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Alexandra Bruell, The Wall Street Journal reporter, wrote an interesting piece today on holding company mandates their teams cut back this year on expenses for the upcoming Cannes Advertising Festival.

WPP, Interpublic and Dentsu are all cutting Cannes budgets this year, according to Bruell’s piece. Ohers are thinking long and hard about the money they spend there.

And Cannes is a pricey endeavor.

Per the WSJ, it can cost up to $20,000 to send one person. Multiply that by hundreds of people and your talking real dough.

It’s no secret that agencies crave recognition and love awards. The Cannes Lions are considered the Oscars of the ad biz. Awards are used as marketing tools. Right or wrong, agencies believe clients and prospects are impressed by their trophy cases, especially when they contain hardware from Cannes.

Of course, the organizers of the Cannes Lions are well aware of this and have exploited it to maximum advantage over the years, raising entry fees, creating wildly expensive opportunities to sponsor sessions at the Festival and adding as many new awards as it can.

Grumbling from the agency side about the cost of Cannes is not new. For years, I’ve heard “What-the-fuck-you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me” stories from worker bees at shops who orchestrate their organizations’ Cannes presence and then get an earful from bosses when they see the bills.

So what’s different now?

For agencies, especially those at publicly traded holding companies, every penny counts. That’s been true for a while, but now more than ever, given the procurement-focused attitude of clients as the economy limps along at a low-single digit growth rate.

Maybe clients are wising up to the fact that Cannes awards—and awards in general—don’t necessarily reflect the true prowess of an agency. At the end of the day, Cannes is a self-congratulatory schmooze fest where agency judges (for the most part) bestow awards on agencies.

Sure, every year, some of the industry’s best and brightest go to Cannes and give good inspirational talk. And then people reconvene at the Gutter Bar a few hours later and rehash the talk as they get blitzed. Some even throw up later or go have sex on the Croisette — as Adweek hilariously photo-documented a few years back.

There are also plenty of gum-flapping bullshit sessions that agencies pay to put on just for the exposure. (But for what I’m not sure.)

Look, maybe when the economy starts booming again worries about the cost of Cannes will be a non-issue. Till then, it appears to be a big issue.

Asked for comment, a spokesman for the Cannes Lions had this to say via email:

“Our customers trust us with sensitive trading information and so to protect confidentiality, we really don’t comment on individual relationships. We are in the middle of a very busy trading period and are still taking large volumes of bookings (as we do every year right up to the last day of the Festival). All I can say is that we are looking forward to another great Festival.”

Hmmm. Thanks for clearing that up Cannes Lions! Not sure what that means. Maybe the squeakier wheels will get a slightly better deal than last year, but that’s just a wild-ass guess.

And not necessarily accurate. The spokesman had more:

“The communications landscape has evolved over the years and as a result, so has Cannes Lions. It’s our job to mirror the industry we serve. Over the last three years, we’ve launched specialist streams for innovation, healthcare and entertainment and new Lions that reflect the changing shape of the industry and the new players within it.

“So our attendee profile has changed to mirror that. Alongside the agency and media owner names people expect to see at Cannes Lions, businesses like McKinsey, Accenture, Universal Music, Snap – and of course large numbers of client companies – are an increasingly important part of the Festival community.”

So suck it up agencies!

Your business kinda sucks right now, and the Lions Org., fully aware of that, has been busy recruiting other attendees, some of whom, like Accenture, want to eat your lunch. Others, of course, are clients. Yes, that’s just what you want — your clients being chatted up by competitors (no doubt winning lots of awards) at the show. Wonder what they have to talk about?

So take your 2.5% discount this year (maybe), soak up some Mediterranean sunshine and good luck with your entries!

And don’t forget to pack the ibuprofen.

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