“So… What about that Publicis thing then?” Of all the potential ‘hot topics on the Croisette’ that we brainstormed in the weeks running up to Cannes, one of the world’s biggest advertising holding companies putting a merciless kibosh on award show spending was not one.
As a social lubricant it’s been quite fantastic. An easy in to conspiratorial gossip with everyone one meets (with the exception of some rather frazzled-looking Publicis Groupe-ees). When one is both a bit socially awkward and attempting a dry Cannes (last night’s prosecco aside), anything that keeps the flow of conversation going is most welcome.
“Publicity stunt, gotta be,” has been the response from every single person I’ve quizzed. For the recently minted CEO of Publicis Groupe, it’s a move that certainly says ‘je suis arriv é’. News of the decision was distributed via an internal memo, to much confusion and surprise.
But the frisson of high school scandal aside, the consequences of Publicis Groupe’s decision to stop spending on award show entries and attendance as of July 1st are going to be interesting to watch. Will it scare off talent? Or will clients and creatives care less than we think? Will it slay the award show behemoth or will the crisis meetings between Cannes and Publicis (which we’re hearing have gone on late into the night) lead to a softening?
Over the past few days, me and the rest of the LBB team have bumped into several of the other award shows and other award-related businesses. Their responses have ranged from visible panic to sceptically raised eyebrows and, even, an admirably zen ‘it is what it is’. There’s no denying that award shows are a stonking big cost for agencies – not only in the millions spent globally on entries and delegates passes but the lesser known cottage industry for editors and voice over recorders and other production people creating the case study films. I recently spoke to one sound design company that clocked up £20,000 recording voice overs for the case study films for one piece of work. The work was submitted into several categories, each with a tailored V.O., and over the weeks the agency kept coming back to tweak the script and re-record. Expensive business, indeed.
It’s also a good time to remind ourselves of Goodhart’s Law: “When a measure becomes a target, it ceases to be a good measure.” When holding companies are setting targets for their agencies to hit at Cannes Lions, that’s got to distort the focus. Has the industry become too focused on awards or are they a useful bar-raising tool? I’ve spoken to global level CCOs who have told me just how motivating a Lion win can be for agencies who are finding their swagger and confidence, particularly in up-and-coming markets.
But on the other hand, there are award shows that invest much of their revenue into education, supporting and nurturing the next generation. From Creative Circle, which now has official charity status and is funding people from diverse backgrounds, who normally could not afford London rents, to the London International Awards, which pays for up and coming young creatives to attend its Creative Conversations event instead of throwing an award show, and D&AD, whose New Blood Shift has seen it get into communities and reach beyond the nepotistic circles that keep adland pale and stale to reach out to exciting raw talent. Will those award shows with a little bit more of a social conscience get a pass?
I’ll also be curious to see how enforceable this really is. What’s to stop agencies taking budget from elsewhere, or even stopping ambitious creative directors funding an entry themselves?
And what of Marcel? The new AI platform that the groupe is hoping will connect its employees and agencies, that is, not the agency. That’s where the holding company will be ploughing its award show and marketing savings. If it works, it’s going to be a big demo for its tech and business transformation capabilities… but the industry is really at the first stages of its flirtations with AI. Is the tech really there yet? And what about the adage about being first to be second. If it goes wrong, Publicis will be making the mistakes that its competitors can learn from.