The Cannes Palais Gets Even More Crowded as Consultancies Assert Their Influence in 2019

Accenture, Deloitte go big on submissions and activations

Graphic illustrating various holding companies supporting Cannes
The story may be old, but the trend is undeniable.
Getty Images, Accenture, Deloitte, Ascential, Publicis, WPP

The tired agencies-versus-consultancies narrative is dead. And maybe it was never quite the right perspective in the first place.

“I don’t think it’s a ‘versus’; I think it’s an ‘and,'” said Mark Singer, principal at Deloitte Digital. “The future of an agency is to look more like a consulting firm.”

But the big billboard on the Croisette in Cannes next week makes one thing quite clear: Accenture Interactive is here to eat your lunch in a digital doggy bag.

The not-quite-new kids in town

This year, Accenture Interactive, which has partnered with Cannes Lions for a number of years, created said “Digital Doggy Bags,” a series of comprehensive overviews of the week’s content. Deloitte Digital, on the other hand, produced a “goal house” around sustainable development goals with various charitable organizations and NGOs and, as the festival’s official sustainability partner, has sponsored a giveaway of reusable water bottles that can be filled at fountains throughout Cannes to eliminate single-use plastic waste at the festival. IBM iX will use its AI program Watson to help festival-goers find specific topics within Cannes’ many panels and speeches.

They’re everywhere you go.

Accenture's Cannes submissions went from around 150 in 2018 to 500 in 2019, and Deloitte's increased fourfold to 202.

“[Consultancies] send more people every year,” said Philip Thomas, president of the festival’s parent company Ascential. He downplayed the growing influence of these companies, which are several times larger than the biggest holding group, saying they are “still very minor players compared to holding company networks and ad agencies.”

Yet he estimated that entries from Accenture agencies across categories went from around 75 in 2017 to 150 last year. A representative of the firm said the total number more than tripled again this year, with 28 campaigns becoming 90 and total submissions ballooning to 500. Deloitte’s 2019 submissions totaled 202, a fourfold increase from last year.

Recent years have seen the festival add new categories to keep up with the evolution of advertising, such as the Experience Lion and ecommerce Lion—and these are also more likely to align with consultancies’ specialties.

We’ve acquired many creative agencies over the past year,” said Accenture Interactive head of marketing and communications Mish Fletcher, explaining why the numbers were so much higher. In addition to Droga5, her firm also bought Germany’s Kolle Rebbe and the Netherland’s Storm Digital, among others. “And for the first time this year,” Fletcher said, “we have an Accenture Interactive award entry from Sweden,” in the form of AI project “Memory Lane.”

While Accenture has rented a yacht at Cannes in years past, the doggy bag marks its first large-scale activation. Fletcher said her company saw Cannes Lions as another client, working “in lockstep” with the organization for six months to deliver the concept and “reinvent the festival experience.” Accenture also hopes to help reinvent the agency landscape by formally introducing its newest executive duo, David Droga and Brian Whipple, in one of 10 main stage appearances coinciding with the Interactive division’s 10th anniversary.

But for Fletcher, this year’s most important goals echo that classic BBDO slogan about The Work.

We’d much rather show than tell; that’s more credible,” she said. And show they will, via eight different yacht-top demos ranging from extended-reality shopper marketing to AI for programmatic buying and esports demos. (“I believe Fortnite has peaked,” Fletcher said.)

Despite its outsize presence this year, Deloitte’s Singer says his company still takes a “strategic” approach to Cannes, one of only a “handful” of events important enough for the firm to attend in a visible way.

“Every year we’re learning more and more and evolving, doing things with purpose behind them; it’s not just a party on the beach,” he said, noting 2019’s green focus, along with a “longstanding commitment to diversity and education” embodied by partnerships with the Female Quotient and Young Lions organizations.

At the same time, he acknowledged the value of having work recognized by one’s peers—hence the dramatic rise in submissions.

The holding companies are holding back

Holding companies approach this new challenge individually: WPP rented a space on the beach for the first time, while Publicis took last year’s zero-budget experience in stride and submitted 50% fewer entries than in 2017.

But investments, overall, are down. Last year’s attendance dropped by an estimated 20-25%, a decline that could not be entirely attributed to the Publicis pullout.

"Our golden rule is if you have a client there or [submitted] work for a big client, then you go. If you don't, you’re probably not going to show up."
Anonymous holding company source

One holding company source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said his network will send 10% fewer people to Cannes this year than in years past. “Our golden rule is, if you have a client there or [submitted] work for a big client, then you go. If you don’t, you’re probably not going to show up,” he said.

The Publicis decision ended up exposing longstanding tensions about returns on investment at a fraught moment for the industry. As CEO Arthur Sadoun told Adweek, “The fact that we decided not to spend money on Cannes has had a positive impact on what Cannes is today.”

Some groups remain modest. “We try to keep our investment proportionate to our size, but we strongly believe in the power of creativity, and our agencies have always been very active at the festival as a place to explore the business impact of that creativity with our clients,” said a spokesperson for MDC Partners, whose new CEO Mark Penn will be making the rounds at the beach this year.

The MDC representative did not elaborate, but less than a year ago one of its best-known agencies, Crispin Porter + Bogusky, publicly announced that it would no longer submit any work to awards shows.

Most holding companies declined to comment.

Old names still loom large

Despite the increased role of consultancies, Facebook, Google and indie agencies alike, the festival remains primarily a showcase for the holding companies.

“When it comes to the number of people who attend, the number of entries, the number of speakers on the stages, those things that are really the heart of the festival, the holding companies are still far and away the biggest contributors,” Thomas said.

WPP may be the best such example this year, as speakers at its beach series include CEO Mark Read, Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg and Snap Inc. co-founder Evan Spiegel.

“We felt it was the right thing to do at the right time, given the focus on being a creative transformation company and where we’re headed with our new strategy,” said WPP chief marketing and growth officer Laurent Ezekiel. His statements echoed those of Read when he emphasized the need for strong creative leadership, particularly in North America.

"When it comes to … those things that are really the heart of the festival, the holding companies are still far and away the biggest contributors."
Philip Thomas, CEO, Ascential

Ezekiel claimed the WPP Beach does not represent an increased investment in the festival by WPP but, rather, “rebalancing and getting the most value from it.” He declined to comment on how the number of submissions compared to past years, adding, “We really put a lot of thought into where we submit and the categories.”

The programming at WPP Beach will also allow the holding company to promote the organizational changes it has made in the past year, including the mergers resulting in Wunderman Thompson and VMLY&R.

“Whether it’s the beginning of the week or towards the end of the week, those companies are highly represented throughout,” Ezekiel said, noting that Wunderman Thompson global CEO Mel Edwards, VMLY&R global CCO Debbi Vandeven and others will make appearances, in addition to up-and-coming creative stars.

After all, Cannes is a for-profit festival celebrating creativity.

And as Ascential’s Thomas said, agencies and holding companies still win the vast majority of Lions. That will be true this year and for the foreseeable future. But Mark Tuttsell’s final top 20 list includes one campaign from Virtue, which is part of Vice, and two from Droga5, which is now part of … Accenture.

The lines on the beach have blurred.

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