Why the Cannes Lions owner's IPO is good for the industry

It may have been a long time coming, but the Cannes Lions flotation is good news.

Wilkins: Ascential's IPO is good news for the ad industry
Wilkins: Ascential's IPO is good news for the ad industry

Obviously becoming a listed company comes with certain accountabilities, such as the stress of reporting, managing short-term shareholder needs with longer-term strategy, and further strains found within the reams of reporting bureaucracy. This is unavoidable, and something that not even the likes of Alibaba would be able to avoid in their own endeavours. 

But ultimately, the IPO news is the best possible outcome for the people that rely on the Cannes Lions festival to recognise their talent, because it means the sanctity and impartiality of the business will remain intact. 

It was obvious that at some point Ascential, better known as its former incarnation, Top Right Group, would divest its interest in the business at some point. My concern however, which I'm sure was shared by others, was that Cannes Lions would get eaten up by another business-to-business or events group. 

This outcome would have led to it being managed as part of a portfolio of other business events unrelated to advertising and ultimately would have seen the organisers forced to compromise on budget, or forced to change the business model behind the awards to meet the demands of a new owner and likely destroy what is currently the most prestigious of ceremonies in our industry. 

With an IPO, the product that is Cannes Lions will go from strength to strength both in terms of scale and diversity. Of course, being owned publicly means answering financially to a whole new beast – investors want to see a return on their endeavours and Ascential will now be beholden to the company's quarterly report above all else. 

But this is not the same situation as the Alibaba flotation, which may have taken the title for being the biggest in history but led to the company needing to define itself for investors outside of China or the US who weren't used to it as a household name. 

Ascential will not have this problem. It has flagship brands within its stable such as the fashion bible Drapers, the trends data provider WGSN, and of course, the Cannes Lions event which is known by every brand and advertising agency as the most important event of the year. 

I believe the new quarterly pressure will have a positive affect on the company and ultimately on the annual week at Cannes. It will allow the awards product to continue pushing into new areas, such as the Lions Entertainment awards launching this year, which will in turn help push brands and businesses into new sectors, driving new talent into the industry.

I'm sure the investors and stock exchange will only see merit in continuing to grow the business.

Jon Wilkins is the executive chairman at Karmarama.

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