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Digital Transformation Cannes Lions Marketing

It may be like taking a priest to Las Vegas but Cannes Lions needs more CFOs


By Dan Southern, Managing director

July 1, 2024 | 7 min read

Is it time to get some adults in the room at the Festival of Creativity? Frontier’s Dan Southern thinks so.

A priest in Las Vegas

Changes are afoot at Cannes Lions. It may still technically be called the “International Festival of Creativity,” but the sands are shifting – and not just from all the increasingly massive beach installations.

You may have spotted that among all the athletes, celebrities, celebrity boyfriends and DEI-denying tech titans making headlines at the Palais this year was... a CFO.

McDonald’s CFO Ian Borden spoke alongside the company’s CMO Morgan Flatley about marketing’s importance to business growth and how, over the past few years, it has transformed from being a “black box” and a “nebulous” part of the organization to being fully aligned with the financial side of the business. In turn, Flatley said it was a “CMO’s dream” to have a CFO talk about the power of creativity.

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And Borden is not the first. In fact, last year marked the first time a CFO had ever spoken at Cannes, for the first time in its 70-year history, when MasterCard’s CFO Sachin Mera appeared alongside CMO Raja Rajamannar.

The latter quipped that it was like “taking a priest to Las Vegas,” and that is a pretty good summation of the situation. Because bringing a CFO on stage in the Palais won’t please all the creative stalwarts in the marketing industry - and for some, it will actually be the stuff of nightmares.

Yet that voice is one that is becoming critical at the festival. And that is why I believe it’s time Cannes launched a CFO track.

The timing is right for the spotlight to shine more brightly on this particular C-suite. Industry voices are calling for it: take Liberty Sky Advisory owner Ian Whittaker and his ongoing championing of marketing as intangible capex rather than cost. He’s just one of many who are banging the drum on investment in marketing, brands and the importance of the creation and maintenance of brand equity.

So, for Cannes Lions to champion the CFO/CMO relationship makes perfect sense. Granted, there are still some significant challenges to overcome. Not every dynamic duo has as beautiful and symbiotic a relationship as Flatley and Borden or Mera and Rajamannar appear to do.

According to the CMO Council and KMPG, just 22% of CMOs rate their partnership with CFOs as “truly collaborative”, while over a quarter (26%) describe the relationship they have with finance as “indifferent” and 7% say it is outright “hesitant”. So it’s hardly a shoo-in that a CFO will gleefully hot-step it over to the South of France for a week of absolute awks.

But that’s exactly why a special track is needed.

Research bears this out. According to McKinsey, CEOs who place marketing at the core of their growth strategy are twice as likely to have greater than 5% annual growth compared with their peers.

However, according to another study published in Harvard Business Review, 74% of CMOs believe their jobs don’t allow them to maximize their impact on the business. Meanwhile, CMOs from Compare the Market to Starbucks and Uber are seeing their jobs eliminated.

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So, if CMOs are speaking a different language to their most important C-Suite peers, perhaps the CFO-CMO bilateral is where the unlock lies. From measurement and analytics to data and risk, there’s a lot of ground to cover, and the prize is surely too big to let indifference get in the way.

Cannes Lions has already made leaps and bounds in terms of its effectiveness and measurement credentials. From launching the Creative Effectiveness Lions to bringing WARC’s Creative Impact stream into the Palais, the festival has steadily grown in rigor in response to the growing attendance of brand marketers. But now it is time to aim higher and elevate the view of marketing in the eyes of its most critical C-suite peer.

The old-guard creatives might not like it. But in the long run, an exchange of ideas, exposure to the work and talent and yes, a rosé or two arm-in-arm along the Croisette might just be the biggest service the festival could offer the industry.

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