Consultants make their mark at Cannes and it heralds a big industry shake-up

Accenture Interactive won its first Cannes Lions Grand Prix for The Times’ ‘JFK Unsilenced’ from Ireland’s Rothco, Deloitte Digital in Australia has been shortlisted for the Titanium Lions (“game changing” ads) for The Great Barrier Reef Foundation’s ‘Value of Nature.’

So the consultants’ tanks are well and truly parked on the holding companies’ creative lawn.

One can quibble: Rothco only recently joined the Accenture fold, ‘Value of Nature’ isn’t exactly an ad, it’s an explanation of why Deloitte’s bean counters reckon the Great Barrier Reef is worth $56bn.

And it hasn’t won yet.

But the message is clear and it won’t be lost on the agency owners, creatives and, of course, clients in Cannes. Some creatives will be thinking: I’d sooner work for this lot than a holding company permanently cutting back as clients budgets reduce and Google and Facebook change the nature of my business in ways I wish they didn’t.

The consultants are open that their big presence in Cannes and at other festivals is partly a recruiting drive and, this year anyway, they seem to be winning. The holding companies, by contrast, have reduced their presence at Cannes – delegate numbers are down by 25 per cent or so from last year’s 12,000 – and Publicis isn’t there at all, officially anyway.

The holding companies’ most voluble advocate Sir Martin Sorrell is at Cannes too but the ex-WPP boss isn’t banging the drum for them any more, he’s plugging his new venture S4 which sounds more like a consultancy than an agency.

Marketing services has never been a zero sum game, various disciplines float in and out of fashion. Direct marketing rules the roost now courtesy of Google search. So-called “customer engagement” is big but that’s what consultants do much of the time. Creative advertising is in a trough but that might change as scepticism about the digital world grows. And the consultants can buy pretty much who they like to strengthen their hand. That’s what the holding companies have done over the years.

How long will it be before Accenture or one of its rivals, furiously playing catch-up, decides to back a handful of talented individuals to set up anew under its auspices? Start-ups are the life blood of the creative agency business and this notion has certainly occurred to some leading players. Who’s to say that such conversations aren’t happening right now in Cannes?

Thus year’s Cannes Lions will surely be remembered as the year the consultants made their creative mark.

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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.