Publicis Groupe may have publicly pulled out of Cannes Lions this year, but it will still have close to 90 staff in and around next week’s advertising festival and almost 400 campaigns entered into the awards.
Chief executive Arthur Sadoun, who masterminded the decision to pull out of the event this summer, has also accepted an invitation by organisers to make an appearance on its main stage.
Clients and partners such as production companies are footing the bill for 398 pieces of work by Publicis agencies to be submitted into the Lions during its self-imposed Cannes exile.
The holding company insists, however, that it has stuck to its “own strict rules” on not paying to participate, with one exception: it has funded the entry fees for BBH London’s ‘3 Billboards’ campaign, for Justice4Grenfell, because it is “proud to support this cause and creativity for good”.
The Paris-based advertising giant stunned Cannes’ organisers when it used last year’s festival as the stage to announce that it was taking a year off from industry events and awards shows so it could instead plough that budget into the development of its artificial intelligence platform, Marcel.
Publicis pulling out, and other holding companies cutting back on their awards spending, has hurt the event’s owner Ascential. "Cannes Lions is experiencing a more challenging trading environment with a lower than expected level of spend by the advertising agency holding companies," said its chairman Scott Forbes in a letter to shareholders last week.
The cost to enter work into Cannes Lions ranges from €525 to €1,685 depending on the submission date and the category. A full delegate pass for the five-day event on the French Riviera costs €3,249.
Despite sparing itself these fees for a year, the Publicis team will not be entirely absent from the 2018 festival. Those on the ground will include 12 senior figures who have been invited to attend the festival as jury presidents at Cannes Lions' expense, 12 staff invited to compete in Young Lions competitions and 25 employees who are attending as guests of clients and other industry partners.
Some 15 employees have decided to fund their own trips to Cannes and 20 “account leaders” will be participating in client meetings in the resort town but not attending the festival. Their visits will be funded by Publicis Groupe.
The company's shock hiatus announcement left organisers reeling at last year’s event, but it seems to have caused no lasting rift between the two organisations.
Since then they have been working together on integrating Cannes Lions’ new digital platform, ‘The Work’, onto Marcel. Publicis is one of the founding clients of the product, which provides a searchable database of 200,000 campaign case studies and insight from 2001 to 2018.
At the invitation of the festival, Publicis Groupe chief creative officer Nick Law and chief strategy officer Carla Serrano will present a beta version of Marcel on stage at the event.
But the most notable Publicis attendee will be Sadoun who will make a brief appearance alongside Law and Serrano during the Marcel session.
Sadoun praised both his workforce for shouldering "much of the weight of our decision to pause our promotions this year" and clients for their generosity in picking up the awards tab.
He said: “12 months ago, we took the decision to pause our investment in promotional industry events for one year. It was a difficult but necessary sacrifice at a moment when our industry is in need of radical change.
"I would like to deeply thank our clients, whose commitment to creativity and to our relationship means we have been able to keep our promise that no work deserving to be judged this year would miss out. The investment they have made to ensure that what we are doing together is celebrated demonstrates their belief in our work and the creative value it delivers."
The fruit of Publicis Groupe’s absence, Marcel, was unveiled by Sadoun in Paris in May. The technology – an operating system which can, among other uses, match the company's 80,000 global staff to appropriate client briefs – will officially go live in January 2019.
Publicis Groupe will return to industry awards and events fully from 1 July.
Publicis Groupe may be scaling back its Cannes Lions activity, but The Drum will have a bigger presence around La Croisette than ever before. Our team will be on the ground throughout the festival, hosting industry leaders such as Sir Martin Sorrell and Unilever's Aline Santos at The Drum Arms Pub. You can find out about all our Cannes plans, and register for our events, on The Drum at Cannes website.