Cannes Lions Gets a Major Overhaul, and Publicis Says It Will Return in 2019

Ascential revamps festival, including cost structures

Under pressure from advertising holding companies who have come to see it as too expensive, Cannes Lions owner Ascential unveiled a sweeping revamp of its flagship festival today, introducing dozens of changes aimed at simplifying and modernizing the event as well as, critically, keeping costs down for attendees.

In an immediate response, Publicis Groupe, which is skipping the 2018 festival and spending that money on developing an internal AI platform, applauded the changes (which it worked on directly with Ascential) and announced it will be returning to Cannes in 2019.

Among the changes Cannes Lions is instituting for 2018:

• The festival will run for only five days (Monday to Friday, June 18-22) instead of the usual eight days.
• The cost of a Complete delegate pass is being cut by €900.
• The festival will introduce nine content “tracks” that will guide all festival programming as well as the the Lions themselves, which will be grouped under the tracks.
• Three Lions are being retired (Cyber, Integrated and Promo & Activation), while five new Lions are being added.
• More than 120 award subcategories are being removed.
• A single piece of work can be entered in no more than six Lions contests, where before it was unlimited.
• The points system is changing to further prioritize winning a Lion over getting shortlisted.
• Lions Entertainment and Lions Innovation are being integrated into the main festival.
• The festival has worked with the city of Cannes to offer cost-saving benefits including a freeze on hotel prices for 2018 and fixed-price menus (€20 & €30) at more than 50 restaurants across the city.

Publicis’ stinging decision to skip Cannes next year clearly helped spur many of these changes, as did pressure from WPP Group, which has also been critical of the costs associated with Cannes.

“We’ve been in touch with all of the holding companies, and all the networks that reside within them. So, it’s been a collective effort,” Simon Cook, director of creative excellence at Cannes Lions, told Adweek of the festival’s overhaul.

But Cook said the holding companies are far from Cannes Lions’ only constituency, and that the changes, while significant this year, are part of the 64-year-old festival’s ongoing efforts to evolve to better reflect the industry it celebrates.

“We get feedback from all sorts of people all the time,” he said. “This is a deeper level of engagement, maybe. The changes for 2018 are perhaps more radical and exciting than we’ve seen in the last few years. We feel it’s the right thing for the festival, and for everyone involved.”

Content Tracks

Most notably in terms of structure, Cannes Lions is introducing nine “tracks” that will guide all festival content going forward—both the programming and the awards. They are Reach, Comms, Craft, Experience, Innovation, Impact, Good, Entertainment and Health.

Cook described the tracks as the new “foundational framework for the entire festival.” All programming will be organized into the tracks, as will the Lions themselves—each Lions competition will live with one of the tracks.

Here’s how the Lions will be organized:

“The tracks were formed in consultation with the industry, and we feel it will better reflect the way the industry actually works,” Cook said. “For a long time, all those Lions just sat under the banner of ‘creativity’ or the banner of ‘Cannes Lions.’ Especially if you’re someone new to the festival, it can be quite difficult and quite daunting to navigate. Introducing those nine tracks, those nine disciplines of creativity, provides us with a set of constants, year on year, which resonate with different customer sets that come to the festival.”

As part of the new structure, the Lions Entertainment and Lions Innovation mini-festivals are being integrated into the main festival. Lions Innovation will run for five days instead of two. Lions Health will remain its own separate festival, but Lions Health delegates will also have access to two days of Lions Innovation.

Evolution of the Lions

Meanwhile, the Lions themselves are evolving. The Cyber, Integrated and Promo & Activation Lions are being eliminated, while five new Lions are being added—the Creative eCommerce Lions; the Social & Influencer Lions; the Industry Craft Lions; the Sustainable Development Goals Lions; and the Brand Experience & Activation Lions.

Many of the new Lions emerged from the ones being discontinued. For example, there was a large subset of Cyber that dealt with social media; that will now be judged in Social & Influencer. And the new Industry Craft Lions was created by carving out craft categories from Print, Outdoor and Design.

“The subcategories [in Industry Craft] remain largely the same, but we want them to be judged in that track so we can get a highly specialist jury of craftspeople to really get into the nitty-gritty of that work,” said Cook.

To better focus all the Lions competitions, some 120 subcategories have been removed. There is also a new entry cap on work—a single piece of work can only be entered in up to six Lions contests. “This will ensure the best work is able to shine, and allow each Lion to remain distinct and focused,” the festival says.

The points system that determines Agency of the Year and other prizes is also being revised to give more weight to winning Lions versus making the shortlist. You can see that math below.

The festival is also beginning the process of separating out pure charity work from brand-led work. The idea is to eventually have all charity work appear only in the “Good” track.

“I think sometimes people conflate charity work with the purpose-led brand work. But the long-term aim is to separate out charity work completely,” said Cook. “For 2018, we’ll present charity work that sits in the other tracks separately to the juries for the first time. That will be reflected in the award shows as well. All the brand-led work will be grouped together and celebrated, and people go and pick up their trophies for that. And then, in a separate section of the award show, we’ll do the same for charity. So it’s really clear and distinct.”

The point is to recognize that charity work is different territory, and the creative bar is different. (This has already been acknowledged in a more limited way in the past, as pure charity work has not been eligible to win a Grand Prix at Cannes, except for the Grand Prix for Good.)

Delegate Experience

Finally, Cannes Lions is offering more benefits to delegate, many of them with the goal of cutting costs.

The cost of a delegate pass, which has exceeded €4,000 in recent years, is being cut by €900. Cannes is also freezing 2017 hotel prices for 2018, and offering fixed-price menus (€20 & €30) for festival pass-holders at more than 50 restaurants across the city.

“We’ve got really strong, long-standing relationships with the city of Cannes, and the mayor’s office. They’ve been instrumental in creating the new delegate benefits we’re announcing. And the aim is just to make it easier to plan your trip to Cannes,” said Cook.

The festival is also looking to bring more young people to Cannes. Any office that submitted 15 entries or more to the festival in 2017 will receive a free Young Lions delegate pass for 2018, which Ascential estimates will bring 656 more young people.

Cannes Lions is also promising a new exhibition format for showing work all around town, not just at the Palais, and greater digital access for those who engage with the festival online.

Publicis Responds

Publicis Groupe applauded the changes that Ascential has announced, and said it will return to the Cannes Lions festival in 2019.

“Having worked closely with the festival’s organizers over the past six months, Publicis is delighted to reaffirm its commitment to the Cannes Lions and its transformation. Publicis Groupe will actively participate in these efforts and renew its presence for the 2019 edition of the Festival and beyond,” the holding company said in a statement.

“Ascential’s decision to re-center the Cannes Lions’ focus around creativity is commendable, and Publicis Groupe is looking forward to attending the Festival in 2019,” said Arthur Sadoun, chairman and CEO of Publicis Groupe. “We are pleased that our decision to refocus our investments for 12 months in order to create the platform of the future has inspired a larger discussion in the industry, leading to what are clearly some positive changes.”

WPP, which was also involved in working with Ascential on changes to Cannes Lions, declined to comment for this story.

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