Will Cannes Look Any Different Next Year?

As agencies struggle to transform under continued fee pressure from clients, executives are reassessing whether descending on the French Riviera for a week of endless rosé and parties on yachts sends the right message about the state of the industry.

“If clients are using zero-based budgeting, let’s use it for Cannes,” WPP CEO Sir Martin Sorrell told AdExchanger in an interview. “Starting from scratch, would we do it in Cannes in the middle of June? We would come up with something different.”

Some agency CEOs agree. The most notable digression came from Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun, who announced last week that the group would not enter the Cannes Lions awards at next year’s festival and instead reinvest the savings in an artificial intelligence platform.

Agency and marketer executives attending the Cannes Lions festival last week contemplated the appropriateness of it all. Here their thoughts.

Keith Weed, CMO, Unilever

Some people feel that Cannes has gotten too big, busy, complex and expensive. I think that’s for Cannes to reflect on. But people vote with their feet and wallets. The three most efficient places are CES, The World Economic Forum and Cannes.

Cannes works really well for us. It’s a moment to meet with so many people across the industry in a very compact way. They have me working from 7:30 in the morning onward, back to back in meetings, as you can imagine. Everyone you want to meet with is here.

We’re supportive, but it will be interesting to see how this develops. I’m sure Cannes Lions have their minds around it.

Tim Castree, CEO, MEC-Maxus

I find Cannes really valuable. The problem is, the beautiful environment and the entertainment gets in the way of the business. But it’s an efficiency driver because I get to do in one week dozens of things that would otherwise take me weeks of travel to accomplish. That’s the value. The Mediterranean, rosé and yachts get in the way of the substance. But we don’t bring people to Cannes for a boondoggle. The parties are a side show.

I wish it were in Secaucus, New Jersey. If it were in Secaucus, New Jersey, no one could question our motives for being here.

Nigel Morris, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network Americas 

We see significant value in Cannes. This is where the industry comes together around a core part of marketing: ideas and creativity. Emotional response is a critical driver of big business, so celebrating creativity and the creative talent we have is a good thing. Allowing people to express is a good thing.

Cannes gets a bad name because we’re set out on the beach, and it’s easy to knock it in that respect. It feels like a bit of an arms race of celebrity and experience. It’s up to people’s judgement, whether that’s appropriate or not. The issues facing the world are serious. Does that get obscured sometimes by the parties? Possibly.

But if you have this in London, Paris or New York, it immediately dissipates because it’s a big city. The compactness is a great facilitator of efficiency and effectiveness. I can have loads of different kinds of meetings. Being in a nonurban, nonoffice environment creates different conversations. It takes barriers away. It is relentlessly full-on, but I’m coming away with a sense of key things we need to do. The quality and the depth and candor of conversations has been exceptional.

Cindy Gustafson, CSO, Mindshare

Mindshare is surgical and conscious in how we do these events. We come with very explicit goals. We make time for the work. [We look for] underlying themes and turn them into techniques.

You have to use that momentum. It’s up to the operating companies in every holding company to make something out of Cannes. It’s the same with CES: You can go there and never walk the showroom floor. You can come here and never walk the Palais.

The commonality is, if I could have the same conversation with you in NYC, then we’re not having the right conversation in these environments. When you have conversations at home, [you’re] just showing what you’re doing. These are incubation conversations. It’s thinking a year out, and you want to do it right.

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