Is big agency threat to Cannes about money or relevance?

Is Publicis Groupe right to pull out of the Cannes International Festival of Creativity and all the other big international and (presumably) national awards?

New Publicis boss Arthur Sadoun says it’s spending the money (Publicis probably spends upwards of $20m a year on various awards, chiefly Cannes) on its very own version of Siri or Alexa, A1-fuelled assistant Marcel, but some of the dosh will doubtless be put aside for a rainy day.

WPP too has cut back its involvement in Cannes this year and CEO Sir Martin Sorrell is threatening further action, even suggesting that the festival might be relocated to a major capital. One with a phone signal and rather nearer the airport would help.

Owner Ascential, which earns £72m a year from the festival, saw its share price hammered in London on the Publicis news.

The big agency groups are the biggest funders of Cannes and the others through their entry fees and attendance and you can see why they’re cheesed off. Lots of the awards, particularly the newer ones which Cannes enthusiastically introduces at every opportunity, aren’t for advertising at all. Many Lions winners don’t feature agencies.

The festival is increasingly dominated by the new media behemoths like Facebook and Google and, as usual, they hitch a ride mostly for free. Ad tech companies proliferate although, year on year, not the same ones as optimistic newbies take their place.

Global clients seem to think it’s important although, increasingly, not as important as effectiveness awards like the Effies. But they tend to take place in less sunny climes, without copious supplies of over-priced rosé wine.

So is the schmoozing worth it?

As they used to say in Britain “If you can remember the Sixties you weren’t really there,” meaning your recollections vanished in a purple haze. Cannes is a bit like that. When normal service resumes that nice client you chucked a hat full of euros at still beats you up over price.

If Cannes and some of the others are going to survive the cost burden needs to be shared (and the overall cost needs to come down).

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About Stephen Foster

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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.