What a difference two years makes.
Publicis Groupe CEO Arthur Sadoun admittedly did not anticipate the dramatic reaction to 2017’s announcement that all his network’s agencies would be forbidden from entering their work into the following year’s Cannes Lions festival.
But the holding company clearly liked 2018’s results, which saw clients like P&G win big while submitting their own brands’ campaigns. And now, Publicis has effectively reset the way it approaches the festival with last year as a model—even though it will be investing its own money this time around.
The biggest takeaway from the company’s newly released Cannes document is that this year will see 50% fewer entries than in 2017. The total will, in fact, be “on par with 2018,” when all submissions came from the clients themselves.
It’s true that Publicis campaigns still managed to find their way into every major Cannes category last year—and three of its executives also served as jury presidents. But all that exposure cost the company little or nothing, which meant it still presumably managed to meet its cost-reduction goals. Publicis saw a big return on this negligible investment and decided to adjust its strategy in turn.
As Sadoun told Adweek, “The fact that we decided not to spend money on Cannes has had a positive impact on what Cannes is today.”
Beyond curating entries “in partnership” with clients, the company’s three-pronged approach to Cannes will focus on “creativity first,” a principle Sadoun emphasized when discussing the recent acquisition of data company Epsilon. To that point, the company said two-thirds of its 300-plus attendees will be creatives, with 35 leaders serving on various juries and 12 official sessions featuring Publicis executives or client campaigns.
The company also stated that it plans to make an “active contribution” to See It Be It, the program promoting young female creatives.
Additionally, Publicis noted that one-quarter of this year’s attendees will be at Cannes for the first time. Global CCO Nick Law is also chair of the Cannes Lions School for those under 30, sponsored this year by Deloitte.
Sadoun said it’s “pure coincidence” that the number of submissions in 2018 and 2019 are so similar. But last year’s experience did teach Publicis to focus on “highly visible” work like “It’s a Tide Ad” that would be more likely to win multiple awards.
To chief strategy officer Carla Serrano, teams learned to think of Cannes as a more collaborative process involving themselves and their clients.
“I’d rather win off a big, visible client partnership than use little projects that were focused on winning awards, which we know happens, unfortunately,” she said.
Both executives insisted that Publicis never had a grand plan to cut its spend by a given percentage. “We are not spending less to spend less,” said Sadoun.
One reason for the leaner budget was Marcel.
Marcel, my belle
Just over one year ago Publicis debuted the demo for its internal platform, which Sadoun said would put “all of Publicis in the palm of your hand.” The first truly workable mobile version recently rolled out in the U.K.
“We’re releasing a new version of the app every two weeks,” said Dawn Winchester, chief digital officer at Publicis North America, who has overseen the development of Marcel.
The group will soon release a desktop version of Marcel, which Winchester calls one of the biggest changes made to the platform over the past year. Other longtime features include open brief, which allows Publicis employees from around the world to collaborate on projects, and a People feature that Winchester described as “the ability to manage your own brand and profile.” For example, Publicis has uploaded all 2019 Cannes submissions case studies into Marcel, giving employees the ability to quickly contact those who worked on each campaign and ask questions about working with individual directors or negotiating sponsored content deals with given publishers.
Winchester also said Marcel will publish “six highly curated pieces of content” each weekday to keep employees (who will number 90,000, assuming the Epsilon merger goes through) up to date on what’s happening around the network. Another potentially popular feature matches job opportunities to those with relevant skills, even if they’re thousands of miles away.
Yet Sadoun said Marcel is “neither a social network nor a crowdsourcing exercise” but, rather, a tool to simply leverage the diversity of talent within Publicis.
And unlike last time, there will be no big rollout for Marcel 2.0; Sadoun said he simply felt like Cannes was an ideal opportunity for updates on its progress, because the two are now indelibly linked, for better and worse.
“What we are trying to do at the moment is less words, more action,” he said.
But also, less money.