Sorrell on Cannes

As adland comes to the South of France, the head of WPP talks about what's in store...

Sorrell on Cannes

Sir Martin Sorrell founder and chief executive, WPP

Cannes has come a long way since the 50s, when envious cinema advertising executives decided they wanted something like the glamour of the annual film festival for themselves (thumbing their noses at the upstart medium of TV in the process).

It is now a veritable Godzilla – a gigantic, sprawling beast of a festival that attracts a huge number of entries and delegates from all around the world and is a major business in its own right.

This year’s event will, no doubt, be the biggest yet and I have some sympathy for those who worry if it has become a little too corpulent. How long, they wonder, before it collapses under its own weight?

Where I part company from the detractors, though, is the point at which they begin to pine for the "glory days" of advertising.

Ask them to describe those days and they will wax heroic with tales of creative derring-do and epic lunches. But listen closely and, all too often, what you hear them describe is essentially an exclusive club: Euro-centric, male and mono-medium.

Cannes may be big and brash, but it's also emphaticaclly open, diverse, international and multidisciplinary

Today’s Cannes may be big and brash, but it’s also emphatically open, diverse, international and multidisciplinary (extending even to areas such as healthcare communications and data). In other words, it’s a reflection of our modern industry and society.

Its success is an endorsement of our business – just look at who goes. Everyone from clients to the world’s press to the new media owners (masquerading as tech companies) who now colonise the beachfront.

So to those who hanker after the old days, let me tell you: clients don’t feel like that, the young people joining our business don’t feel like that and the new competitors who would like to eat our lobster lunches certainly don’t feel like that.

As is well-documented, I have never made an ad in my life, but I have always been fascinated by and drawn to creative people and their work. It is why I chose this business.

Cannes seethes and sizzles with competition – between individuals, between agencies, between networks and between parent companies – but, ultimately, comes together to honour the best creative work, wherever it springs from and however it gets there.

Raucous, outsized and at times ridiculous it may be, but Cannes Lions is a spectacular and vital celebration of our industry, and I wouldn’t miss it for the world.