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The B2B Cannes Lions was a major disappointment for specialist agencies

By Richard Parsons | Co-founder

June 30, 2022 | 5 min read

Richard Parsons, co-founder and managing director at B2B agency True, on why the inaugural Creative B2B Cannes Lions awards should be a wake-up call for specialists in the industry.

The launch of the Creative B2B Lions at Cannes was heralded as a major milestone for B2B, and the dawn of a new era of creativity for the sector. And the winners in the category are very inspiring, most notably the Grand Prix-winning entry, Wunderman Thompson’s artificial intelligence (AI)-driven tool enabling architects to generate custom color palettes.

But the B2B Lions was also hugely disappointing for pure-play B2B agencies. Of the 14 Lions awarded from 415 entries, not one went to a specialist B2B agency. In fact, no specialists even made the shortlist.

Cannes Lions Award

The Cannes Lions B2B category should be a wake-up call for specialists

So why was this? The simple reason is that B2B marketers have been traditionally focused at the bottom end of the funnel – sales activation. It’s only in recent years we’re starting to see a shift toward brand building and advertising.

It’s likely many B2B specialists entered sales-driven work that would never make the grade at Cannes because the brand idea and the ambition to create fame for clients wasn’t there.

The Creative B2B Lions is a wake-up call to our sector. To compete with B2C agencies, the experts in creativity and connecting with humans, the quality and ambition of the work need to change. While our first duty should always be to serve our client, our sector has got to take away some learnings from Cannes this year so that we can do better next year.

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Purpose and social good, key criteria at Cannes, aren’t a focus in the B2B sector. The winners also tend to be ideas that are shareable. But B2B work is often too communications-focused and not inherently shareable. At Cannes, the work that gets recognized is often not pure communications. Winners tend to be business transformation ideas. For example, the B2B Grand Prix winner is an app. Most B2B agencies position themselves as pure communications agencies, and so they don’t operate in this space.

Attracting the right talent is another big challenge. Sales-driven below-the-line agencies in B2B will always struggle to get the caliber of talent needed to have any hope of reaching the podium at Cannes.

Most B2B specialists are therefore stuck at the bottom end of the funnel. The ones that are most likely to break through are the above-the-line B2B agencies, such as ours, that are focused on creativity and brand building.

In the last year at True, we’ve hired two creative directors from BBH and our head of planning joined us from Wunderman Thompson.

We know that our focus on creativity and brand-building, and our ability to attract top talent, is what will help us bag a B2B Lion one day. But we’re also aware that we have some growing to do to get there.

Cannes was a watershed moment for B2B. But it also serves as a reminder that the competition has changed, and those B2B specialists that aren’t able to compete on a wider field risk being left behind.

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