Is House Festival in need of a Cannes Lions-style committee?
A view from Jeremy Lee

Is House Festival in need of a Cannes Lions-style committee?

Cannes woes have been well documented. But the problems for Soho House Group, once the darling of the advertising scene, are less familiar.

The lights might be going out all over the Cote d’Azur (temporarily) with Publicis Groupe’s decision to pull the plug on its involvement in the Cannes Lions beano, but the UK’s very own mini ad gathering – House Festival – looks to still be in sparkling health.

Particular credit is due to the chairman of Blue 449, Phil Georgiadis, for managing to somehow circumvent Publicis Groupe’s moratorium on spending promotional activity by continuing to host a marquee there. Perhaps the fact that Blue 449 is still 25% owned by M&C Saatchi Group was a mitigating factor. 

His agency joins a whole host of other companies from the marcomms sector – Wunderman, Freuds, BBC Worldwide, M&C Saatchi Merlin, UKTV, ITV etc. – that are funding the lavish music, lobster and champagne fest. 

The parallels between the excesses of the Croisette and those within the confines of Marble House don’t just end with the fayre on offer; the eclectic bands that have been assembled to play and the smattering of TV talent that can be seen through the haze of the barbecue smoke all add to the ambience. Moreover, despite what might be going on at the surface, the owners of both Cannes – Ascential Group – and House Festival – Soho House Group – seem to be suffering similar sorts of existential crises.

Cannes woes, to which it has responded with the creation of an advisory committee to prevent others withdrawing support, have been well documented within this organ. But the problems for Soho House Group, once the darling of the creative and advertising scene, are perhaps less familiar. 

While membership of Soho House, formerly a single venue on Greek Street but now an 18-strong chain of clubs and ersatz farms, was once a symbol of exclusivity attracting the likes of Sadie Frost and her hungry toddler, the brand has been stretched to almost breaking point. Those celebrities that made the brand famous in the first place are now rarely to be seen among the Aperol Spritz and flat iron chicken. 

Last October Soho House Group sold off various assets including its stakes in Pizza East, Dirty Burger and Chicken Shop and increased its overdraft with Barclays in order to inject £40 million into the business. The previous year it took out another loan, while it also saw its credit rating downgraded. 

Among the advertising community, the Soho House brand’s ubiquity has perhaps diminished its appeal – it has lost its sheen and some of its magic, perhaps like Cannes Lions itself. Thankfully House Festival remains perhaps the last hurrah as an "industry" event, as the realities of hosting such lavish parties when many agencies are being forced to reconfigure their businesses and re-evaluate their priorities (as indicated in the mumblings about Cannes) have become all too apparent.

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