WPP’s Martin Sorrell Criticizes Publicis’ Cannes Boycott as Not ‘the Right Approach’

But the chief cut the agency's involvement in half this year

CANNES, France—During a press interview after WPP CEO Martin Sorrell’s keynote here with Robert Craft and Ron Howard, the executive responded to Publicis’ controversial decision to ban the network’s agencies from entering award shows for one year. While WPP has cut the number of staffers that it sends to Cannes from 1,000 last year to 500 this year, Sorrell said he doesn’t think a full-blown boycott is right.

“We think with the industry facing some of the opportunities and challenges that this isn’t the right atmosphere, this isn’t the right approach,” Sorrell said. “Now I don’t think a boycott is the right way to do it. A boycott didn’t work on YouTube.”

He added, “The reason I say that is we know that our people enjoy this and are proud if they win an award and they go on stage. Similarly, clients like it, I would say even love it. By boycotting, what you’re doing is destroying that and I think that’s wrong.”

Sorrell said that the location of the festival in Cannes may be one way to cut costs going forward and suggested more central—and cheaper—locations in New York, London, Paris or Berlin. He also said that the event’s owners, Ascential, plan to examine how the event is run and organized this year.

“I think it can be done differently and it can be done better,” Sorrell said. “Every organization we deal with, including our own, is going through major technological and structural change—Cannes should be no different.”

“Ninety percent of this is recognizing that you’ve got a problem, there is a problem and it has to change,” he said.

That said, Sorrell applauded the event’s expansion into new categories of forward-thinking awards like data Lions and titanium awards.

“It’s become much more inclusive from its traditional roots,” Sorrell said. “Having said that, I welcome the breadth of it, we welcome the fact that we have health Lions, that we have creative data Lions, that we have glass Lions, that we have titanium awards for integration—all of that is to be admired and respected and defining creativity in a much more modern way, much better way than Don Draper, if he were here, would define it.”