Close-Up: Live issue - Is the appeal of Cannes industry-wide?

Does Cannes represent the zenith of adland's creativity, regardless of discipline, Kunal Dutta asks.

More than 17,000 faces from across adland will descend on the spark-ling shores of the French Riviera next week for the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.

Of that figure, 9,000 are thought to be accredited delegates. Behind these follow an unofficial band comprising production companies, suppliers, clients, journalists and headhunters. Many are happier to just wander the fringes, to observe, network or tout for business.

And the numbers say it all. For an industry notorious for downsizing many of its customs in the event's 54-year lifespan, the Cannes Lions is still the calendar event. James Murphy, the chief executive of Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R, agrees. "Before we became part of a network, we may not have had as much reason to be there. Since we did, our presence is a necessity."

The reasons, he asserts, are twofold. "First, it's a chance to gather as many people from our key network offices together. Second, from a creative perspective, the Cannes Lions are a powerful currency for global networks."

Stephen Woodford, the DDB London chief executive, concurs, but points to the changing nature of Cannes. Traditionally, he says, the event has associations of being purely a lovefest for creatives, but since Procter & Gamble first attended in 2003, that has changed.

A glance at the programme confirms this, with a line-up peppered with seminars chaired by the likes of Vodafone, Accenture and American Express. Plus, more agencies are now coming with clients in tow.

Woodford believes this is all part of a wider understanding of the role that creativity and business effectiveness play. "Brands such as Budweiser, Volkswagen and PlayStation have already grasped the value that creativity plays, " he says. "As more advertisers are realising that the very best creativity is a more effective driver for their businesses, many are using Cannes as a rallying point to raise their sights."

Creatively, Cannes is still a force in demand. This year, a record 25,700 entries from 80 different countries passed over the judges tabletops. Of these, the US was the largest contributor, with 3,569 entries; Germany came in second with 2,310, and Brazil was third with 2,203. Britain, in comparison, has entered 1,684, ranking it fourth.

The trophies, which historically have credited the most creative TV, print and outdoor advertising, have widened their remit to include interactive, radio, sales promotion, integrated advertising, as well as the best media and direct marketing. Steve Stretton, the executive creative director of Archibald Ingall Stretton, thinks this has altered the priority of Cannes, with more agencies from other disciplines eager to put themselves in contention.

This is proved by the relatively new categories such as the Titanium and Integrated Lions, which have increased entries by 61 per cent (324) from 2006, and the Promo Lions, which have risen to 784, up 26 per cent, in the same period. "From a DM perspective, Cannes wasn't really on the radar five years ago," Stretton says. "Since then, it has risen. It is the creative credential that our industry is hankering for."

The pull of awards, diversity of channels and global attendance means Cannes is the backdrop for a range of purposes - official and unofficial. "Production companies go to very little of the official event," Kai-Lu Hsiung, the managing director of RSA Films, says. "The Advertising Producers Association holds events sometimes, but the production industry tends to be sociable anyway. Most are happy to meet more informally."

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AGENCY CHIEF - James Murphy, chief executive, Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R

"Cannes is often the most useful time that people from across the network can spend together. Even for agencies that are not part of a network, Cannes offers a great opportunity to showcase their wares. The introduction and growth of the Cyber Lions has done much to pitch digital agencies further up the pecking order, and gives them more credentials in the eyes of clients.

"At Cannes, half my time is spent with the network, while the other half is spent at seminars and catching up with peers from other shops.

"The traditional values at Cannes still hold - it still marks unparalleled global opportunity for self-promotion (and self-harm)."

MEDIA CHIEF - Phil Georgiadis, chief executive, Walker Media

"Cannes used to be a lovefest for creatives, but that has changed since clients such as Procter & Gamble started attending. This inevitably has changed the 'tone' of it. From a distance, it has become a lot more serious.

"As far as media goes, it's a long time since I attended, and even then it was because I was invited to be a judge. I wouldn't pay to go, because international festivals such as Cannes are fuelled by the international networks; and Walker Media is not a network as such. The bulk of our clients are based in the UK."

DM CHIEF - Steve Stretton, executive creative director, Archibald Ingall Stretton

"Awards have become a major part of an agency's time and budget. From a DM perspective, Cannes has been around for a while, but it's only in the past five years that it has crept up in prominence. Now, it's a significant part of the calendar, and there are awards that our sector will always go that extra mile to be considered for. As a judge, I'm always surprised at how much extra work will be put into the submission process. The standard A3 board of creative work will not suffice for Cannes.

"Instead, I have seen entries accompanied with a range of additional work, including, in one case, a fully shot video outlining the intricacies of the work."

PRODUCTION COMPANY MD - Kai-Lu Hsiung, managing director, RSA Films

"Twenty years ago, Cannes was considered the elite and expensive thing to do. That has changed. Airline prices have fallen, and the event has a more inclusive feel.

"Production companies go to very little of the official event, and few tend to have delegate status.

"From our perspective, the event is about catching up with people who you work with, and the opportunity to foster contacts. Actual selling of services is rare; the people you do see clutching a showreel and attempting to sell there would be the ones to keep away from.

"Cannes is one of those occasions where we're happy to meet one or two people informally, rather than at huge parties."