Who’s to blame for the UK’s poor Cannes performance – clients, planners, suits or creatives?

It’s early days of course but three Grand Prix have been awarded at Cannes so far – one to Australia, two to Romania – and the UK has barely troubled the scorers in any category.

So far DDB London has picked up a bronze lion for Budweiser in promo/activation (won by BV McCann for Romania’s Rom chocolate bars) and that seems to be it as far as ad agencies go.

Durand Academy, a primary school for children in Stockwell and Brixton, picked up two gold lions in PR for a campaign that resulted in it winning more than £17m in government funding to launch the first free-of-charge state boarding school in the UK.

But worryingly for ad agencies the UK has only gained four nominations in the important press category, behind the US on nine, Spain on 11, France on 12 and the boys from Brazil on 31.

We ought to be good at press ads, surely?

Well actually the UK hasn’t been much good at press advertising for years, some would say decades. 20 years ago people in the UK were bemoaning that the art of ‘long copy’ had died with the demise of Collett Dickenson Pearce, with only Abbott Mead Vickers founder David Abbott (pictured), now a noted novelist, keeping the art alive.

But decent press ads aren’t just about long copy, they’re about having ideas and it doesn’t look as though there are too many good ones in London and the rest of the UK.

So who’s to blame? Creatives might blame clients (too cautious to take risks), planners (too hidebound by research) and suits, account managers unwilling or unable to fight through good ideas.

Any combination of the the above might blame creatives who don’t understand print and who can’t read or write very well either.

Once upon a time agencies used to have copywriters and visualisers (in the days before commercial TV in the UK), then they had copywriters and art directors (in your first job you could be a director but it seemed to work). Now they don’t have copywriters any more, just creatives working together and seemingly only interested in film or digital.

Press advertising is nearly alway national rather than regional or global, for obvious language-based reasons. In an agency world dominated (in the US and UK anyway) by the big marcoms companies the emphasis is overwhelmingly on winning and retaining global and regional accounts. So press skills hardly come into it.

But surely that’s no excuse for being so rotten at a core craft?

Clever agencies realise that they need to be good at all sorts of things, whoever they’re owned by. Winning awards is primarily a marketing exercise for agency owners, as WPP has recognised by appointing former Bartle Bogle Hegarty creative director John O’Keeffe as its worldwide creative director, charged with winning more awards than its rivals at Cannes and other places.

O’Keeffe’s remit includes far more than the UK of course but he, among many others, must be alarmed to view what may be a disastrous outcome for UK agencies at Cannes this year.

This could all change with a couple of Grand Prix. One of the UK’s four in the press category might defy the odds and win although our friend Irish bookie Paddy Power would offer no better than evens against Brazil.

And the film category remains the festival showpiece despite all the new baubles that the Cannes Lions organisers keep putting in the window.

We won’t see the shortlist until Friday. If the UK doesn’t win a decent representation on this it really will be creative crisis time.

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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.