Pub­li­cis Groupe’s awards bombshell di­vides in­dus­try

Has the ever-ex­pand­ing car­ni­val of cre­ativ­ity lost sight of its roots, Gideon Spanier asks

Campaign UK - - NEWS - By Si­mon Gwynn

Pub­li­cis Groupe is fac­ing con­tin­ued scep­ti­cism over its de­ci­sion to with­draw from awards and trade shows for a year from 1 July, with one top UK mar­keter warn­ing that he is “not sure they have got it right”.

Kevin Mcnair, Great Bri­tain mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor at Britvic, ques­tioned why Pub­li­cis is fo­cus­ing on tech­nol­ogy over cre­ativ­ity: “By say­ing what they have said, are they say­ing that it is an ‘ei­ther/or’ de­ci­sion? What if you took cre­ativ­ity and added tech­nol­ogy? That is the progress I would want to be see­ing from our in­dus­try to re­ally make a dif­fer­ence in the world we live in.”

Arthur Sadoun, chief ex­ec­u­tive of Pub­li­cis Groupe, an­nounced the move in Cannes last week and re­vealed that the sav­ings would be in­vested in de­vel­op­ing a new ar­ti­fi­cial­in­tel­li­gence plat­form, Mar­cel.

Sadoun took to Twit­ter this week to field ques­tions on the plans and was met with con­cerns from em­ploy­ees about the im­pact on their ca­reers, their abil­ity to re­cruit and the im­ple­men­ta­tion of Mar­cel.

The ma­jor­ity of brands ap­proached by Cam­paign, mean­while, were un­will­ing to of­fer their views. Di­a­geo, Heineken, Mars, John Lewis, Di­rect Line, Burger King, AT&T, Snapchat, Pep­sico and Google all de­clined to com­ment. But Sadoun’s pre­de­ces­sor, Mau­rice Lévy, said the re­ac­tion was bet­ter than ex­pected, and that the “vast ma­jor­ity of our clients and peo­ple are con­sid­er­ing that it is a bold and pos­i­tive move”.

Greg Glen­day, chief rev­enue of­fi­cer at Shazam, said Mar­cel sounded like “a ter­rific use of R&D re­sources”, adding that he ex­pected the ab­sence of Cannes Lions en­tries from Pub­li­cis would cause a re­peat of this year’s surge in en­tries di­rectly from clients, which were up 69% on 2016. Brands who part­nered Shazam were in­creas­ingly look­ing to sub­mit joint en­tries, he said.

Pub­li­cis’ ab­sence next year could make Cannes “a lit­tle less ef­fi­cient” in bring­ing to­gether all of the in­dus­try play­ers he wants to meet, Keith Weed, Unilever’s chief mar­ket­ing of­fi­cer, said.

He added that Ap­ple’s re­fusal to take part in CES, which takes place in Las Ve­gas in Jan­uary, had a sim­i­lar ef­fect on that event. Weed added: “I know that some peo­ple feel Cannes has got too big, too busy, too com­plex, too ex­pen­sive, and I think that’s for Cannes to re­flect on.” One of those pon­der­ing sim­i­lar thoughts was WPP chief ex­ec­u­tive Sir Martin Sor­rell, who re­vealed that he had dis­cussed with his Om­ni­com coun­ter­part, John Wren, whether the fes­ti­val needed a ma­jor

shake-up – with a move to a ma­jor city such as New York or London one op­tion mooted by Sor­rell.

Sadoun’s an­nounce­ment and Sor­rell’s com­ments led Cannes Lions owner As­cen­tial to launch an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee to “shape the fu­ture of the fes­ti­val”, bring­ing in top mar­keters in­clud­ing Weed and Proc­ter & Gam­ble chief brand of­fi­cer Marc Pritchard. Pritchard said it was the “right time to step back and take a look at the best way for­ward for Cannes Lions to pro­vide the best pos­si­ble plat­form for cre­ativ­ity in our in­dus­try”.

Havas chief ex­ec­u­tive Yan­nick Bol­loré said that Cannes was a “very im­por­tant mo­ment” for his com­pany. “Run­ning away from Cannes would be like if you are a ma­jor movie stu­dio and run­ning away from the Os­cars,” he said, but added: “Cannes is grow­ing big­ger ev­ery year – it’s im­por­tant to adapt the for­mat to its new scale.”

