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At The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity one can experience outrageous parties where the budgets are large and the lineup is even larger. Come June, this coastal village situated on the luxurious shores of the French Riviera will turn into a buzzing hub for anyone and everyone working in the creative, advertising, media and publicity industry. Nearly 40,000 people are expected to attend Cannes Lions 2019 to win awards, make important connections, and party like royals. Major corporations spend major bucks to host incredible Cannes Lions parties where famous artists, like Will.i.am. and Akon, perform private shows for the fortunate invited guests. Last year Meredith Corporation and Vast Digital hosted one of the most exclusive and underground celebrity parties at Lions, and today we'll find out just how they did it.
We're going behind the scenes on our continued Expert Interview Series to see how the masterminds behind the best Cannes Lions parties put together such impressive events that we're still talking about a year later. Get ready to take notes as we sit down and chat with Shannon Shae Montoya, the Director of Global Industry Development & Experiential Marketing at Verizon Media, and former Director of Experiential & Trade Marketing and Events at Meredith Corporation.
Ever heard of Time, People, Sports Illustrated, Southern Living, Travel and Leisure, InStyle, Health, Better Homes & Gardens, or Eating Well magazines? It's a rhetorical question, of course you have. Well, these world-renowned magazine brands belong to Meredith Corporation, the American media conglomerate, committed to keeping their readers on the pulse of various different entertainment industries and genres, such as sports, finance, health, and pop culture. While we were closing up our office in Barcelona, New York City-based Shannon was in the midst of getting her busy day going as we hopped on the phone to hear about how she planned such an impressive party last year at Cannes Lions. As we asked her initially where to even begin when it comes to planning a party with celebrity performances, her humble response was "to plan a successful party, it takes a village. In no way did I plan all of this on my own!"
Shannon, now working at Verizon Media New York City, has lead an impressive career path throughout the years, fulfilling a number of leading positions at some of the most well-known companies in the world, such as Momentum Worldwide, Time Magazine, Meredith Corporation, and now at Verizon. Shannon ran all of the major T1 and T2 industry events, both from a strategy and executive standpoint. Our unanswered question from the interview was "When on earth do you sleep, Shannon?!"
Meredith Corporation is undeniably one of the most powerful and successful media corporations in the world, reaching a targeted and loyal audience of subscribers who constantly look forward to receiving new information and insight provided by their favourite magazines. Meredith Corporation is more than just a conglomerate, though. Their creative heartbeat, The Foundry, was present at Cannes Lions, and hosted this exclusive party with a celebratory motivation in mind.
The Foundry NYC
"Our Cannes Lions celebrity party was a fusion of different creative cultures, both with our clients and partners, as well as with their specific guests and colleagues. We wanted to create an atmosphere that represented who The Foundry is and share with Cannes Lions the creative, analytical and data-driven spirit behind Meredith Group. We hosted this celebrity event to showcase the culture of The Foundry and really just celebrate with our partners."
The Foundry by Meredith Corporation partnered up with Vast Digital to host one of the most exclusive and private parties of Cannes Lions 2018. If you received this special message to the invite-only celebrity event, you got to experience live performances from superstar and creative activist, Will.i.am, as well as The Bloom Twins (a Ukrainian sensation) with a special guest appearance by Akon.
When it came to creating the VIP guest list, we asked Shannon what the requirements were for getting in, and how to get celebrities to appear on the guest list. Shannon humbly shared all credit again, as she told us her great friend Unik Lokee was responsible for bringing in the talent and celeb guests.
"Unik is a super well-connected, really creative person who helps bring experiential marketing to life. We had an opportunity to create an event around Will.i.am. and what he's doing within the creative industry. Will.i.am. really encompasses a message that demonstrates passion and vision, and we had a great evening celebrating the power of creativity in Cannes together."
Unik Ernst is a Haitian-born entrepreneur, philanthropist, and one of the hottest event producers in NYC. As Shannon mentioned, he's incredibly well-connected in the celebrity world, and has inspired many to pursue their dreams and give back to their roots. Unik is the co-founder of a non-profit education organisation for children, Edeyo, meaning “help them” in Haitian Krèyol.
Will.i.am. and Unik Lokee | Photo by Getty Images
When it came to making the ideal guest list, The Foundry, Meredith Corporation, and Vast Digital had a very specific audience in mind. The invitations were discreetly sent, distributed to a very specific group of VIP guests, who then invited their colleagues, which opened up a space for current clients and partners as well as their colleagues to mingle and enjoy creativity in an amazing atmosphere at Cannes Lions. If you didn't get invited, chances are you didn't even know about the party until after it had happened.
