I skipped Cannes this year. This isn’t the first time I’ve done so, nor is it the first time that I’ve written about skipping Cannes. I’m not necessarily trying to sound triumphant, but I found a better place to for me to be this week. I was participating in Nielsen’s Consumer 360 event in Washington D.C. instead.
I didn’t take the decision to skip Cannes lightly. It’s an extraordinary experience, attending the Cannes Lions and all that goes on in the south of France during the event. Outside of CES, there’s no other industry event where you can see and touch so many key folks in media, advertising and technology at once. Plus, it almost goes without saying that the weather, venue and parties are truly exceptional.
However, I had the chance to spend two and a half days with about 1,000 marketing and media executives, almost all of whom practically live and breathe data, analytics and ROI, topics I care deeply about.
It’s pretty common at industry events these days to hear speakers proclaiming that “data is the new oil.” But, when Daniel Zheng, the CEO of Alibaba, said it to the crowd at Nielsen’s event, he was speaking to an unusually specialized group of people who truly understand what needs to be done to make that a reality in our business.
That Zheng, the CEO of the world’s largest ecommerce company, was in D.C. and not in Cannes said a lot about why I was there too. There’s no event more focused on tying together what media consumers “watch”: on TV, PCs, mobile, tablets, outdoor, etc. — to what they “buy”: in stores, online, in apps, etc. What is also unique about the event is that the audience members are almost always as knowledgeable about the topics as the speakers, so presentations are much more robust and meaningful than I’m typically used to at industry conferences.
What were some of my big takeaways? One, I continue to be amazed at how Nielsen, the once old and stodgy TV ratings company, is taking charge of its future and creating some cool new products, particularly in digital advertising and mobile. Two, it was nice to hear discussions about cross-platform measurement where the products and timelines discussed were real and tangible, not just sound bites and platitudes. Three, it was great to see so many conversations happening directly between media owners and marketers, talking about how to better deliver on ultimate marketing objectives and report on ultimate metrics, not just the proxies and intermediate ones that we have been handcuffed to for so long.
Finally, there were some great leadership takeaways. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell told us how critical it is for leaders to give colleagues reasons to follow them, and to watch out for “busy bastards”: folks who create work for themselves and everyone around them for the sake of it. Zheng told us that his teams at Alibaba work super-hard because they know that today is difficult, that tomorrow will be difficult, but that the day after tomorrow will be beautiful. I agree. What about you?