Should Cannes' New Ad Award Be Called The Crispin?

Lions Adds 'Independent Agency of the Year' Honor at 2010 Festival

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NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- Well, you might just go ahead and call it The Crispin.

In addition to the bushels of industry plaudits the agency picks up every year, it looks like Crispin Porter & Bogusky, the flagship agency of Toronto-based holding company MDC Partners, is the front-runner to add another prize to its trophy case: Independent Agency of the Year.

The Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival's announcement yesterday of a new "Independent Agency of the Year" award has a major loophole -- it counts MDC Partners' subsidiary agencies as independents.

Shops from seven holding companies -- WPP, Omnicom Group, Publicis Groupe, Interpublic Group of Cos., Havas, Aegis Group and Dentsu -- aren't eligible, festival organizers said, leaving major players with ties to other networks and minority-owned agencies such as Bartle Bogle Hegarty (Publicis has a 49% stake) eligible for the trophy.

Festival representatives didn't respond to inquiries about the process used to choose which holding companies are excluded from the award. But they are the world's seven biggest, according to Ad Age's ranking of agency companies, so the festival appears to have used size as its criteria, with a cutoff around $2 billion in annual global revenue. After No. 7-ranked Havas, the No. 8 company, Hakuhodo, is only two-thirds the size of Havas, and No. 9, Crispin parent MDC Partners, is just one-third the size of Hakuhodo.

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MDC Partners upped its percentage ownership in Crispin from 49% to 77% in 2007, to 94% in 2008 and to 100% last year. The agency's output has kept it at the top of the global awards charts; according to Creativity's 2009 Award Report, Crispin was the most-awarded independent agency per Cannes' criteria. Wieden & Kennedy, Portland, Ore., follows it.

The award appears to be scored much like the Palme d'Or (for production companies) or the bigger Agency of the Year and Network of the Year: It is tabulated based on a weighted scale of Lions won and shortlist mentions throughout the week-long Cannes festival. It doesn't require additional fees for entry. However, the dominance of shops classified as independent according to the awards definition may alter the tenor of the award.

In 2009, Crispin took home a Titanium Lion for Burger King's Whopper Sacrifice, two Gold Lions and three Bronze Lions, for a total of 33 points on the Cannes scale. Bartle Bogle won a Titanium Lion in 2009 for its work on the latest release by rock band Oasis. Crispin didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.

Last year the Independent Agency trophy would likely have gone to CumminsNitro, which was a surprise winner at Cannes when a single campaign, Queensland's "Best Job in the World," swept three Grand Prix trophies in the Direct, PR and Cyber contests.

Sapient Corp.'s $50 million acquisition of Nitro in June 2009 doesn't detract from its eligibility, despite now being part of a 6,000-employee network.

The Cannes festival has proved adept at adding new contests and awards to spur more entries, which totaled more than 17,000 last year, including the first PR Lions. The new Independent Agency award doesn't open up a new category but could inspire more independent agencies to enter more work in the hope of winning enough prizes to capture the title.

The question is whether the elephant in the room will detract from the spirit of the award, which, presumably, is to foster respect for the "little guy."

"I don't understand why MDC wouldn't be included in that; it does seem a little selective," said Bart Cleveland, creative director at McKee Wallwork Cleveland in Albuquerque, N.M. For his agency, which has entered work in the festival in the past, "you'd love to get a shot at it, for Cannes to see it as a more holistic opportunity rather than a certain narrow criteria."

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