Cannes Lions Addresses Marketers’ Increased Skepticism by Launching Its Own Internal Advisory Committee

Top CMOs have already signed on

The organization is acting quickly to counter industry leaders' doubts about its value.
Courtesy of Cannes

Today the Cannes Lions organization responded to widespread reports of industry leaders’ uncertainty about its future with a classic PR move: launching a committee to advise itself.

“There have been a lot of discussions this week about the structure of the Festival, and we want to create the right Cannes Lions experience for all participants,” said Philip Thomas, CEO of Cannes organizer Ascential Events, in a press release. “The thing that unites them all is their belief in creativity as a powerful force in the world, and this is at the heart of everything we do.”

Several top brand marketers have already committed to participating in the as-yet-unnamed committee. So far they include P&G chief brand officer Marc Pritchard, Unilever CMO Keith Weed, AT&T chief brand officer and BBDO veteran Fiona Carter, Burger King brand marketing chief Fernando Machado and Heineken chief commercial officer Jan Derck van Karnebeek. Notably absent from that list are any executives from the agency side.

The committee came to life as a form of crisis communications after the heads of several major holding companies openly weighed the costs of participating in Cannes to its relative value for their organizations. The most obvious example of such skepticism was Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun’s decision to skip next year’s events.

While Sadoun claimed that this “tough decision” was more about developing his agency’s internal communications platform Marcel than snubbing awards shows and ensured Adweek in a subsequent interview that Publicis would return to “the normal cycle” next year, his decision still sparked dozens of conversations in the Palais and beyond.

Never one to hold his tongue, WPP chairman Martin Sorrell then managed to simultaneously echo and criticize the Publicis plan. At a press event today, he called the festival “too expensive” and “too frenetic” while adding, “I don’t think a boycott is the right way to do it.”

This is not the first time Sorrell has criticized the Cannes organization, and WPP reportedly cut its total festival attendance in half this year.

Pritchard offered a client’s perspective in a statement on the committee announcement, writing, “We attend Cannes Lions to focus on creativity to drive growth. It’s the right time to step back and take a look at the best way forward for Cannes Lions to provide the best possible platform for creativity in our industry, and P&G is ready and willing to help.”

According to the release, the first meeting of this committee will occur “shortly after the festival.” In the meantime, debates show no sign of slowing.