Podcast: Dishing With Mr. Cannes, Michael Kassan

Michael Kassan was Mr. Cannes even before he sold MediaLink to the festival’s parent company, Ascential.

This week, with Cannes Lions 2019 kicking off, Kassan spins tales of Cannes past, present and yet to come. He also talks about the evolution of MediaLink two years after the acquisition. (Spoiler: It’s going well. Kassan just extended his contract to the end of 2021.)

Michael and his wife Ronnie founded MediaLink in 2003, partly on the strength of his media relationships. Later, he added super-connector Wenda Harris Millard as president, creating a multiplier effect. The classic line about MediaLink? These are the people you pay to introduce you to the people you already know.

MediaLink is legendary for hosting the best unofficial parties at CES, ANA Masters, Mobile World Congress and other global media and technology events. Kassan describes these MediaLink schmooze-fests as “trade marketing” which helped MediaLink build its brand.

“This was never about a party at Cannes or CES,” he says. “There was an amazing amount of efficiency if you use the tent poles the way we saw them as best utilized. You have everyone together anyway.”

But Kassan recounts how a colleague ribbed him at the time he sold the business to Ascential: “Gee Michael, all these years I thought you owned Cannes and now Cannes owns you.”

Although events now contribute real revenue to MediaLink, they still represent less than 15% of the business. The same is true of executive search, which is 10-15%, Kassan says. Advisory still makes up the bulk.

This week in the south of France, MediaLink has partnered with Cannes Lions on an experiential activation called CLX (Connect, Learn, Experience). The idea is to create immersive experiences in partnership with companies such as Amazon, Microsoft, Activision Blizzard and NBCUniversal.

Last year, Cannes Lions introduced a few changes designed to make its event more affordable for the big holding companies that contribute most of its revenue, including shortening the program and capping the number of categories. While these tweaks may dent revenue for the short term, they’re helping improve the long-term health of the event.

Kassan believes Cannes Lions will continue to grow, pointing to the fact that both P&G and Unilever now send a contingent of marketers to Cannes Lions.

“All of a sudden you had the No. 1 and No. 2 marketers in the world coming to Cannes with a good-sized group of people,” he says. “Why? Because if it’s where the creativity is being celebrated and talked about, they figured, we should be there. And they were right.”

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