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Do we still need Cannes?

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Last night I was invited along to the Cannes Lions Official Launch at the rather swanky Mondrian London at Sea Containers. The room was filled with about 50 key members of the press from the usual suspects and a broadcast was streamed to about 500 other interested parties on Facebook.

Overlooking London on a still and clear night, Phil Thomas and Jose Papa delivered a presidential type speech knocking back and forth on the new changes that are being put in place for 2018.

The main changes announced:

  • The Festival will run for five days 18-22 June
  • More than 650 Young Lions delegate passes will be given away
  • 120 sub-categories are being removed
  • An entry cap on the number of times work can be entered to 6 Lions
  • Cyber Lions, Integrated Lions and Promo Lions will be ditched
  • Price freezes from the city of Cannes on accommodation and food
  • A €900 reduction in the cost of a Complete Pass

All of this a dramatic u-turn from last year, with Lions Festivals attempting to bring in a host of restrictions and limitations - most notable of all being stopping those without passes drinking at the usual haunts.

The questions that followed the slick presentation focussed on a few minor details but the main question on everyone's lips was, of course, what is happening with Publicis. Both Jose and Phil fielded this question and were clear that Publicis had told them that they were taking a break and would be back next year.

It is an interesting dynamic that the Lions Festival has with the major networks and, from last night's presentation, it seemed that they had at some length talked with their major customers and looked at ways to make the festival more relevant and keep the innovation moving.

However, I could not help but get the feeling that all of these changes were done purely as a result of Publicis saying they would take a hiatus and, unlike WPP (who regularly say that they would be pulling out of Cannes), actually doing it.

This feeling was not helped by the fact that at 19.36 I received an email from Publicis Groupe with their press release reconfirming their participation from 2019 onwards and then, some 4 minutes later, Cannes Lions own press release.

In effect, this presentation and the timing from Publicis confirms that Jose et al knew they had to do something and did. I mean, what else could they do?

What it does call into question is just how important is Cannes to the industry and who gets the most out of it?

Don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t enjoy a week in the sun in the south of France catching up with friends and business acquaintances? I look forward to Cannes as much as the next person. It is the only truly global gathering of the industry and in-between the lack of sleep, the pool parties, and the hangovers you can make and solidify meaningful relationships. After 65 years of running, the festival has done an incredible job of bringing the industry together.

But what do the agencies and big networks truly get from winning a Lion? And at what cost? If a Publicis or WPP agency never won another award would they really lose business? How many clients would not work with an agency just because they haven’t won one of their awards? Who is winning a Cannes Lions for? And how many smaller agencies who are just as creative and innovative around the world miss out because the cost of entering and attending is just too much of a risk? And once you have put that trophy in your cabinet and email signature, what then?

I understand that creatives love to win awards. Getting a “pat on the back” from your peers feels great. It also helps agencies to attract better talent, doesn’t it?

We all know how much the landscape has changed when it comes to clients. They are a lot more in control of what they can do internally and, with social media, they now have direct access to millions of their own customers. They know what works for their customers - do they need an agency to have won a Lion to confirm this?

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