And the platform is so powerful. But it’s all very well-defined, and while new products like IGTV have enormous potential to impact people’s lives at scale, the power of the individual is constrained. Facebook’s mark has already been made. Their market has been established. And while there is always plenty of room for growth and improvement, things are just different at that stage. The same is true, frankly, for each of the other platforms as well.
WE SIT IN AN ENTIRELY DIFFERENT STAGE.
All global communications really are shifting to video (and more immersive formats after that), and that is creating enormous friction that’s being felt by every company on the planet. As marketing and communications continues to evolve, the struggle of trying to keep up is being felt by all.
At Cannes this year, we found an audience that was fully aware of the many challenges resulting from this shift and hungry for solutions. Humbly, we feel like we have a pretty good solution, and when those two conditions meet, you need every resource you can muster in the battle. Eleven people felt like a lot going in, but sitting here today I realize that it could have been triple that.
Whether it was Jill reporting back on some exciting creative opportunity in the Middle East, Jason talking about the growing partnership with You & Mr. Jones, Craig recounting a conversation with old friends at Facebook, Lisa advising on the growing needs of the expanding Oath platform, Greg and Steph discussing the trajectory of our relationship with Snap, Jerry articulating the planned expansion of Facebook’s Mobile Works project, Hayley setting the stage for a great event with Pinterest, Joline seeding the market for the upcoming product launch of VidMob Creative Studio, or James Bacon’s progress establishing a toehold in the valuable UK market, the reality was that everyone on the VidMob team at Cannes made a material impact every day. At our stage, when you’re growing by multiples, not percentages, everyone can impact the company every day.
THIS WAS MY TAKEAWAY FROM CANNES—PEOPLE ARE ALL THAT MATTERS.
Core values, brand promises, corporate mythologies—these are all just the footprints left in the sand by the people that come before them. And if people are the difference, then I feel pretty good about the future of VidMob, because we’ve got one hell of a team.