Joe Pytka on clients, talent and his Lion of St Mark

Cannes 2014: Unknown-3The Cannes festival used to just house creative people – now everybody comes. This was the observation of directing legend Joe Pytka (left) who has been coming to the festival for the past 25 years.

This year he’s getting The Lion of St Mark, something he said he felt “conflicted about.” Apparently he feels he doesn’t “live up to the honour.” Considering he is one of the most influential and prolific directors of all time (he has shot more Super Bowl ads than any other in history), this is hard to comprehend.

He shot a Pepsi ad in the 1980s that was so good it forced Coca Cola to change is formula and introduce ‘new’ Coke. This is something Coke is clearly still smarting from – Coke’s senior marketer Wendy Clark referenced this unfortunate episode in the brand’s history in her address to Cannes this week.

Even more impressively, his ads for Nike with Michael Jordan and Bugs Bunny, were such a hit that Warner Brothers turned them into a film, Space Jam – which Pytka said showed the “transcendent possibility of good work in the right medium.”

(Here’s Joe’s reel, not John’s)

Could that happen now? Pytka certainly doesn’t think so. He is firmly of the opinion the glory days are behind us. He laid the blame at the door of big holding groups, “the blending of agencies and corporations” as he called it. He mourned the lack of entrepreneurial creatives ballsy enough to fire clients – like the legendary George Lois, whom Pytka said was willing to “jump out of a window rather than accede to a client’s wishes.”

He recalled Ed McCabe explaining to a client he fired that he did it because he was “a pain in the ass”. “That wouldn’t happen today,” Pytka said. Sadly, not.

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About Jane Austin

Jane Austin is the founder and owner of PR agency Persuasion Communications.