But Franz Prenner's face lights up as he recalls that his native Austria did capture a Media Lion two years ago.
Mr. Prenner is in charge of a festival that every year attracts close to 20,000 entries and more than 9,000 delegates to a beachfront strip on the French Riviera the third week of June. His biggest challenge this year-besides keeping entry and delegate numbers up-is to introduce Cannes' latest brand extension, a three-day direct marketing show that stretches the festival to 10 days.
Despite his own country's dearth of Lions, Mr. Prenner has attended 10 Cannes festivals since 1984 as a client, agency and media executive. With his cropped hair, leather trousers and denim jacket, he looks like one of the Cannes creative tribe. As marketing director of French household appliance company Molyneux, he was in charge of developing the market for microwave ovens, and hired Publicis Groupe's Publicis network as his agency. Switching to the agency side, he spent nine years at Publicis, advancing from account director to managing director in Vienna. He joined Austrian state TV network ORF in 1994 just as private TV started.
"We had to change from a monopoly to the market leader," he said.
About five years ago, local creatives suggested to Mr. Prenner that ORT become the Cannes festival's representative in Austria and raise the ad show's profile to improve Austria's participation. He contacted festival Chairman Roger Hatchuel and began devising a marketing plan that helped boost Austria's entries.
"When I do something, I do it with the bottom of my heart, not a little bit here and a little bit there," he said.
In February 2001, Mr. Hatchuel's son Romain, the festival's then-CEO, told Mr. Prenner he planned to leave in the next year. At the time, Mr. Prenner was talking with Eurosport, a pan-European satellite TV network partly owned by ESPN. The older Mr. Hatchuel told him that wasn't the right move and later called to ask, "Do you want to change your life?"
He started as festival CEO in January, moving from Vienna to London with his American wife and their five-year-old son. The Cannes machine is already gearing up, as the London headquarters grows from 25 to 100 staffers, and boxes and huge envelopes stuffed with entries flood in to beat the mid-April deadline for the 49th International Advertising Festival.
And Mr. Prenner is making his calculations: fewer American delegates again, due to recession and reluctance to travel; entries stable, as agencies and production companies are likely to cut other ad shows first; and at least 1,000-maybe 1,500-submissions for the first Cannes Direct awards.
Name: Franz Prenner
Now: CEO, International Advertising Festival (Cannes Lions)
Challenge: To grow entries and delegates to the 10-day event including a directmarketing show