NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- If you're among the relative few who had your work entered to the Cannes Lions competition or among the even fewer who get to hobnob in the south of France, count yourself lucky. Cannes submissions this year are down 20%, and the drop in delegates will likely be even steeper, as much as 40%.
The global recession has wreaked havoc on every corner of the marketing business and glitzy, expensive awards shows are no exception. Agencies of all sizes around the world are dialing back spending and focusing only on the shows that make most sense.
Earlier this year, Lisa Bennett drew up a spreadsheet detailing award shows entered by the three DDB offices she oversees. She wanted to calculate how much was being spent, and weigh factors such as which shows creatives get most excited about winning and which ones clients deem important. In the end, the chief creative officer of DDB West slashed the 2009 awards-entry budget more than 35%. "The list has become shorter, of awards shows and entries," she said.
Ms. Bennett is based in San Francisco, but creative directors around the world are going through the same exercise this year, with or without spreadsheets. Even the top global award shows such as the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival are seeing entries plummet 20% or more -- 45% at the Clios last month -- and attendance fall up to half.
"We've entered 60% less at D&AD and 40% less at Cannes," said Paul Silburn, creative partner at Saatchi & Saatchi, London. "We are bearing in mind the recession, and then going even further."
So is BBDO, the most-awarded network at Cannes for the past two years. "Our entries at Cannes are probably down half," said David Lubars, chairman-chief creative officer of BBDO North America and head of this year's film and press juries. He's also cutting BBDO's Cannes attendance 80%. "The rule ... is you can go if you are there with a client or because we've heard you're going to win."
In general, agencies say they are continuing to enter the best global and local shows (although sending less work) but cutting back more drastically on attendance due to both budget cuts and the feeling that such travel looks wrong after layoffs and other painful belt-tightening measures.
"Overall we've spent 20% less on awards this year," said Jon Peppiatt, deputy chairman of BBH London. "Last year we sent 15 or so [people to Cannes], but this year it's just inappropriate [when] our staff are taking unpaid holiday."
At Y&R Advertising, a creative council approves all entries to awards shows now. Tony Granger, global chief creative officer, said he and CEO Hamish McLennan had to personally OK everyone who will attend the Cannes festival, which kicks off June 21 -- just 50 people compared with 140 last year, and Mr. Granger said he may still cut a few.
Aware of the trend, festivals are getting more creative about marketing themselves this year. At Cannes, the Young Lions got older, as the festival ratcheted up the age to 30 from 28 to score the 999-euro registration fee, a discount of more than 50% on the full delegate price. The Clios kept its awards show in Las Vegas from being deserted by rushing West Coast people in on $49 JetBlue fares, and D&AD moved to a smaller London venue. To drive entries, the London International Advertising Awards, with a July 31 deadline, sent free copies of the festival's annual book to 6,000 agencies, designers and production companies.
At Cannes, the big parties are just a memory this year, but there are smaller, tougher-to-score invitations out there. DDB ended the Friday-night beach bash that was the hallmark of Cannes' party scene for a decade, but will host a more intimate cocktail party before the cyber awards and a lunch for about 100 after a DDB-sponsored seminar. Microsoft is still bringing an army but not the usual yacht, and will hold a less lavish party at the Microsoft Beach Club after the cyber awards. China, India and even the city of Amsterdam are throwing parties. Japanese casual-clothes retailer Uniqlo is hosting an oddball Grand Prix ceremony and reception at the Majestic Hotel on Friday evening to choose the official T-shirt produced by Uniqlo from among the 10 finalists chosen from 1,448 designs entered in a contest.
USA Today, the U.S. festival rep, is hosting its annual dinner in honor of the U.S. judges, but with a record 27 U.S. judges this year, tickets will be even tighter than usual despite a dip in the U.S. delegation to an estimated 550 from more than 700 last year.
Clients, who have flocked to Cannes in growing numbers, will come in smaller groups. Procter & Gamble confirmed 17 people, about half the size of last year's delegation. McDonald's and Kraft Foods are each sending five executives. Johnson & Johnson, AT&T, E-Trade, Verizon and Visa, among others, are attending.
Festival organizers around the world hope entries and delegates will flock back when the global economy rebounds, but agency heads aren't so sure. "The information we're getting from our market is that this is a one-off [so] take it on the chin," Mr. Thomas said.
The festivals considered top-tier such as Cannes, the One Show, D&AD, the Clios and the Andys, along with the best national and regional shows, probably will bounce back, at somewhat lower numbers. But some of the shows that agency creative directors are excising now will struggle to get back into the awards budget. "We've pressed the reset button," said Bob Scarpelli, chairman and chief creative officer of DDB Worldwide. "Will it ever go back to what it was? I don't think so."
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Emma Hall and Normandy Madden contributed to this report.