Mov­ing the event was a non-starter, Glen­day sug­gested. “If you move it, it be­comes some­thing else en­tirely. When I at­tend a con­fer­ence in a city where most peo­ple have of­fices, they are dis­tracted. The re­la­tion­ships and in­spi­ra­tion that are formed at Cannes are made stronger by the fact that it takes ef­fort to get there and the set­ting is spe­cial.”

Jerry Buhlmann, global chief ex­ec­u­tive of Dentsu Aegis Net­work, also played down the pos­si­bil­ity of a move and said he was “still a sup­porter” of Cannes Lions. “It does pro­vide a very big plat­form for cre­ativ­ity and a very big plat­form for en­cour­ag­ing and train­ing young peo­ple in our in­dus­try,” he said, cit­ing the Young Lions.

Jose Papa, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of Cannes Lions, said it was im­por­tant to keep the de­vel­op­ments “in perspective”, adding: “While these sto­ries have dom­i­nated the trade head­lines, we know in the long term it will be the creative legacy of this year’s win­ning work that be­comes the defin­ing story. Hav­ing said that, we are ob­vi­ously lis­ten­ing to the con­cerns be­ing voiced.”

Cannes Lions just might be a vic­tim of its own suc­cess. Much of the talk in the restau­rants and at the par­ties this year was dom­i­nated by ques­tions about whether it had got too big and needs a re­think. Pub­li­cis Groupe shocked the ad in­dus­try when new boss Arthur Sadoun said on the Tues­day of Cannes Lions that it was pulling out of all in­dus­try events and awards for the next 12 months and would in­stead in­vest in a new ar­ti­fi­cial-in­tel­li­gence plat­form, Mar­cel.

Al­though the world’s third-largest ad group did not sin­gle out Cannes, the tim­ing looked provoca­tive, es­pe­cially as Pub­li­cis Groupe is French.

There is al­ready a feel­ing among most of the big six ad groups that an in­flux of mar­keters and tech gi­ants has changed what was once a fes­ti­val of cre­ativ­ity for agen­cies and pro­duc­tion com­pa­nies.

The lead­ers of the big six dis­cussed how to change Cannes Lions pri­vately a year ago, when one of them sug­gested an “al­ter­na­tive con­fer­ence”. This year, en­tries for the Cannes Lions awards dropped 4.5% to 41,000 and a num­ber of com­pa­nies sent fewer peo­ple.

Cannes Lions, which is owned by As­cen­tial, has recog­nised that it needs to lis­ten to crit­ics and has set up an ad­vi­sory com­mit­tee “to help shape the fu­ture of the fes­ti­val and en­sure it con­tin­ues to re­spond to the needs of the in­dus­try”.

Marc Pritchard, chief brand of­fi­cer at Proc­ter & Gam­ble, and Keith Weed, chief mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tions of­fi­cer at Unilever, are among those join­ing the com­mit­tee. It looked sig­nif­i­cant that As­cen­tial re­cruited mar­keters first, as it could help to per­suade agen­cies to fall in be­hind.

As­cen­tial has said that it wants ma­jor ad­ver­tis­ers, part­ners, agency net­works and the mayor of Cannes to be in­volved in the com­mit­tee.

WPP chief ex­ec­u­tive Sir Martin Sor­rell has been crit­i­cal of Cannes Lions be­cause of the costs and sug­gested it could move to an­other city, but he has re­sisted Pub­li­cis Groupe’s idea of a com­plete with­drawal. “Boy­cotting some­thing that’s im­por­tant or sig­nif­i­cant doesn’t get you any­where,” he says. “Try­ing to re­po­si­tion it or re­fash­ion it or re-do it gets you some­where.”

Some at­ten­dees at this year’s fes­ti­val played down the idea that it needs a rad­i­cal re­think.

UKTV chief ex­ec­u­tive Dar­ren Childs said Cannes Lions com­pared favourably with MIPCOM, the en­ter­tain­ment sales con­fer­ence in the same city.

Jenny Biggam, a co-founder of the7s­tars, said Cannes Lions was a use­ful way to see a lot of in­dus­try peo­ple and hear them talk “first-hand”.

Cannes: Leo Burnett Chicago (above) and other Pub­li­cis agen­cies won’t re­turn next year

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