Lessons from Cannes on ...


I wrote a post in April mentioning that one of our young account professionals, Melissa Lewelling, was headed to the prestigious Cannes Film Festival. Out of literally thousands of films, her film, called “More Than a Number,” was one of 30 films selected by Campus Movie Fest to be shown in the Short Film Corner.

I asked Melissa to share a window on her experiences at Cannes.

By Melissa Lewelling
The Hoffman Agency

Surrounded by crystal waters, a sea of yachts and the lingering aroma of freshly baked bread, I never anticipated entering an intellectual coliseum during my time at the International Cannes Film Festival in France.

Cannes Cannes Film Festival - Mad Max Pixels - storytelling Every day I had the opportunity to meet aspiring filmmakers and marketers from all around the world in the Marché du Film. While each one walked a different path, they all marched toward the same goal. While language and culture divided some, an overarching theme united the masses as they tried to make industry connections: the sale of ideas.Even more important than the stars walking the red carpet outside were the sales and distribution deals happening behind closed doors, which the on-site dailies reported with fervor. (It seemed as though no one missed a breath in the attempt to catch all the action, and I’m still not sure if the reporters and editors had any time to sleep between writing and designing 15 pages of fresh content, ready for consumption each morning.)

After a day or two of walking the grounds of this “film festival,” it became abundantly clear that Cannes is less of a festival than it is a marketplace — a war zone of ideas, where some make it to safety and others become casualties of an increasingly competitive market. (After one particularly cynical workshop put on by a sales agent at Shoreline Entertainment, you would have thought that making a break into this industry requires a blood sacrifice and your first-born child.)

Cannes Film Festival - Taking Pictures - storytelling This is because in the film industry ideas are not just a fleeting notion. For those who live and breathe film, their ideas are a part of their makeup, deeply rooted in their psyche and something they are willing to passionately fight for, and often sacrifice, in order to make those ideas reality. It was in this war zone of hopeful aspirations and crushed dreams that I began to see the thread that not only connects these international filmmakers, but also communicators everywhere.

Every field of communications, whether it pertains to film, technology, non-profits or sports, hinges on the ability of public relations and marketing to “sell” a story and idea to journalists and consumers. In public relations, this lives in the art of pitching. Without the “sale” present in a pitch, PR professionals wouldn’t be able to place stories in publications or schedule interviews with journalists, and subsequently wouldn’t be able to communicate their ideas.

Cannes Film Festival - Hand Gestures - storytelling While the circumstances surrounding this transaction of ideas is very different from the environment in Cannes, the importance of the ability of communicators to sell their ideas rings true across the industry divide.

However, in order to generate interest in an idea, it’s vital to know how to communicate that idea well. After all, your listener doesn’t have all day and will likely form an opinion before you’ve finished speaking.

For those pitching in the Marché, the ability to communicate the importance of their next big idea boiled down to three key elements that could serve as guidelines for any communicator outside the Palais des Festivals:

1) Be Concise

Research shows that we have mere seconds to make a good first impression or to catch a reader’s attention. As a result, communicators must quickly get their message across without diluting the story. The best way to do this is by eliminating unnecessary words and using a hook at the beginning of a pitch that conveys the main point in a compelling way. Don’t assume that your idea will have more than a few seconds to prove its interest value or that it will be read in its entirety — and then communicate accordingly.

2) Know Your Audience

In Cannes an interesting phenomenon exists where movie-goers feel completely comfortable walking out of a movie, regardless of the filmmaker’s presence or how long they had to wait in line to get there. If they don’t find the material interesting, they will just leave. The same goes for any kind of pitching, which is why it’s important to know your audience and tailor the approach to “selling” your idea based on their background, experience and interest. In other words, don’t try to sell sand to a beach.

3) Believe in Your MessageCannes Film Festival - In the Audience -storytelling

This is probably the most important lesson communicators can learn from filmmakers in Cannes. Even with a concise message geared toward the right audience, an idea can fall flat if there’s no conviction behind it. Communicators need to “sell” ideas that they believe in because passion and enthusiasm are contagious. Before others are willing to believe in your idea, they have to see that you believe in it first.

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