Person(s): Yasmina Boustani and Katharina Schmitt
Drink: Cafe Americano in Cannes, France
On Friday, June 20th at 8:30 PM, I sent Yasmina Boustani a Facebook message.
At 9:10 PM she responded.
By 9:41 that night we had arranged to meet for coffee the following morning.
It was because of a Facebook message that I was in France in the first place. A few weeks before my trip, I randomly received a Facebook message from my friend Trista, a recent alumna of Michigan State that had moved to Texas. She knew I was headed to Europe and wanted to let me know she was going to be in Rome assisting with a study abroad. She said if I could get to Rome she would give me a grand tour of the city.
I told her I’d love to meet up and would contact her when I knew the dates I’d be there.
When I emailed her the dates I discovered she was actually spending the weekend in Cannes, France at the Cannes Lion International Festival of Creativity. A few months earlier Bill Ward, Cup 9, and I were having coffee to catch up and he mentioned that if I was in France it would be worth it to swing by Cannes to check out the festival—it was a great place to meet incredible creative people and see the latest and greatest in the advertising world.
So, I rerouted to Cannes and met up with Trista, hoping to find a big hitter in the industry to meet for coffee.
But, like so many times during my trip, plans changed.It happened during the last session I watched—the Future Lions Competition award ceremony.
According to their website, Cannes Lion is the world’s biggest celebration of creativity in communications that attracts over 8,000 delegates from 90 countries. During the week of workshops, exhibitions, and high-profile seminars, the festival presents the most prestigious international advertising awards. It is targeted to people currently in the industry; however, in 2006, Cannes introduced the Future Lions Competition to give students a chance to participate.
Working in teams of two, college students were challenged to “advertise a product from a global brand in a way that couldn’t be conceived five years ago”. There were over 800 entries submitted from around the globe, of which, four finalists were chosen to attend Cannes and be acknowledged during the session I attended.
Each of the finalists showed a short video explaining their concept and it was fascinating to see the quality of the presentation and innovation of the ideas. The first two ideas were impressive, but it was the third idea, the one created by Yasmina and Katharina Schmitt, that struck me.
Their idea for 1800 Flowers was to take the digital act of saying “Happy Birthday” on Facebook and make it more tangible, more meaningful. (Unfortunately I can’t embed the video, so please take a minute to watch their pitch here).
At the end of the presentation the lively emcee put up the contact information and encouraged conference attendees to reach out to these talented young advertisers, stating very simply,
“Hire them before they steal your job.”
That’s when I decided I wanted to talk to Yasmina and Katharina. Not only did I love their idea, I thought it would be more fun to talk to the future industry big hitters than the current.
So there we were, Yasmina, Katharina and myself, sitting at an outdoor cafe a block from the Mediterranean Sea.
After we ordered our coffee we began getting to know each other better.
Yasimina is originally from Bierut, Lebanon. She earned a degree in Advertising and Art Direction from the Lebanese Academy of Fine Arts before enrolling at the Miami Ad School in Europe. That’s where she met Katharina.
Katharina is from Mannheim, Germany. Her aspirations were to become a dancer, but en route realized that she had a passion for advertising and shifted her efforts toward a Bachelors degree in Economics and Marketing before also enrolling at the Miami Ad School. Katharina and Yasmina quickly became friends, then project partners, then roommates in New York City where they studied for a semester. It was there they created Flowers for Facebook for a class project. Their professor encouraged them to submit the idea to Future Lions. They didn’t think the idea was ready for Cannes, but followed the professors advice anyway.
After a few tweaks they submitted the idea and waited for a response—not really expecting much. With so many submissions they figured they didn’t stand a chance.
They were happily wrong. The idea was good enough to make it to the final round, which meant Yasmina and Katharina were headed to France for an intense week of advertising adventures and also one last hurrah together before Katharina headed to Germany to begin her first job and Yasmina returned to New York for one last semester.
I had really enjoyed my few days in Cannes and was excited to hear about their experience. I expected their stories to be about the great new people they were meeting. But when I asked the girls about this, I found but the opposite was true. They actually spent their time reconnecting with old friends from the industry. A great part of the Miami Ad School is that for the first year students are in one location but spend the rest of their time at one of the other 10 Miami Ad School locations. Over the course of their education they end up making friends from around the world.
I could relate reconnecting.
I’d gone all the way to France to connect with friends from my backyard in Michigan. And it wasn’t just France, along each step of my European adventure I connected with old friends; a running buddy from home now living in Poland, former MSU classmates in working in Scotland, Prague and Poland.
If I’ve learned anything traveling through Europe it’s that technology is making it easier than ever to travel and connect with people around the globe.
This is something I would have taken for granted if I hadn’t had a conversation with my 83 year old grandmother earlier in the week. She explained that when she was growing up in New York in the early 40’s she met a lot of wealthier Europeans that came to the United States for better opportunities. That’s how she met her high school best friend. Unfortunately, after graduation her friend moved back to Europe and she and my grandmother lost touch. They couldn’t use Skype to make free international calls or dash off a quick email that arrived in seconds. Amidst the rush of life—marriage, babies, new jobs—it was difficult to stay in touch and once they lost touch, it was difficult to find each other again.
Compare that to today when a quick Facebook search will help you find anyone. Case in point, I was friends with a Mexican exchange student when I was a junior in high school. We fell out of touch but stayed friends on Facebook. She happened to see the picture I posted from Bucharest and emailed me to say she was currently living there and would love to meet up. That wouldn’t have been possible even 10 years ago.
The same thing can happen with Yasmina, Katharina and me. Someday we may find ourselves in the same city and we’ll be able to reconnect—just like the other young, talented students I met while I was in Cannes.
It’s sort of remarkable that an American, Lebanese and German were all enjoying a great coffee and conversation in a cafe in France.
But at the same time, it’s not. Technology is changing the way we connect and do business—global collaboration is becoming as easy as collaborating with the cubicle (or in my case, table in a coffee shop) next door. It’s an incredible opportunity.
But only for those willing to leverage the tools; those willing to take take action, take risks and think globally.
It doesn’t happen sitting at home behind a computer. It happens when you’re getting outside your comfort zone, finding ways to travel and trying new things. I made two new friends because Yasmina and Katharina were willing to enter a competition they had a slim chance of winning and were willing to say yes to a Friday night Fracebook message from a stranger requesting to meet for coffee.
It’s easy to take two seconds and write “Happy Birthday” on a friend’s Facebook wall. It’s a little harder to take an extra step and do something memorable.
But if Cup 43 taught me anything, it’s the extra step that creates the opportunities.
And in today’s world—the opportunities can take you anywhere in the world.