WPP wins ‘Holding Company’ gong at Cannes but DDB creative chief accuses it of rigging votes

Dear oh dear, the Cannes International Festival of Creativity’s decision to introduce a ‘Holding Company,’ award, for the agency group winning the most Lions, was always bound to end in tears and now it has.

The award was introduced last year and won by WPP, hardly surprising as it’s the biggest such company in the world with many more potential entrants in the more obscure awards categories, some of which seem to have precious little to do with creativity.

Now it’s won again, narrowly ahead of Omnicom and rather further in front of Publicis Groupe (who happen to be one, two, three in the world by size) but Amir Kassaei (left), worldwide creative head of Omnicom-owned DDB, has accused WPP agencies of tactical voting to do down Omnicom.

Kassaei says: “We had a meeting in New York just ahead of Cannes, and I made a very, very clear statement to all our jury members that this festival is about integrity and responsibility. I said to them, you have to vote for the best work, no matter which agency is behind it.

“I have since been notified by no fewer than 12 jury members that people from other holding companies this week are being briefed to kill Omnicom, especially BBDO, DDB and TBWA, this is a fact.

“This is not about being a bad loser, or even supporting Omnicom, this is about the integrity and responsibility of the Cannes Lions Festival as a beacon of excellence around the world.”

Intriguingly this follows a claim by WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell that block voting was indeed going on, but to his company’s disadvantage. It’s believed he was referring to the media jury in which Omnicom’s Manning Gottlieb OMD from the UK won a Grand Prix for Google. Omnicom has claimed to be the top media performer at the festival.

Well they can’t both be right surely, or maybe WPP just has more jurors than Omnicom.

Either way, it’s a PR disaster for Cannes and the organisers should do the decent thing and scrap this ridiculous award forthwith.

Update 25.6.2012

WPP has written to me as follows:

While we are the biggest marketing services group by overall revenues, we’re not the biggest in terms of qualifying revenue for Cannes, because 25 per cent of our turnover comes from market research. So we don’t automatically have the largest number of potential entries due to our scale. We were also a bit surprised that you see categories like digital, PR and design as obscure or non-creative! And of course Ogilvy won best network – for its creative excellence.

It’s a fair point about research (overlooked by me) and Ogilvy did indeed have a storming year. I do wonder why some of the awards categories are there, apart from commercial reasons of course. Not just categories like PR but also things like Creative Effectiveness (won by the undoubtedly creative BBH for Axe). Does anything that requires the submission of a paper really belong at Cannes? Shouldn’t the winners simply stand out when you experience them as a consumer would?

But if that was the criterion I guess half the current categories would go. But at least the judges might see a bit more daylight.

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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.


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    Oh dear… What a farce Cannes is turning in to. As I describe it on “AdScam” it is becoming the COMDEX of advertising. And you know what happened to COMDEX. I shall go into this in depth on Monday… In the meantime, I have to drink a container load of Boddingtons whilst watching England kick the shit out of Italy. Ennnnggggllllaaannnddd! Burp!

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    “watching England kick the shit out of Italy.” Obviously, I am insane. Now I am looking forward to Andy Murray winning Wimbledon… Yeah, I am totally fucking insane!

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    That these people go to a creative festival in the South of France, and then whine about not winning enough awards, or the biggest award, just boggles the mind. Meanwhile, their work better be out there doing its job and making sure their clients’ products sell. Get a grip and get a taste of the real world.