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Publicis Groupe U-turn means it’s (almost) business as usual at Cannes Lions

This is great publicity for Cannes Lions.

Publicis Groupe said last year it wouldn’t be wasting money on the 2018 festival, but has admitted that it can’t stay away and set out details of its involvement next week.

It turns out that Publicis Groupe has entered the competition after all, picking just one campaign — BBH London’s “3 Billboards” campaign for Justice4Grenfell — as its standout work of the year. No pressure there then.

The cost of its other 399 entries for 2018 has been shifted onto clients and partners.Saatchi & Saatchi New York’s “It’s a Tide ad” Super Bowl spot, which already won a D&AD Black Pencil and is tipped for success at Cannes, will undoubtedly be among them.

There will be 12 jury members from Publicis agencies; 12 Publicis employees competing in the Young Lions competition; 20 staff will be there on the Publicis dollar for “key client meetings;” 25 will be there courtesy of clients and partners; and 15 are paying for themselves to go.

Publicis has also taken a slot on the main stage to present its Marcel AI platform.

Arthur Sadoun, only a few weeks into his role as CEO of Publicis Groupe, managed to damage the Cannes brand quite significantly last June when he announced during the festival that Publicis Groupe would be pulling out, because the budget would be better spent on developing its new AI platform, Marcel.

Sadoun’s move set off something of a backlash against Cannes, with WPP’s then CEO Martin Sorrell questioning its value, criticising its tactics, and suggesting the festival be moved elsewhere.

All the years of pent-up resentment about Cannes came flooding out: the cost of attending, the huge, bloated money-making machine it had become, the never-ending expansion of lucrative awards categories.

Cannes’ owners, Ascential, responded by cutting the festival to five days, reducing the number of awards categories, and moving the speaker focus away from glitzy entertainment industry names.

The passes are also cheaper this year, and delegates have been promised cheaper taxis from the airport and more fixed price menus in the restaurants.

Ascential Events CEO Phil Thomas has admitted that Cannes entries and takings will be significantly down this year, but Publicis Groupe’s U-turn is a significant step in helping to build the festival back up to where it wants to be.

Update: Publicis Groupe says its announcement today is in no way a U-Turn or a contradiction of what has been said last year but a testament to our transparency and willingness to clarify our involvement for the benefit of all: a part of our employees were invited to attend the Cannes Lions by the Festival itself, another part was invited by clients and partners, a handful funded their trips personally, and a small group of account-leaders are going to Cannes not to attend the festival but to attend important client meetings taking place in Cannes.

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