MEET THE NEW LION KEEPER
Jose Papa’s first Cannes Lions as managing director has seen a clampdown on yacht parties and a focus on business value. Is it a new era for the festival?
“Cannes Lions owner Ascential is acutely aware of the need to demonstrate business value to anyone attending”
For many of the British delegates at Cannes Lions last year, there is one overriding memory: waking up on Friday 24 June to discover that Britain had voted to leave the European Union.
Twelve months on, the fallout from that decision is already having a profound effect on many of the businesses that traditionally dominate the festival.
Add to this turbulent climate a weakened UK government, a complete lack of clarity on Brexit and a corresponding slump in business confidence, and it’s clear that the mood on the Croisette this year could be far from buoyant.
For Jose Papa, who moved over from Ascential’s WGSN to become Cannes Lions’ managing director in August last year, the event, which starts on Saturday, will not just be his first at the helm. It could mark a fundamental repositioning for the festival.
Headlines have already focused on new rules clamping down not just on glamorous, raucous parties on superyachts but on who can access the harbour walkways, hotel terraces and some bars.
On the one hand, this looks like payto-play protectionism to reduce the number of people who head to Cannes for the networking and the parties but don’t pay for a delegate pass. On the other hand, festival owner Ascential is more than ever acutely aware of the need to demonstrate business value to anyone attending – this can no longer be seen as an excess-fuelled jolly.
ROI is a key message this year. For example, Papa reckons a presence at Cannes helped Snap Inc build its business to a successful IPO: “Snap began engaging with us a few years ago and we helped them understand and exploit the value proposition of Cannes. They were able to demonstrate and validate their value to the marketers in Cannes.”
There’s no doubt that being at the festival can be an obscenely expensive business. Hotel rates are laughably, depressingly excessive. The price of delegate badges, though frozen, remains in the thousands of euros, even for entry-level attendance. The cost of eating out in many restaurants could easily feed a family of four for a week.
Papa says: “The cost of hotels is something we’ve been tackling for quite some time but we cannot control the business model of the hotels – there’s a limit to how much influence we can exert.”
As for the rapacious growth of the event, with ever-more presentations, sideshows and awards, Papa is clear that this is not just manageable, it’s necessary. “We disagree that Cannes has become too noisy. We need to grow and we need to continuously develop ourselves to ultimately respond to the needs that the industry has – we shouldn’t be ashamed of growing,” he suggests. “Yes, we are part of a plc; yes, we are driven by shareholder value and value creation. But it is by growing that we can deliver experiences that are better for our community.”
There’s no doubt that ditching the party image – or at least toning it down – and emphasising the return on delegate investment delivered by the festival’s key pillars of celebration, networking, education and inspiration suit the prevailing business mood.
If Papa can properly land the ROI message and speed up the nascent focus on diversity, he could secure a new legacy for the Lions at a time of fundamental change for the industries that support it. But if the festival is to be seen as a facilitator, supporter and nurturer of our industry and avoid being seen as a greedy parasite, then Papa’s job has only just begun.