Cannes Lions has ‘lost its way’ and become a ‘never ending party’ says agency boss

Former CEO of UM Australia Mat Baxter has taken aim at the organisers of the Cannes Lions, claiming the biggest international advertising event has “lost it way” and questioning the value of the “never-ending party” it has become.

Mat Baxter

Baxter: what should clients make of the ‘never-ending party’ on the French Riviera next week?

In a strongly worded opinion piece published on LinkedIn, Baxter who is serving as a judge for the first time at next week’s Festival, questions where the enormous amounts of money spent on the event are justified and argues that the extravagance of the event may actually be hurting agencies in the eyes of clients.

The New York-based global chief strategy officer of IPG Mediabrands wrote: “As a first-time judge for the upcoming Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, here is my pre-gala verdict: This annual celebration of the best advertising in the world has lost its way.

“I say this with all due respect to the many thousands of people who will descend on the Palais des Festivals et des Congrès on the southeast coast of France next week. Unfortunately, a good deal of them will spend enormous sums of their employers’ T&E budgets drinking and partying with people they could drink and party with here in the U.S. any day of the week.”

This year’s festival will see the likes of actors Will Smith, Simon Pegg and Gwyneth Paltrow and musician Iggy Pop are slated to appear on stage in seminars hosted by different agency holding groups.

Screen Shot 2016-06-17 at 8.27.27 am“In my opinion, the whole premise of Cannes has been lost. It used to be about celebrating the best thinking in the industry – inspiring people to return to their home market and do even better work,” he wrote.

“Now Cannes is a celebrity-fest where a pop star or someone with a high media profile sits on a main stage and dribbles on about the things they do in their professional or personal lives.”

“Don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against Kim Kardashian, Iggy Pop or Will Smith. It’s just that I doubt anyone in my company will learn from this particular trio anything useful that would translate to their daily work for some of the world’s biggest brand marketers. Marketers whose competitive challenges have never been greater.”

Baxter goes on to detail how IPG Mediabrands has scaled back its delegation to Cannes this year and is sending less senior executives, with more up and coming talent being given the trip.

“To be blunt, they (senior executives) are the ones for whom you can most easily justify the whole exorbitant affair, but they don’t actually need to be there,” he argues. “The people who need to go to Cannes are the people who are actually doing the work.”

Those juniors and senior staff being sent to Cannes will be expected to file regular video reports, he notes.Cannes Lions“We want these young, impressionable people who actually do the work to experience Cannes not only to see what it’s all about. but to learn from it,” he writes. “At least four times a day they will be producing video content from Cannes, live, that will be distributed to our entire network.

“We’ve also selected two young ‘roving reporters’ who are tasked with video interviewing people throughout the week to produce informative content.

“This is not to say that we won’t have any senior executives in attendance. However, they must either be there with a client or actively take part in our content creation efforts, along with their junior comrades.

“No free rides this year. To be sure, it’s still a huge financial investment, but we expect to achieve a big return on it.”

Amid the recent global debate on transparency and media rebates, Baxter concludes his piece by arguing that celebrating creativity still has value but questions the industry on what impact extravagant spending and partying is having on client trust.

“To be clear, I still think Cannes is tremendously important because it’s the most amazing celebration of creativity and of the advertising and communications industry that we have,” he writes.

“It’s just that the important stuff all too easily gets lost in the noise that Cannes becomes. Our strategy is to try to dull some of that superficiality down and to bring some of the craft back in.

“Think about it. When clients go to Cannes and just see a never-ending party, do they think, ‘This is the industry that I trust with hundreds of millions of dollars of my money?’

“Maybe Kim (Kardashian) can explain it to them.”

Read Baxter’s full opinion piece here. 


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