Cannes Lions MD Jose Papa responds to WPP and Publicis: 'There are a lot of misconceptions about the expense'

Comments from agency network bosses have raised question marks over the festival next year

The organizers of Cannes Lions have responded to the potential decision of WPP and Publicis Groupe bosses to refrain from involvement in the festival next year, partially due to cost.

Speaking to The Drum, Jose Papa, managing director of Cannes Lions answers some questions put to him in response to the decision of Arthur Sadoun, Publicis Groupe's chief executive, to cut all marketing spend including entering and attending awards such as Cannes Lions and CES to fund the development his internal AI platform Marcel. This spurred WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell to admit that he too was considering the value of being involved in the festival in future.

Here is what Papa's response was:

The Drum: What would you tell the industry of the remaining core value of the Lions festival to delegates and the industry?

Jose Papa: Creativity is the core value of the Festival. Our mission is the campaign for creativity, because we know it’s a positive force for business, change and good in the world, and the proof for this gets stronger all the time.

A recent study undertaken by McKinsey showed proved the link between Lion-winning work and business results. We know creativity matters because thousands of people watch our award shows on live stream, and more physical proof can be seen in the sheer volume of work on display in the Palais by the end of the week. It’s an exhibition that covers the area of five Olympic swimming pools.

But the best proof in the values of Cannes Lions can be found in the stories of the people here. Take a short walk around the Palais or the Croisette and ask anyone you meet about the value of the Festival: the atmosphere this year is incredible and we’ve heard amazing stories of the connections, achievements and transformative experiences people have enjoyed.

The Drum: Why should the agency networks stick by Cannes Lions and others industry festivals?

Jose Papa: Cannes Lions exists to serve the industry, and everything that happens here is the result of consultation with the industry. There’s a lot of noise around the tech companies in Cannes, but the creativity is there, in all its guises, just like it always has been. But I accept the fact we need to do more to help people to navigate the Festival.

In one of my speeches to open the awards this week, I said to the audience: “This is your Festival. These are your awards, and tonight is your night.” And it’s true. Yes, we’re a business. But the spirit of what the LionS stands for as the global symbol of creative achievement belongs to our clients. We exist for the creative. Admittedly the definition of creativity has expanded and developed, and we’ve mirrored that evolution.

We’re the custodians who protect the sanctity of the Lions, and build amazing and valuable experiences for our community.

The Drum: What is your response to their complaint that it is becoming too expensive for them?

Jose Papa​: Look, we know that depending on where you are in the world, to come all the way to the south of France can be a big commitment. It’s why we put so much focus on value for money, to make sure it’s accessible to as many people as possible. We have passes which start at €1,595 for two days, and attendees under 30 can save up to 45%. There are lots of misconceptions about the expense of Cannes – one of the most prevalent being that we charge people to speak on stage, which we don’t; or that all the hotels are very expensive, which they’re not.

The Drum: Have you begun to reach out to the networks to discuss their concerns?

Jose Papa: The dialog with our clients never stops. We continually consult with all our clients about the Festival on everything from the structure of our juries to the development of new Lions or what they want to see in the content program.

The Drum: Are there any discussions about reviewing to meet these concerns yet or will that be considered?

Jose Papa​: As I mentioned in an article recently, apart from the Lion itself, the other constant thing about Cannes Lions is change. The Lions change as the work changes and the Festival evolves as the industry evolves. Our role is to help the industry be the best it can be, and this is only possible because we work hard to stay relevant, useful and valuable to our clients.

For more news from Cannes Lions follow the dedicated news stream on The Drum website

Stephen Lepitak

Stephen Lepitak is editor of The Drum, with responsibility for overseeing the day-to-day running of the content produced for the various platforms run by the publication. Over the years he has interviewed agency network bosses such as Sir Martin Sorrell, Maurice Lévy and Arthur Sadoun, as well as Cindy Gallop, Kim Kardashian, film directors James Cameron, Spike Jonze, Richard Curtis and Lord David Puttnam. With a keen interest in media and breaking news, Lepitak has been with The Drum since 2005 and is based across its UK, US and Asia operations.

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