Opinion: Perspective - Cannes might cost a lot, but it's worth it in the end

Finance directors throughout the world's advertising networks are in a collective sweat at the moment. They're waiting for the annual round of expense claims from Cannes to be filed. The numbers will be eye-watering, but not owing to any deceptive over-claiming, it's simply because the advertising festival is a very expensive affair.

There's long been a sense of being fleeced at Cannes. There's the strange hotel booking system that won't let you book direct with the hotel. You know it has gone a little bit mad when hiring a yacht for a week won't cost much more than putting staff up in hotels. There's the highly inconsistent prices of drinks at bars; a beer can cost you EUR10 one night and EUR15 the next in the same bar. And as for the taxis, their drivers appear to be earning more per hour than the average agency chief.

Nevertheless, judging by the crowds at the Gutter Bar, the number of people attending the festival was higher than ever. This was the first year that I heard of the Cannes infrastructure cracking under the strain with hotel reservations lost in the melee. Emap, which has owned the festival since 2004, does not have the same ties with the local French municipality that were enjoyed by its previous chief executive, Roger Hatchuel. If the publishing company wants to keep expanding the festival year after year, understanding the complex ties necessary with the right people in the town is essential.

So why do we all troop out there every year with our wallets open? If the overall justification for an awards programme is to inspire better work, I'm not sure Cannes qualifies. Strong work does tend to get awarded, but so do ads replete with cheap advertising gimmicks.

For me, the steepest learning curve doesn't come from the quality of the entries, but the breadth. Few of us have time to monitor the best work coming out of Australia or South America effectively in any given month, but if the work is interesting it'll rise to the top at Cannes. The festival's international DNA means it does reflect the global nature of the advertising economy.

But perhaps the best justification for Cannes, however, is just how much fun it is. Advertising is a creative business, yet often the pressure to appear businesslike and professional is acute. Good work flows from agencies whose staff are enjoying themselves at work. There's a direct correlation between fun and a successful business. Advertising people work hard and Cannes is an opportunity for employers to acknowledge and reward that.

Sending people to Cannes is definitely a luxury - it's not essential to the success of an agency's business. But when the advertising economy is strong, as it is right now, it's well worth putting up with the sweat- inducing expense claims.

Last year, the UK was the most-awarded nation in the world, according to The Gunn Report. Judging by the Cannes awards haul this year (39 in total, the same tally as Germany), the UK will lose its Gunn crown.

So what has gone wrong? I think the lack of awards is attributable to the wave of panic that overtook the UK advertising industry last year. Only 12 months ago, the word "digital" was causing agency chiefs to turn green with worry. They knew it was going to be big, didn't understand why and had no plan as to how they were going to get to grips with the discipline. The resultant lack of confidence damaged creative courage and left agencies and clients questioning the value of the traditional media used to win awards.

Twelve months on and everyone's calmed down a bit. Most advertising agencies have reined in their sense of panic and put a digital strategy in place. This should lead not only to better work in traditional media, but also improved results in the international digital awards schemes.

- Claire Beale is away.