With $18 Billion in Media Up for Grabs, This Is a Huge Year for Dealmakers at Cannes

Keep an eye on acquisitions and recruiting, too

Beyond the judging, schmoozing and general bacchanalia of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity is a significant amount of wheeling and dealing, be it to acquire an agency or poach a creative chief.

But also top of mind this year is the tsunami of media reviews—18 currently, including Mondelez, Sony, Volkswagen, Johnson & Johnson and Coca-Cola.

"If there's any brokering going on, it's going to be around" the major media reviews, said Andrew Benett, CEO of Havas Worldwide.

The heads of holding companies and media shops, Benett said, will angle to "get extra meetings in and more dialogue with people running those reviews because $18 billion at whatever percentage you want to take—just take 5 percent—is a lot of money to move around."

"That's going to be a [big opportunity]," added Tim Andree, executive chairman of the Dentsu Aegis Network. "Mondelez always has a presence—they're up on the stage. Coca-Cola always has a presence—they're up on the stage. … A lot of interesting discussions happen along the Croisette."

That's not to say that a sale won't go through or that a top job won't be filled. After all, Horizon Media, a big independent player, remains available, and its CEO Bill Koenigsberg is attending the festival. Also, Benett and others are searching for top talent.

"You've got so many hitters in such a small footprint, how can you not [talk deals]?" said Droga5 vice chairman Andrew Essex.

Past years have yielded a wide variety of deals, in fact. In 2013 alone, Publicis Groupe CEO Maurice Lévy forged a mega-merger with Omnicom Group CEO John Wren that ultimately imploded; then-Deutsch L.A. CEO Mike Sheldon convinced Arnold's Pete Favat to become his CCO; and 72andSunny met with Diageo to lay the groundwork for entering a global Smirnoff review that the shop later won. And while WME's investment in Droga5 was brokered before the 2013 festival, word of a pending deal surfaced as David Droga told clients at Cannes that year that a strategic alliance was imminent. Three weeks later, WME said it would buy 49 percent of the shop.

In 2012, WPP Group CEO Martin Sorrell completed and unveiled his acquisition of AKQA on the same day.

"Sir Martin Sorrell and I shook hands on the deal at Cannes," recalled AKQA chairman Tom Bedecarré. "In fact, immediately upon shaking hands together, Sir Martin marched me into a WPP-Facebook partnership meeting with all of the senior WPP and Facebook executives attending Cannes Lions—and announced it."

So, clearly Cannes is not only fertile ground for negotiations but also a glittering stage for the reveal. As one top holding company executive explained, "People come with pretty baked deals, claim that they ironed them out there and announce them because they figure everybody is there and they're going to get max bang for buck."