Here’s What Publicis’ CEO Has to Say to Critics of His One-Year Ban on Award Shows

Arthur Sadoun speaks to Adweek about Cannes, talent and the definition of great work

Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun, shown at an agency meeting last month, says his awards hiatus will help ensure the agency network's long-term survival.
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CANNES, France—Publicis Groupe’s Arthur Sadoun knows he’s pissed off a lot of people this week, and he’s keenly aware that his competitors are pouncing on it. But he’s holding firm to his controversial decision to ban award show entries across his network’s many agencies for one year.

In a candid interview with Adweek in Cannes, the newly elevated CEO responded to his critics while also sending a message of commitment to his 80,000 employees.

“It’s a tough decision to make, clearly,” he said. “But we believe if we’re really committed to creativity, which we are, it’s time to reinvent the tool that will celebrate and foster creativity tomorrow. This is what we’re doing.”

"I see this year as a pause to say, 'OK guys, how do we make sure that 10 years from now, we’re still here?'"
Arthur Sadoun, Publicis CEO

While the decision to pause awards was both a financial and strategic one—coming as the network rolled out an internal tool called Marcel to highlight its intended shift under Sadoun from network to platform—it has sparked quite an emotional response by coming as the industry attended the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

Adweek asked Sadoun about a variety of the criticisms against his move, and here’s what he had to say:

On timing his announcement during Cannes

“Yesterday, we had our annual meeting. It may have seemed like a crisis meeting, but I invite you to look at the invitation; it was sent four months ago. It happens every year at the same date.

“The problem with making this kind of decision in this place is you have roughly all the competition, that obviously would think to take initiative, and they’re going to tell you, ‘We are for creativity!’ What is the competition doing to bring [the industry] to another level?”

On reinventing the agency network

“What has been difficult for us during this week is that the decision was really about  how we reinvent the way we work, how we put technology at the service of creativity and how do we make sure, most of all, that we do that for our people, i.e. the young generation, who doesn’t want to work for a holding company as we have been doing in the past. They want to make things, they want to be recognized, and they want to have infinite possibilities.

“I see this year as a pause to say, OK guys, how do we make sure that 10 years from now, we’re still here? How do we make sure that the young generation that will make the success of our group want to work with us and actually get the impression there’s a future in our industry?”

On the extent of the award hiatus

“Any work that will start to be created tomorrow will be awarded, because by the time you find the idea, you sell the idea, the idea goes on air, we are back with a Clio and the normal cycle.

“What is a year? Any work that will be developed starting today will actually go through the normal [awards] cycle. That’s for sure.”

On his opinions of the Cannes Lions

“The reason this has been irritating is it becomes, ‘Should we come to Cannes or not?’ By the way, we’re not going to go to CES. Does that mean we are not involved in technology? So the problem I’m having is what matters to me today is my people and my creatives. The talent we have here is nothing compared to the talent we don’t have here.”

"You know where the work is done? It’s done on the ground. And who’s on the beach?"
Arhur Sadoun, Publicis CEO

“I’ve been Agency of the Year in Cannes four years in a row. Cannes is really important to me as an award show. This is what I said to my people. I said: ‘If you think I like to have to do this kind of thing, you’re wrong. I’m doing it because I think at one point it is important for us to refocus on what is essential, and the essential is to deliver great work for the year to come.’

“When I see what is happening in the market, when I see the time our clients are spending with platforms instead of being in the Palais looking at the work… By the way, you know where the work is done? It’s done on the ground. And who’s on the beach?

“It’s not Cannes that matters. Cannes is a reflection of our industry.”

On the value of awards

“Awards are incredibly important, not for being famous but to measure the quality of your work compared to competition in the same category. And on this I really want to continue to invest. I want to make sure our work is measured. But I don’t want the award to be the reason why my work is known.

“We are very serious about awards. Awards are important for us—not to get recognized, but to be judged. To see if your work is really outstanding.

“This is what we are building with this platform. We are making sure that any big idea, any creative that wants to do more, that wants to be more engaged,  that wants to change the way they work, can do it within Publicis.”

On work that deserves to win

“I believe great work is work that arrives in Cannes being already famous. If you have to wait for Cannes to be famous, you have a problem. We are not building campaigns for awards. We are building campaigns that will increase the business of our clients who measure creativity.”

"I believe great work is work that arrives in Cannes being already famous. If you have to wait for Cannes to be famous, you have a problem. "
Arthur Sadoun, Publicis CEO

“The number of work that arrives to the festival that is not known and needs the festival to be known, this I don’t like.

“Awards are great to compare, but not to be known. None of the work that needs to go to any festival to be known is the kind of work we want. We want work that really stands for something.”

On balancing creativity with tech

“We are more committed than ever to putting creativity at the center and at the forefront of our organization. We stand for that, and we’re going to do it. We are drawing a line in the sand, investing massively in technology in order to make sure that wherever you sit in the world, your idea could be identified and, most of all, your talents could be identified to work on any brief, wherever you are.”

On whether a year without awards will hurt young talent

“What matters is that to win is to do great work. And you don’t need to be in an awards show to have, in your CV, great work.

“Any people who come tomorrow to Publicis, by the time they develop the work, we’ll be back in the race.”

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