Social & Influencers

What to expect from the first year of Lions Creators

“Cannes Lions and Viral Nation are kind of looking at this one as, ‘Let’s kick butt and get as many learnings as we can,’” Joe Gagliese, co-CEO and co-founder of Viral Nation, told us.
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Illustration: Anna Kim, Photo: Getty Images

5 min read

It’s the first year of Lions Creators, the official creator track at Cannes Lions, and the excitement is palpable.

Lions Creators programming will include presentations, panels, roundtables, and networking events, as well as the Social & Influencer Lions Awards Show, building on years of increased creator participation in the festival, mostly on the brand side. Executives told us that, in response, creators, as well as creator marketers, will be there in higher numbers than ever this year.

We spoke with some of the executives behind the program—Thea Skelton, VP of events at Cannes Lions, and Joe Gagliese, co-CEO and co-founder of Viral Nation—about why 2024 was the year to make Lions Creators happen and what attendees can expect to see.

The right time

While Social & Influencer Lions have been handed out since 2018, Skelton said “we noticed growth in [creators’] presence at the festival over the last few years,” which helped spark the idea for a creator-specific track at the festival. After speaking with brands and creators, Skelton said it became evident that both parties wanted to discuss things like how to scale business and make industry connections, but didn’t have a place to do so en masse.

“The feedback that we’ve had so far is actually very positive that we are bringing it to the festival because there isn’t really this type of meeting place for the creator community anywhere else currently,” Skelton said.

To help bring the programming to life, Cannes Lions CEO Simon Cook reached out to Gagliese and his team at digital agency Viral Nation this past winter. While Viral Nation has not previously attended Cannes Lions and this is Gagliese’s first year at the festival, he said he knew he wanted to partner on the program as soon as Cook mentioned it.

“I felt like this year was really the greatest time to do the coming-out party for creator marketing because of how prominent it’s become over the last three or four years,” Gagliese told us.

Also promising to Gagliese was the larger signal a creator track sends to the industry. “Cannes is looking at the future and going, ‘Hey, influencer and social is going to be what media and digital was 10 years ago,’” he said. “This opportunity they’ve given us is…validating that this is a big part of the future for their attendees and the conference.”

What to expect

In 2024, Gagliese said Cannes Lions is “really trying to put creators at the center” through its slate of programming and through the addition of the Creator Pass, which gives creators full access to the festival for four days. Passholders will also be granted access to a creator rooftop on the sixth floor of the Palais, which will feature media previews and will give creators the chance to speak with brands and intermingle, Gagliese said. Other events throughout the week, he said, are also designed to help attendees learn more creator marketing.

“When we think about the talk tracks, themes, speakers, etc., it’s been crafted, both on Cannes side and on our side, to create value for the creators themselves,” Gagliese said. “We’ve been really working hard as a team to try to make sure that the track that we build for these folks is genuinely creating value for the individual and not necessarily just about the marketing or just about the brand deals.”

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Still, brand deals are important, and one thing Gagliese is particularly excited about is bridging the gap between creators and marketers. “I think that getting them closer to these high-level executives who are making decisions at these brands is such a cool opportunity,” he said.

Diversity in creator representation across content types, occupations, and follower count has also been top of mind for Gagliese since his first conversation with Cook, and is something that Gagliese has aimed to reflect in the festival’s invitations, he said.

Because the Creator Pass costs $1200, there has been some concern about affordability for less-established creators. Gagliese said he’s also experienced sticker shock as a first-timer and has been working with Cannes Lions, as well as with platforms and brands, to help find accommodations for creators interested in attending.

“Wherever we’ve been able to, we’ve been trying to find different ways to get creators taken care of,” he said.

Experimentation year

Gagliese said both Cannes Lions and Viral Nation are prepared to learn a lot this year given the shortened timeline for planning around Lions Creators. With that mindset, they’ll be thinking a lot about next year’s creator activation, as Viral Nation has already been asked to participate in the 2025 festival.

“Cannes Lions and Viral Nation are kind of looking at this one as, ‘Let’s kick butt and get as many learnings as we can,’” he said. “We have a plan to whip out of this year’s Cannes and start planning the creator portion for the following year with a lot more runway and a lot more learnings as a team together.”

Skelton said she’s excited to see creators come together and hear their thoughts to help shape next year’s programming. “We want to expand and definitely evolve going into 2025,” she said.

While Skelton said there are no official plans for creator promotions for Cannes Lions itself, there will be space and gear, like ring lights and backdrops, for creators to make content on the Creator Rooftop. Gagliese said he’s excited to see what creators post on their own and the kind of impact that could have on the festival moving forward.

“What will be cool is how folks around the world start to see this event,” he said. “More and more people who maybe aren’t familiar with Cannes are going to see Cannes, so I think there’s a reciprocal benefit to the festival of having these creators’ audiences follow along with what a Cannes experience is like, which is awesome for both parties.”

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