Does it matter which holding company wins the most awards? WPP’s Sir Martin Sorrell and creative boss John O’Keeffe think it does

We know this because WPP says it on its website that in 2010 it narrowed the gap between it and Omnicom in terms of the awards the group won at Cannes (and extended its narrow lead over Publicis Groupe).

Two things spring to mind straight away, the first is that there are other important awards as well as Cannes (although no other festival has quite so many, indeed nearly so many) and the second is that surely clients buy individual agencies on their creative reputation rather than that of the holding company.

On WPP’s own reckoning Ogilvy & Mather did well at Cannes last year with 187 ‘statues’ as did Young & Rubicam with 168 while JWT (once the leading creative agency within WPP) languished on 105 with Grey further behind on 60.

So, if you’re a client thinking of appointing Grey for its solid account handling and marketing qualities, will you be influenced by WPP’s awards performance, as most of it comes from O&M and Y&R? If WPP catches Omnicom this year that will likely be because of those agencies too.

And then there’s the fact that the Cannes organisers are relentless in their search for new fee-earning awards categories (including media, design and direct marketing) which have precious little to do with advertising creativity. WPP, though, benefits from these as it has as many individual marcoms companies in the group as the rest of its rivals combined.

Which presumably helps WPP worldwide creative director John O’Keeffe. O’Keeffe seems to interpret his job mainly (and sensibly no doubt) as ensuring WPP agencies win as many awards as possible although supporting creatives throughout the network is presumably part of it too.

The awards side is actually quite mundane; a large part of the battle is just ensuring the agencies get round to entering in time (and enter the right ones, ie those that are eligible and might have half a chance of winning something).

O’Keeffe took the job back back in 2008, replacing the eccentric Neil French who left in 2005 after observing that there weren’t many women creative directors in adland because of their desire to “go and suckle something.” There still aren’t of course though I’ve no idea if this is to do with suckling.

But his ever-demanding boss will be expecting WPP to take top spot at Cannes this year, whether it means anything much or not.

And O’Keeffe won’t be the only one aware of the pressure, the creative directors of all WPP’s big agencies will feel the prickle of expectation as they try to work out their best hand of entries.

They, like O’Keeffe perhaps, will mutter into their drinks that counting statues is a waste of time as Cannes for them is really about winning Grand Prix. And WPP didn’t win any last year despite its haul of statues.

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About Stephen Foster

Stephen is a former editor of Marketing Week and London Evening Standard advertising columnist. He wrote City Republic for Brand Republic and is a partner in communications consultancy The Editorial Partnership.