Sports Mania and Economic Doldrums Set the Stage

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LONDON (AdAge.com) -- As they converge across the skyways toward the South of France for this week's International Advertising Festival, agency
The World Cup, left, and the Cannes Lion, right, will compete for the crowd's attention this year.
executives are clearly chasing a Lion as well as a Cup.

Their discussions make clear that ads will compete with soccer goals on the French Riviera, where many of the 7,000 festival attendees plan to divide their time between the annual ad industry event and the mesmerizing World Cup competition.

This could be further bad news for the festival, which is already grappling with a decline in entries, dwindling attendence and a prevasive sense of unease in the wake of a turbulent year of economic downturn.

'A downer'
"The buzz is that Cannes is going to be kind of a downer," said Marcio Moreira, vice chairman and chief creative officer of McCann-Erickson World Group, part of Interpublic Group of Cos. "Everyone's having to make numbers, and the industry is in the doldrums."

Of course last year Cannes was also widely forecast to be a somber event and ended up as a riotous escape from recession back home.

Although festival parties are still scheduled -- three agencies are holding parties on Friday night alone, ending with the annual late-night DDB

Photo: AP
Some Brazilian ad executives delayed traveling to Cannes so as not to miss Brazilian World Cup team matches such as this one won against Costa Rica last Thursday.
Worldwide bash on the beach in front of the Martinez hotel -- Cannes is likely to be less lavish than usual. Some networks, including WPP Group's J. Walter Thompson Co., are going ahead with creative directors meetings, and Bcom3 Group's D'Arcy Masius Benton & Bowles is holding a board of directors meeting at the Carlton hotel. Other agencies are still sending staffers but say they aren't officially "doing" Cannes in 2002.

Seriously distracted
And many of the agency employees who come are likely to be seriously distracted from the official proceedings by the World Cup, which looms large over Cannes as well as ad agency offices around the globe.

"People figure a world record will be set for the number of people in advertising agencies [awake and watching the games] by 7:30 a.m.," said David Kershaw, a partner at M&C Saatchi, where all the games are projected on a big screen in the lobby.

Unilever delayed the start of an agency meeting in Rotterdam until the England-Nigeria game ended in a 0-0 draw.

Although American attendees may largely ignore the World Cup, much of the rest of the world is already at fever pitch. In London, many ad agencies closed down when England played -- and beat -- Argentina on June 7 and lured staffers in with breakfast to watch the England-Nigeria game that started at 7:30 a.m. on June 12.

Brazilains delay departure
Some Brazilians are even delaying their arrival to avoid flying during an early-week World Cup game the national team is playing in. (Brazil advanced to the next round of World Cup play after beating China 4-0 on June 8 and defeating Costa Rica 5-2 on June 13.)

Or take London agency Euro RSCG Gosper Wnek's co-chairmen, Bret Gosper and Mark Wnek. On a trip to New York this month, Mr. Wnek arrived at the Millenium Broadway hotel, which didn't get ESPN 2, and left immediately in search of a new hotel where he could watch the World Cup.

"I didn't even check in," he said.

Mr. Gosper has a TV in his car, so he can pull over and watch exciting World Cup moments during his commute. The Havas-owned agency, festooned with flags, held a barbecue while staff watched one of England's games from both boardrooms.

Clients and the Cup
Even if the festival is less lavish this year, there should be at least one ad agency yacht in Cannes harbor, where London's hottest startup, 11-month-old Clemmow Hornby Inge, is planning a couple of weekend cocktail parties, although not while England plays on Saturday afternoon. Founder Johnny Hornby said incredulously that one large prospective client had actually tried to schedule a meeting during one of England's World Cup games.

"I don't want a client who doesn't watch [soccer]," Mr. Hornby said. "Some things are more important than business."

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