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Are the agency networks really pulling out of Cannes Lions? Here's the truth...


By Stephen Lepitak | -

June 23, 2017 | 6 min read

I'll say it up front - I think the media reaction to Publicis Groupe's pulling its marketing and awards spend has gotten out of hand this week. It's big news indeed that they won't be around next year at Cannes or CES or any other festival or awards ceremony beyond Viva Technology - yes. But long term they will be back - Arthur Sadoun didn't say he was pulling out of these events - he's just hit the pause button.

Sorrell at Cannes

Sir Martin Sorrell at Cannes

And he has not done so lightly. He has stated that this is to fund a project that should revolutionize his Groupe if it goes to plan. And to call it ambitious isn't doing it justice. I'd call it necessary. The agency networks are being disrupted - so it's either now they face that disruption or they will fail. He is doing that.

In an internal memo, he said of concerns that clients won't approve: "I'm excited to tell you that their early feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. And it's not just our clients. Other partners have expressed not only their support, but also their belief that this has the power to be transformational. Earlier this week, I was speaking with Twitter chief executive and co-founder Jack Dorsey who called our initiative "ambitious and disruptive." He said: "Without a doubt, Publicis Groupe's Marcel (AI) platform will be a game-changer for the industry."

What's interesting is that they didn't move faster on Tuesday night to reiterate that this is a one year only thing which makes me wonder whether they are not sure themselves. However I suspect it will be.

I thought the initial reporting was probably a little hysterical - but where it really stepped up a gear was when Sir Martin took to the stage and took a grip on the situation in his own inimitable way.

And let's review what he did. He was honest but calculating. He has been considering WPPs future at Cannes for a year - he admitted that openly for the first time - but it's been long rumoured. He has already cut the number of people they sent - although my understanding was that the number of awards entered by the group wasn't significantly lower. He will be there next year, as will the network.

What he has done is apply pressure to the organizers which could save his company (and that of competitors) some dough. That's his job. So in effect - he's played a blinder by just being honest about his views. And he knows it'll get reported - it was said at a media lunch...

Honesly, Sir Martin should start his own media training consultancy within WPP for rival executives who want the media to eat out the palm of his hand. No one does this better.

Also when he said it was too expensive he was also talking about the cost of sending so many people (500 this year from WPP) to the south of France in the middle of summer. Um. No revelation there to anyone who has been down to Thomson Travel recently.

I know IPG and Omnicom will continue to be there although both also find it very expensive too. Again my understanding is that they sent less people but continues to enter the awards almost as normal.

Havas and Dentsu continue to be ever present too.

Where the organizers are secure though is that this year the consultancies such as McKinsey, Deloitte, Accenture, IBM, and tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Snapchat, Spotify, Twitter and Facebook are all present and highly visible now too. They have muscled in and have begun to try to eat the agency network's breakfast, lunch, dinner and even supper if they can.

The future of the event is certainly not in doubt - and walking down Le Croissette each year it is a continuously strong reflection of the industry when you see all of the companies spending six figure or seven figure sums fighting for client's attention.

And to look away from Cannes for a bit. Has anyone spoken to the organizers of CES yet? I've tried as I'd like to hear their 'concerns'.

The Lions festival may be no longer only about traditional creative work,- but neither is the industry. Digital and tech is where the future lies for marketing more so than TV and print - but it's no surprise that the sector that has long found success in that respect doesn't like to see it move away from them. It's just natural but it doesn't mean there's something wrong. Perhaps it opens up opportunity elsewhere for another event if the industry really wants that.

So while next year the lack of Publicis will devalue the competition for a year (and I suspect they will be monitoring just what they miss out on during that year and the value of each award and marketing element for the future) Cannes Lions will keep growing for years to come.

By 2020 we'll still be remembering the year that couple got photographed at it on the red carpet at Le Palais and not when Publicis took a hiatus. That's my prediction for you. I don't think I'll be wrong.

Follow The Drum's Cannes Lions coverage on the dedicated news stream.

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