Cannes Lions boss Jose Papa made redundant by Ascential

The Drum understands staff at Cannes Lions' parent firm Ascential were informed of the news this week

Jose Papa, the managing director of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, is to depart from the role after just under two years in the job.

The Drum understands that Cannes Lions' parent firm Ascential is to retire the festival's managing director role entirely, and that staff at were informed of the decision this week.

Phil Thomas, chief executive, Ascential Events and chairman, Cannes Lions will take over his duties.

In an email sent around the business by Thomas, hethanked Papa for his “unwavering commitment to Lions Festivals, and his leadership of the business through such turbulent times.”

Thomas also described the decision as “incredibly difficult” and said that he was “genuinely sorry to see him go.”

Papa's exit comes as attendance at the company's flagship festival was rumoured to be down by "20 to 25%" on last year, despite Papa initiating a series of changes to help the festival return to its creative roots.

"We know from our customers that the Cannes Lions 2018 reset was a real success, but we also know that it has had financial implications for the business," said an Ascential spokesperson.

"As such, we have regrettably made the role of managing director, Cannes Lions redundant. We thank Jose Papa for his unwavering commitment to Lions Festivals and his strong leadership of the business throughout this period of change."

Papa first took the helm of Lions Festivals in August 2016, joining from fashion trend forecasting service WGSN, which is also owned by Ascential.

During his tenure at Cannes Lions, he weathered a number of storms, the biggest coming in 2017 when the festival came under criticism from holding group giants for losing its focus.

The scrutiny resulted in Publicis Groupe announcing it would cease spend and pause attendance with Cannes Lions in 2018, while then-WPP chief Sir Martin Sorrell his business was too was reconsidering the value of being involved in the festival in future.

Amid pullbacks from some of the ad industry's biggest names, Papa then announced the creation of an advisory committee to "help shape the future of the festival".

This resulted in several changes, including a move to structure the event over a five-day-period this year. Lions Entertainment and Lions Innovation were also integrated within the main Festival for 2018.

In addition, some of the Lions awards were also be rebranded “to protect the status of the Lion as the global symbol of creative achievement” and a access all areas delegate pass was reduced by €900.

The changes saw Publicis Groupe (which still sent 86 staff and entered some 400 awards through clients in 2017) re-commit for 2019.

Last month, Ascential chief executive Duncan Painter told The Drum he'd like to see the UK government do more to help companies like Cannes Lions achieve international growth.

“I would love to see the UK Government work closely with organisations like ourselves that do have platforms like Cannes Lions, like Clavis [Insight], Like WGSN – all these businesses because [they are] great British companies that are genuinely empowering global commerce," he said.

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