Close-Up: Is Cannes back to its best this year?

Has the buzz around Cannes returned after 2009's more low-key festival, Matt Williams asks.

2009 was a pivotal year in the history of the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival. After a strong 2008, when the number of delegates and entries reached an all-time high, a tough economic climate altered the way in which many agencies approached the week, making it difficult for them to justify spending extortionate sums of money on sending staff to the event in huge numbers when redundancies were being made back home.

"Everyone was very conscious that they could not be seen to be splashing out on elaborate parties and extravagant client schmoozing last year," Russ Lidstone, the chief executive of Euro RSCG London, explains.

That's not to say that everyone was tucked up in bed by 11pm, but a more serious approach was certainly taken. The number of people attending seminars was actually up, and agencies put more of a focus on using the festival as an opportunity to inspire and learn from one another. DDB Worldwide, for instance, arranged for Barack Obama's presidential campaign manager, David Plouffe, to speak at the festival, while Havas launched its "Tck Tck Tck" initiative.

One year later, and the buzz around Cannes seems to be returning. Award submissions are up 7 per cent, and the number of people signed up as delegates has increased by an even greater figure.

Agencies are also committing in larger numbers too, with Ogilvy - which significantly cut back on Cannes last year - sending 170 people from its network this time around.

"People are feeling that because they missed last year, they don't want to let the opportunity slip for a second year running," Phil Thomas, the festival's chief executive, says. "It's still really the only place where agencies can truly interact with global clients on such a large scale, and that's something that's beneficial, whatever the climate."

Indeed, figures suggest that the number of clients last year dropped at a far lower rate than the number of agency delegates, and, this year, he promises that more clients will be in attendance than ever before.

But this doesn't necessarily mean that everyone will simply be back on the Carlton Terrace turning on the charm. Last year's difficulties helped serve as a reminder that Cannes is still one of the biggest global platforms to provide the industry with some of the most innovative and inspiring ideas that are out there.

And, at a time when the advertising landscape is changing more rapidly than ever, agencies will want to make sure that, this year, they don't miss out on the debates taking place.

"We've given those going a clear instruction to go out and learn," Tom Ewart, the joint executive creative director of Publicis London, says. "I've never been interested in the ostentatious, outwardly-pleased-with-itself part of Cannes anyway, but, now more than ever, it's vital to make sure that creativity takes precedence over the lifestyle aspect," he adds.

And while all signs do suggest that the alcohol will be flowing at a quicker rate than last year, Tony Quinn, JWT London's executive planning director, says that if you get the work/play balance right, there's little doubt the festival is a good investment for agencies.

"Cannes remains the most important celebration of ideas on a global scale," he says. "And if these ideas will serve as inspiration to us all for the years ahead, then who wouldn't want to be all over the best of the best?"

AGENCY HEAD - Russ Lidstone, chief executive, Euro RSCG London

"I take the view that Cannes is a good thing for an industry that's predicated on people, who can meet up and share thinking, share good work and build relationships.

"For many years, I think the festival had strayed away from those principles, though, which is why last year was, in fact, a turning point for the better.

"Everyone was more focused on thought leadership and the work itself, and I think that the culture engendered by the difficulties will be maintained this year too."

FESTIVAL HEAD - Phil Thomas, chief executive, Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival

"We've seen a huge rise this year from almost every country in terms of the number of pieces of work being entered into the awards and the number of people who have signed up as delegates.

"I think this is not only because we are starting to see some signs of recovery in the economy, but also because agencies that missed the festival are realising that Cannes is the only truly global event that the ad industry has and, by missing it, you are having to go without some of the most important debates taking place regarding the future of advertising."

AGENCY HEAD - Sarah Golding, managing partner, CHI & Partners

"Much of the reporting of Cannes focuses on the parties, but the real essence of Cannes is creativity, not the Gutter Bar.

"The real Cannes celebrates great and forward-thinking work from around the world, and that's never more important than when you are in, or coming out of, a recession.

"That's when the industry really needs to learn, embrace and apply new and brave ideas, and Cannes, at its best, is the global showcase of this.

"And this is something that clients are also recognising, with more and more sending delegates to immerse themselves in the best the world has to offer."

CREATIVE - Tom Ewart, joint executive creative director, Publicis London

"Cannes is a chance to celebrate what other countries are doing, it's a place to be inspired and, particularly for creatives, it reinvigorates you for the year ahead.

"I think it's important that the entire agency benefits from Cannes. We're sending a delegate from the creative department to attend all the seminars and see all the work, and report back on what's happening, to make sure everyone at home can enjoy what Cannes really has to offer.

"If we didn't do that, it would just make Cannes seem like something for the lucky few, and make those staying at home feel disillusioned about the whole thing."

- Got a view? E-mail us at campaign@haymarket.com

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