Is Cannes Still Worth It? See Why Industry Leaders Question the Costs

Debate grows more intense this year

As talk of advertising’s existential crisis heats up, attendees are asking themselves yet again what all this ostentatious hoopla is really worth.
Animation: Breana Mallamaci; Sources: Getty Images

Every year, the world’s top marketing professionals gather at the Palais in Cannes, France, where the annual Lions festival is held.

In a now-familiar narrative, holding company executives pop corks alongside CMOs and tech titans on yachts rented for $1 million or more as up-and-coming creatives party on the beaches, rubbing elbows with A-list celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow and Channing Tatum.

Cannes and parent company Ascential made a very public effort to rein in past excesses in 2017, but the festival is still, by no means, cheap. And this year, as talk of advertising’s existential crisis heats up, attendees are asking themselves yet again what all this ostentatious hoopla is really worth.

“It continues to get more and more excessive, whether it’s expenditures on a yacht or taking 500 people to dinner,” said one agency executive attending Cannes this year who wished to remain anonymous. “Half the crowd is just there to be seen and party.”

Sources: Getty Images

That executive said his agency has “evaluated” hosting some big event in the past (they currently hold intimate gatherings with clients), but realized it was all “an ego play” and therefore “didn’t make sense.”

The price for one individual to attend could range from $5,000 to $15,000, depending on variables like hotel and airline choice. Several industry sources said the cost of a beach activation is about $50,000, excluding staffing costs, and one individual estimated a $2 million bill for a week-long beach space rental.

According to YachtCharterFleet, those looking to rent a yacht for a week should be ready to pay anywhere from $490,000 to $2.1 million. One source said his ad-tech company will spend around $50,000 this year just to rent a small space on another company’s yacht.

Despite all these eye-opening numbers, the vast majority of sources who spoke to Adweek for this story said Cannes is still worth the expense. For most agencies, it will continue to be an opportunity to connect c-suite executives with those on the brand side as well as a place to absorb work from around the world.

Price Glomski, evp of PMG, said his agency will be sending a small group of four, along with three client representatives, to Cannes this year.

“PMG considers these events to be a relational center point more than a celebrated presentation,” Glomski said. “For a mid-size agency like us, we have found tremendous success in using these programs to curate a conversation between the brand c-suite and their top-tier or future-tiered partners.”

Walrus co-founders Frances Webster, COO, and Deacon Webster, CCO, will be representing their shop at Cannes this year to seek out new talent, meet other agency leaders and connect with existing and potential clients.

Webster told Adweek that yes, Cannes is about the work—but “as an industry, we need to have more fun … and it’s super important to see what’s going on around the world.”

She said few business deals are signed at Cannes, but connections made there can then lead to a new account or project later down the road. And Lions wins are still critical to creatives, especially young ones looking to bolster their reputations and pad their portfolios.

Yet Christie Cordes, veteran talent scout and founder of Ad Recruiter, said fewer agencies are looking for Lions on their new hires’ resumes.

“One of the things agencies are really cognizant of are egotistical candidates,” Cordes said. “One of the first things clients will say is ‘I want someone with humility.’ A Cannes Lion is going to attract them, [but] that’s not the end of the end.”

One anonymous agency executive said, “I think awards can be a signal of talent, but I don’t think they’re the only signal of talent.” This person said that today’s young creatives show up to party while “awards have taken a back seat.”

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