"Because the party was a private event, we didn’t promote it publicly. We targeted 150 key partners and advertisers with our sales and advertising team, and we promoted the party within our B2B space. It was a private party for a specific target audience, and we didn’t want or need to open it to the public. The biggest objective was really just to drive awareness around us as being a creative support for brands. It opened up further dialogue with key brands throughout the week."
When it comes to organising any sort of event, there will always be an investment of countless hours, and depending on the budget, a fairly large investment of money. The Foundry party was indeed an investment for the company, but it was well worth their while. Shannon mentioned that the objectives were partnership-centred, and that Cannes Lions 2018 was a great opportunity for them to expand in the creative world. "The party opened up many doors for The Foundry, and resulted in some key partnership wins, so we were very happy with the turnout."
When it comes to planning a celebrity-studded Cannes Lions party that blew so many away last year, Shannon shocked us when she told us that it only took them "just over 3 weeks" to plan. Where most other event planners are taking the "ideal" approach and planning around a year in advance, Shannon and her team were able to put this elite party together in less than a month! "Because I straddle both strategy and execution, what’s important when planning an event is prioritising what the event means for the business." We asked Shannon how to prioritise and get organised when planning under such immense pressure, and she gave us 4 very clear tips that you'll want to keep in mind the next time you're in a time-crunch:
"First, you have to establish the message of your event. Secondly, you have to decide who you want in the room. Before even thinking about a venue, you have to decide the size of your event and just who you want to attend. Thirdly, what's the nature of the event? Is it just a party and a celebration? Are we showcasing an app launch? These are a few questions you should be bouncing around with your team before deciding. You first have to create the content, then form your event around that. And last, but definitely not least, choose the venue."
Shannon said Unik Lokee definitely came to the rescue with finding the perfect available venue on a short notice. "Unik had just been in Cannes a few weeks before with Spike Lee and his team for the Cannes Film Festival, so he was able to secure KA Cannes for us." She also mentioned that their venue, KA Cannes, provided budgetary benefits, such as the perfect atmosphere and fixtures in place for a DJ Set. Not to mention, the location was just next to the Palais des Festivals in a very exclusive club that most people aren't even aware of.
Looking for a last-minute venue space for your Cannes Lions Party and don't personally know NYC events producer, Unik Ernest? Get in touch with Akommo and we'll find your Cannes event venue at no extra cost to you and your team.
Neither Shannon nor her team couldn't deny how everything was falling into place perfectly, and they had to seize the moment."We were presented a unique opportunity weeks before the event, and recognised that there was a business need. We had the resources to execute flawlessly, so we went for it."
With any type of event, there is almost a guarantee that something will go awry. Plan as much as you want, but hiccups are bound to happen. For Shannon, the biggest struggle that she mentioned dealing with during Cannes Lions 2018 was managing the schedules and logistics of the talent. "At one point we weren't sure if Will.i.am. was going to make it because of conflicting schedules with his flights. He came straight over from Germany, and we had to coordinate all of his transportation around his schedule. It was stressful at times, but everything worked out in the end."
Apart from bringing in world-famous talent, Shannon said she and her team sought out talent that would "shock and excite a mainly North American audience" which is why she chose the Bloom Twins. These Ukrainian twins were the opening act before Will.i.am.'s DJ set, and they had a great presence and interaction on stage. "Bringing in talent that is so unique and foreign was a great way to get our audience warmed up before welcoming Will.i.am."
For Shannon, this event was rewarding both professionally and personally. She said that she and Unik are still great friends and that creating long-lasting partnerships and friendships is a great benefit of attending Cannes Lions. In spite of changing jobs, Shannon and Unik remain very close and are looking towards working together on future projects together.
Will.i.am. during his DJ set at Cannes Lions 2018
Although Shannon has made a big switch to Verizon Media, she is nowhere near being done with Cannes Lions. She said that "this year we are planning on a very tech-forward, very future-focused approach, as well as hosting their own events, soon to be featured at Cannes Lions 2019". Verizon Media will be both sponsoring The Girl's Lounge at The Female Quotient, as well as hosting their own private event, soon to be featured on the Cannes Lions 2019 Party List.
Can't wait any longer for updates for the Cannes Lions 2019 Party List? Click the Akommo-blue "Subscribe" button at the top of this page and get access to the first party list release on April 30th as well as weekly updates whenever new parties are added.
Want to see what wisdom other party planners have to impart to anyone out there trying to host a Cannes Lions party? Check out our previous expert interview series featuring the Dutch creative group, YoungDogs, or go behind the scenes with Universal Production Music at their massive annual beach party.
Thank you so much for sharing with us, Shannon. Can't wait to catch up at Cannes Lions 2019 this June!