It Wasn't Just a Tan and a Hangover Coming Home from Cannes
When ten thousand people who produce ads, create ads, shoot ads, buy and plan media and run ad agencies (and a significant number of their clients) gathered for the world's biggest advertising event at the Cannes Lions Festival recently, all the talk was about it not being a party year, with fewer delegates, less fanfare, and so on. Indeed, many of the most legendary parties were cancelled.
But as several folks who have been to Cannes year after year pointed out, talk of belt-tightening and sobriety is not new. There has been a gentle decline in the extravagance of Cannes in recent years. Many suggested things are not, perhaps, as bad as they might have been. While prices have been cut, clients are still advertising, particularly those with everyday products - and there are some taking advantage of the economic climate to build their brands. But while a few are going for broke with bold initiatives, many more are cautious about new ideas.
It would be easy to contrast the down market, the layoffs, the refinancing and general softness in the ad market with what is spent on entertainment at Cannes. While this year there was no ice-sculpting live on a beach and the gala fireworks were more subdued and artistic, the days where nevertheless filled with afternoon cocktail receptions, exclusive beach soirées and parties in hotel penthouses and country villas.
But behind the glitz and glamour of the social circuit is the serious business of networking. The opportunity to bump into the right person at a party can save an awful amount of work, and in fact more than pays for the airfare, hotel and meals for a week.
For a week Cannes becomes the global crossroads of the media, entertainment and advertising businesses (three industries very close to our hearts at Media Link LLC). There is a reason Microsoft saved the announcement of its partnership with Publicis Groupe for Cannes. Certainly the jury seemed to work harder than ever. Nick Brien, who headed the Media Jury, seemed to be doing 24-hour days. This was especially true when generously hosting a special behind-the-scenes look for his clients (like Kim Kadlec of J&J and several high-level Microsoft executives), a brilliant couple of hours he organized when he might well have been sleeping.
From a business standpoint, however, there was a renewed and focused vigor to the conversations. This sense of purpose overcame any shortcomings in glamour. Many of my peers reported they would be going back to the office with "actionable and meaningful follow-up," to quote just one. This year was far from just a schmoozefest, and we became determined to prove it was not, in fact, a boondoggle.
The lack of major parties (such as DDB's traditional beach event and BBDO's Friday night bash) gave way to smaller, more business-focused dinners and events. I noted that I was in company with many senior executives, using the time not just for socializing but for generating important takeaways. It seemed that it was the executives the next level down the chain that did not attend.
Several important initiatives furthered the business dialogues. One of the most talked-about issues of the festival, said The Guardian's Vicky Frost, was digital strategy and integration. In a year when entries for the press category at the festival fell by 40% to 2,394 entries, traditional agencies are grappling with how best to tackle online and mobile advertising in terms of both product and agency structure. Some believe that will result in a shift toward usability rather than toward the technology. "I think you have to just observe what consumers are doing, not get overly excited by what you can do," said Andrew Robertson, president of the BBDO Worldwide agency. "Content has to be engaging and useful." Laura Lang, chief executive of the global digital agency Digitas, agrees: "The days of just pushing a message out through digital are over."
Yes, there was fun to be had. In the main, the climate at Cannes was sunny – both in terms of our business as well as the weather. My personal forecast calls for increased results at future media gatherings, right along with an opportunity to maintain my tan.