Cannes plans may change: Hybrid virtual and in-person event under discussion
Call it Cannes Light.
In January, the organizers of the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity indicated it would be the first industry tentpole to come back in force after the pandemic, declaring that the event would take place live in France this June. But, as the French say, la plus ça change ...
The hope was that vaccines would be widely available and international travel would open up, but that has not been the case, making it all but certain that the Lions won’t be able to roar back in defiance of the pandemic status quo.
Instead, according to people with knowledge of the situation, Cannes is now rethinking the event to become a hybrid of digital and in-person, with the latter component significantly scaled down and perhaps dispersed geographically, so that there may be a small gathering on the ground in Cannes for Europeans and a gathering in New York and perhaps other cities. Under this plan, slated to be finalized in March, the awards and judging will go on virtually, but there will be no lavish sponsored beaches on the Croisette and long lines snaking into the Palais.
A spokeswoman for Cannes Lions declined to comment.
Some people close to Cannes say that Ascential, which owns the festival, had considered trying to move the event back to October and restore its full glory. But that timing could be iffy for some agencies. “The problem is the fourth quarter will bring travel restrictions for any company that’s not beating [its financial] target,” said one agency chief who asked not to be identified.
Finances aren’t the only issue. Several agency execs interviewed for this story said the optics of merrymaking on the Riviera after such a hard year and so many layoffs would not be good. Another noted the allure of Cannes is being seen and networking your way into your next job, which is less likely to happen if attendance is low. Plus, said this person, when people are able to travel freely, their first priority will be to see families they have been separated from in lockdown.
Generally, industry insiders say they are seeing little interest in an in-person event. “I sense no appetite for going to France in June from any agency at all,” said a holding company executive. “It seems massively super spreader to me. I’m not even sure the country of France will allow thousands from all over the world to come fly into their country.”
According to the U.S. Embassy & Consulates in France website, the country closed its borders to non-European travel on Jan. 31. France’s government’s website, as of Feb. 25, says there is a nightly curfew of 6 p.m. in in metropolitan France and that there are weekend lockdowns in some regions. It advises French citizens not to travel outside of Europe.
“Cannes hasn’t come up in one conversation this year,” says a top executive at a creative agency, which is part of a second holding company. “The show was always equal parts: the awards, the schmoozing and the boozing. No one seems too interested in any of it.”
But one thing’s for sure: no matter how it’s conducted, this won’t be the same old Cannes.
“I just got my second [COVID vaccine] shot,” says Jeff Goodby, co-founder of Goodby Silverstein & Partners. “I’m thinking this could be the oldest Cannes in history. Like a nineties reunion.”