Creative Opinions: Adland insiders on the Publicis Cannes Lions pullout

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The news that Publicis Groupe was pulling out of Cannes Lions next year (and all other awards shows in kind for the next 12 months) was quite comfortably one of the biggest stories of the festival this year. The fact that they are doing so supposedly to focus their resources on their revolutionary Marcel AI platform only exacerbated the veracity of the wagging chins. Now that the dust has settled on the announcement almost two weeks later, we reached out to a few industry insiders to gather their thoughts, feelings and opinions on the big news.


Jonathan Emmins, founder of marketing agency, Amplify, feels in two minds about the news. He's very much for the innovation of Marcel, feels the move is indicative of the business side of the Lions continuing to surpass the creative side.

On a positive, we’re all about pushing boundaries – both through science and craft. Innovation in all its forms should be applauded – and this is what Cannes is all about. On a downer, if you’re going to make big statements first and foremost you need to take your team on that journey and get them enthused and excited. We creatives can be a precious bunch. From chats there last week, rightly or wrongly, perhaps it’s reflective of a wider feeling amongst the creative community of being slightly sidelined as the business side of Lions continues to grow in importance.


Darren Woolley, founder and MD at TrinityP3 and former creative director at J. Walter Thompson Melbourne, believes the move is a profound statement against the increasingly profit-centric festival.

This is the biggest statement made on this issue and I think some of it really comes down to Cannes Lions’ decision to float on the London Stock Exchange. This really showed that Cannes is a business that is run to make profit for shareholders. The floatation sent a clear message to the holding companies that award shows are being run to make money. In the last 12 months, this has been rubbed in the faces of holding companies. This, plus the number of scam ads, seem to have come together to make Sadoun say ‘enough is enough’. This is a very profound statement.


Allan McLaughlin, CEO of the BD Network, feels Publicis have made a very smart move.

The announcement by Publicis to direct awards spend into the development of their AI platform is absolutely the right thing. It’s a gutsy move, but shifting a no doubt multi-million pound spend into investment in their product and strengthening their offering for the long term makes absolute business sense, rather than keeping following old patterns for the sake of it. I’m especially interested in what this will mean for Cannes next year. As a comparatively smaller independent, we’ve viewed entering the Festival as a Canne’t for many years now for both budgetary and profile reasons. It’s easy to see Cannes as an event where only the biggest budgets give stand out, especially when the global networks bring CMOs, music and film stars along as guests. I’d love to see the fabric of next year’s festival change, especially if WPP also pull out as threatened, creating a more open environment for the work of smaller, more diverse agencies to shine. Equally, there’s increasing space for a UK-based alternative to emerge, focused on celebrating brilliant ideas and innovation, rather than big budgets where only the highest spenders get the spotlight.


D. Sriram, founder of Shanghai-based digital agency DROIDD and former Starcom APAC CEO, feels the move speaks more of cost-saving than making a genuine statement about awards.

Given that there is a handful of global media agencies and creative agencies, and far more awards shows than there are holding companies, everyone wins something somewhere these days. In that context, if Publicis Groupe were making a statement about fewer awards shows and more meaningful evaluation of good work – like choosing a few awards shows to participate in as a symbol – that would make a lot of sense. However, from all the press surrounding this announcement, it seems like the decision is driven by cost saving imperatives. There’s nothing wrong with that, inherently, but it’s clearly not intended as a stance about awards, the industry or anything like that. At best, it says that awards don’t add enough value for Publicis Groupe to justify spend the money on participating in them – which is perhaps a bit of an extreme view.


Ami Hasan, chairman of hasan & partners Group, and president of Art Directors Club of Europe on he feels how the pullout will affect Publicis.

I don't think it will have any direct effect on Publicis. Who remembers which countries didn't partake in the Moscow Olympics? But I have a hard time really understanding the message they send their own people. Hey, instead of investing in your inspiration and learning, we will use that money on technology - a new computer - it's more valuable to us. What? Indirectly their agencies will have some trouble recruiting young talented and hungry creatives, they want to get their Lions. They might also lose some of the existing creative staff because of this. In the recruiting market awards are as much, if not more proof than your portfolio, of your capabilities. If a creative cannot show Lions and other big awards from the recent years, some of the most creative agencies will not hire her. Naturally some clients value Lions as well. They want to win awards and want their agencies to be hungry for awards instead of providing mediocre creative solutions. Some client CMOs even have their incentives tied to awards. I hope the consequences in the long run will be good for the whole marcoms industry. Hopefully people will start thinking and discussing the overall cost and value to our industry of Cannes or awards shows, when what matters most is creativity, talent and passion.


Neil Davidson, managing director of HeyHuman, on the divisiveness of the Publicis decision.

Publicis’ decision to pull out of Cannes has clearly divided the industry. Many feel that the move is ill-judged and inward-facing, while others see it as the perfect rebellion. Cannes needs to rethink in reaction to the questions being asked, but the best way to approach the issue is to reform from within, not to defect. Many agencies are on the same page, and as festival organisers take stock and reflect, it’s important that they can evolve the format of the event to help agencies justify the spend that goes into attending and sponsoring Cannes – particularly as industry purse strings tighten. My decision to pull out of Cannes this year was a personal one, shaped by London events prior to Cannes. Our office is a mere 3.5 miles from Grenfell tower, so it only felt appropriate to donate the money I would otherwise have spent at the festival to the Red Cross, a charity that is helping to support affected residents following the disaster. Fundamentally though, I don’t understand why Publicis would want to completely isolate themselves from industry awards altogether. While they may not feel that investing in Cannes is right for them, the festival is a brilliant way by which to recognise industry innovation and inspire the next generation of creative thinkers. The format of the festival clearly needs revisiting, but in my opinion, Cannes is and will remain an important celebration of creative achievement for years to come.


Cognifide, a WPP marketing technology company, offer their take on Marcel.

The idea of Marcel is to drive creativity by bringing together the best talent for a particular project. The idea builds on Sapient’s Global Distributive Delivery system. In a world where many organisations field globally distributed teams to solve a problem, it feels like a good idea - a great big database that can tell you quickly and efficiently who your prime team is for the job. However, it’s not a solution, it’s a tool. And technology is only ever that - an enabler. The other pieces of the jigsaw are people and processes and for Marcel to really prove its value, the Publicis Groupe will have to embrace an overarching ‘transformation’ that fundamentally changes the way it works. Within the Groupe there are multiple agencies and they will all have their own ways of working. Cherry picking talent from each doesn’t necessarily create a dream team unless there are processes and ways of working in place that are understood and adhered to by all. Marcel might get Publicis through the door and drive big creative thinking that wins pitches. But will it help them to deliver on their promises? It takes professional programme management to realise big digital ideas, so they’ll need to ensure that enough focus is given to making ideas a reality.


Shufen Goh, founder and principal of pitch consultancy R3, believes that Publicis Groupe’s choice to impose a blanket ban on all award shows entirely could be damaging for the company in the long-term.

The whole Cannes expenditure is prohibitive for most companies and we’ve never had a client insist on an agency being on a shortlist because they won a Cannes Lion. However, we have clients who care about effectiveness awards. A blanket ban for all awards clearly helps to grab headlines, but it may hurt Publicis ability to benchmark themselves against their competitors on their effectiveness.


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