Cannes Lions Festival Attendance Reportedly Down 20–25% This Year

Publicis Groupe's absence doesn't quite explain the drop

Awards submissions are down by approximately the same amount. Getty Images
Headshot of Patrick Coffee

CANNES, France—Attendance at this year’s Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is down considerably in both the paid and unpaid categories, according to multiple parties at the festival who spoke to Adweek on condition of anonymity.

Three sources put the total decline between 20 and 25 percent. Official numbers from Cannes parent company Ascential state that approximately 12,000 paying individuals or delegates showed up last year.

A Cannes spokesperson declined to address these claims directly but pointed instead to growth in attendance on the client side.

“Given the volume of walk-ups throughout the festival week, which have been higher this year than ever, we’re not able to finalize our numbers as we haven’t tagged all these new attendees and will complete this post-festival,” the representative wrote. “However, early indications are that we have strong double-digit growth of both marketers and consultants.”

One fact is indisputable: The number of overall entries for this year’s awards dropped significantly. In 2017, it saw 41,170 checked and validated submissions while there were only 32,372 for this year. This decline is proportional to the reported drop in attendance.

Publicis Groupe’s very public decision to send only 84 employees (excepting CEO Arthur Sadoun) is, of course, a contributing factor in this shift—a fact mentioned prominently in the Cannes press release stating that “as expected, overall entry numbers are reduced” for 2018.

Said release also trumpeted the fact that brand entries are up 84 percent this year, which is again in keeping with the fact that 400 Publicis campaigns have been nominated for awards despite the network only paying related fees for one of them.

This price-conscious narrative has been building for some time. Last year, former WPP CEO Martin Sorrell criticized the Publicis move, saying it wasn’t “the right approach” while simultaneously confirming that his own network’s attendance totals for 2017 would drop from 1,000 to 500. Cannes also went through a major overhaul late last year after the Publicis news broke and WPP officials effectively threatened to pull out altogether unless their demands were met.

One source suggested that the steeper-than-expected decline in attendance stemmed, in part, from the fact that quite a few marketing executives are staying in the area without paying for festival passes. Therefore, they can focus on networking and attending meetings with their agency partners, as well as consultants, software companies and platforms like Facebook and Google, without paying related fees.

It is unclear at this time how the reported decline will affect the finances of Cannes Lions or Ascential. Last year, the parent company reported 7 percent organic revenue growth despite the decline in paid delegates and the fact that passes and awards submissions continue to account for the vast majority of the company’s revenue.

@PatrickCoffee Patrick Coffee is a senior editor for Adweek.