It's shaping up to be the year of the client at the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival.
Procter & Gamble Co. Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley will lead a group even bigger than the 29-person delegation that made history at last year's festival. McDonald's Corp. is sending up to 45 and, in the spirit of Cannes, throwing a beach party. Allied Domecq will attend. In all, more than 100 marketers are signed up for the June 21-26 event, up from 65 last year, said Roger
Hatchuel, the festival's chairman.
While marketers will only make up a small percentage of the 8,000 anticipated Cannes attendees, their impact will be profound. Many are first-timers from the U.S., including General Electric Co., Kellogg Co., Volkswagen of America, Ford Motor Corp. and Hewlett-Packard Co. This year's delegation is up to 650, from 400 last year.
As many marketers rethink their corporate approach to advertising, a growing number see the Cannes festival as an opportunity to raise the creative bar. It helps that P&G's high-profile and hard-working presence last year conferred legitimacy on the festival as a venue for business rather than a boozy boondoggle on the sun-drenched French Riviera.
"It really snowballed," said Susan Lilley, marketing director for the Cannes festival at USA Today, the event's U.S. representative. "With all the publicity Procter got, the festival came up on [marketers'] radar screens."
Last year, only a few European-based McDonald's execs went to the Cannes festival, along with a small team developing the global "I'm lovin' it" campaign who interviewed possible directors for the spots. This year McDonald's Global Chief Marketing Officer Larry Light will attend. He will be accompanied by Marlena Peleo-Lazar, McDonald's U.S. chief creative officer; Joe Talcott, chief creative officer-international; Dean Barrett, senior VP-global brand business, and U.S. Chief Marketing Officer Bill Lamar, plus almost 40 others.
McDonald's is even borrowing Grant Hill, the DDB executive who ordinarily organizes the agency's legendary Friday night beach party, to help put together McDonald's own midweek beach soiree. The fast-feeder will also sponsor a lounge at the Palais des Festivals, where delegates can watch the European soccer championship playoffs.
"I don't have a problem saying I want to win a Lion," Mr. Light asserts. "The idea would be to get the best creative people to say `I want to work on McDonald's'."
The client contingent is setting off a ripple effect on agency attendance, usually a privileged coterie of creatives and agency heads. International laundry-detergent coordinators on the P&G account, for instance, never dreamed of going to Cannes before last year, but now account-service people are being drafted as client-minders. And several top-tier agency chiefs are buying their first plane tickets to the festival, including Ed Meyer, Grey Global Group's chairman, president-CEO, and Ogilvy & Mather CEO Shelly Lazarus.
"We've been edging toward having a show of force of this kind," Mr. Meyer said. Not incidentally, besides P&G, Grey's Nokia client is attending.
Not everyone who penciled in Cannes on this year's calendar can make it. General Motors Corp.'s Roger Adams, executive director-corporate advertising and marketing, hoped to go but couldn't squeeze the trip into his hectic schedule. And UBS executives, who would have been just about the only financial-services marketers there, dropped out in favor of the UBS-sponsored America's Cup yacht race.
But strolling down the oceanfront Croisette boulevard in two weeks, look out for Karen Marderosian, Volkswagen of America's marketing director; Scott Berg, HP worldwide director-media; and Marta Cyhan, director-marketing services, Kellogg USA.
The festival is enthusiastically encouraging the influx of clients. Mr. Hatchuel, a P&G alumni himself, has made multiple trips to Cincinnati for Cannes follow-up. The festival is also adding marketers to a Cannes jury for the first time: Executives from HP, Ikea and P&G will judge media Lions.
Cramming clients into every cranny of the Cannes experience, the festival will open Monday, June 21, with seminars led by Volvo, Nokia and P&G executives; later in the week P&G, McDonald's and HP will sit on a global-marketing panel.
Despite a crunch this year, the festival is squeezing marketers into rooms at the most coveted hotels, like the Carlton and Majestic. "Some groups are divided between three and four hotels," Ms. Lilley said. "But they're not putting them up in the hills."
Unless, of course, that's where they want to be. Esther Lee, Coca-Cola Co.'s chief creative officer for North America, is staying outside Cannes and is expected to spend her time meeting with agencies.
Mr. Hatchuel attributes marketers' growing fascination with Cannes to the festival's own changes, which mirror the integration clients seek in marketing communications. "Cannes has packed into the same week most of the facets clients are interested in, be it film, outdoor, press, Web sites, cyber, media or direct," he said.
And he's not finished, even though at its current size the festival packs the best hotels and fills a week. "In 2005, to further satisfy the expectations of the clients, we will create three new categories: radio, PR and design."
Marketers helped inspire the full-service festival. The design Lions emerged from a chat with Mr. Lafley, who commented that much of P&G's business is from products where package design counts, such as cosmetics and fragrances.
Proud of its seminar-packed semaine, the festival even created a trade press ad in-house featuring tantalizing rows of striped deck chairs nestled in the sand above the tough words "All work no beach."
"I'm sure it's always an objective of agencies to inspire clients about raising the bar for creativity," said Judy Hu, global executive director-advertising and branding for GE. "So I don't think there should be much controversy about more clients coming."
Ms. Hu is making her first Cannes foray with three other company executives, including Chief Marketing Officer Beth Comstock, and said she plans to spend most of her time reviewing work.
Few creatives admit they are horrified by the prospect of a client invasion and how it may alter the Cannes ambience. They vow, on the record, that interest by marketers in good creative can only help their cause.
But Cannes has always been an escape from everyday reality and business pressures. It's a place creatives and agency heads passionately debate ads and the state of the industry, stay up most of the night and drink a lot. Creatives celebrate their work, prospect for their next jobs, devour ads and conceal hangovers behind designer sunglasses.
Marketers don't see the adult playground that is Cannes quite that way.
"Some [marketers] see work they could never approve," said an executive creative director. "Some clients have the misconception that the work always has to be strategic and get upset when they see an ad that wins a gold, silver or bronze and they ask `where's the strategy in that?' Some corporate guys don't get it."
Privately, creatives are grousing. One called it the "invasion of the body snatchers," while another longtime Cannes attendee bemoaned the marketer-side contingent, saying it takes Cannes from "one of the last events for creatives to talk to creatives" to an event where delegates now have to "watch their backs and put their best foot forward for the client." Added the executive, "Now it becomes political."
More accountable for their time than many creatives, marketers are scheduling their Cannes hours. Agencies are planning sessions with their top creatives to go over the print and film shortlists with their clients, as a jumping-off point for broader discussions about creative excellence and their own brands.
Publicis asked its Cannes-going clients-Coke, P&G, Allied Domecq, Heineken, Renault and HP-if they'd all like to get together, in addition to the time the agency's worldwide creative board will spend with each client, said Deborah Peake, the agency's global marketing director.
If nowhere else, they'll all meet at Publicis' first-ever Cannes party, where Allied Domecq and Heineken will launch products and packaging for some of the world's most enthusiastic drinkers. Heineken beer will be served in special aluminum bottles and Allied will pour cocktails made with a pear-tinged gin brand called "Wet" that is launching globally but is still in limited distribution.
This is the first year that Renault's 15 executives-up from 10 last year-will have formal meetings with Publicis to review the shortlist. Like others, Renault has put more emphasis on better creative in the last year, said Christian Barluet, Renault's worldwide advertising director. "Cannes is a benchmark."
A Cannes habitue, Mr. Barluet plans to watch the short list the morning of June 25, but not sit through the five-hour car category earlier in the week. He'll be at the Publicis party, and stays at the Martinez because he likes its late-night bar scene. "You meet a lot of people at night at the bar."
contributing: ad age staff