Because he Cannes

By Published on .

He is fighting a public war of words with Brazilian creatives, hurls myriad accusations at the German ad community and openly expresses disappointment at the deeds of his own son. Meet Roger Hatchuel, the controversial king of Cannes.

"I am not a saint, I am not a philanthropist," admits Mr. Hatchuel, chairman of the International Advertising Festival, with a Gallic shrug. This is magnificent understatement from the man who has built, taken ownership of and profited handsomely from the world's pre-eminent advertising awards, antagonizing large sections of the global ad community along the way.

Mr. Hatchuel's association with Cannes began early in the `80s. After a stint as head of advertising for Procter & Gamble Co. in France, he accepted a job running a cinema advertising company, Mediavision. It was in this role that he first came across the Screen Advertising World Association-Mediavision was a member-and its annual onscreen advertising awards events, which alternately piggybacked the Cannes and Venice film festivals.

When, in 1985, he "reluctantly agreed" to become president of SAWA, he found an organization he describes as "disturbingly unprofessional." The first major step he took, together with three partners, was to spin off the awards and set them up as a separate company, immediately trademarking the new "Lions." SAWA members, who had organized the festivals up until then, were offered nothing more than the opportunity to be national reps for the event. Said Mr. Hatchuel unapologetically, "Legally they owned nothing." Over time he bought out his partners, until, by 2000 he owned the entire event.

`healthy' profit

Mr. Hatchuel will not say how big a profit the group now known as the IAF makes, although he describes it as "healthy." He does reveal, however, that revenue in 2001 was around $16 million and slumped 15% last year. This year he expects revenue will fall another 5% due to the poor state of the global economy (particularly in South America), security fears (although American visitors will be up) and SARS (the Chinese delegation withdrew).

Clearly, as sole owner, Mr. Hatchuel does well out of the event, but he objects to people complaining that he is lining his pockets by charging too much. "We did not put up our prices for eight years until a 5% increase last year," he insists. "And the cost of the festival for a whole week [as a delegate]? A thousand pounds [$1,600]. Open the Financial Times and look at all the two-day conferences for 1,000 pounds."

He also points out that the Cannes Lions gets the Palais des Festivals free "up to a certain level of services" beyond which it must pay. Mr. Hatchuel says he personally "fights and fights and fights" with the Carlton and the other hotels annually. This year there is a 3% hike in the hotels' prices.

But what of the controversy surrounding the event itself? He accepts that there used to be "shameful" bloc-voting, and credits BBDO Worldwide CEO Allen Rosenshine for changing that as president in 1991. Mr. Rosenshine analyzed votes judge by judge, and threatened to humiliate judges by having them justify publicly the high marks for their own country's work. There is now a computerized system of checks, but Mr. Hatchuel concedes that the perception lingers that there is bloc-voting.

He "unashamedly" suggests there is an optimum number of total film lions (between 110 and 120). But, unconvincingly, he denies putting pressure on chairmen to award more Lions.

His annus horribilis was 1995, the year Frank Lowe was chairman. Not only was no Grand Prix awarded but the general stinginess of the jury and Mr. Lowe's combative on-stage defiance, coupled with his own Lowe Howard-Spink agency winning Agency of the Year, led to the most extraordinary cacophony of hostile boos and whistling ever seen in the notoriously volatile auditorium. Mr. Lowe was left shaking. Mr. Hatchuel hasn't forgotten it.

He describes that year as a "disaster" and Mr. Lowe himself as a "Jekyll and Hyde character." Mr. Hatchuel said his attitude to Mr. Lowe's decision-making has nothing to do with any Anglo-American versus Latin antagonism. "I have never see anyone so lacking in generosity towards the work of other agencies in his own country. It was the U.K. that really suffered that year," Mr. Hatchuel insisted.

There have been other disputes. In 2002, Mr. Hatchuel antagonized the voluble Brazilian delegation ("I don't need them, or care what the journalists write" he said last year). He has recently fallen out with the Germans and disagreements brought the sudden departure of his new CEO Franz Prenner (Terry Savage has since succeeded him) and his predecessor, Roger's son, Romain.

"We were accused by the Brazilians of having changed the rules so that they would not be agency of the year. I hope you realize that because I am profit driven, my strategy is neutrality. Neutral! Neutral! Neutral!" he said.

Mr. Hatchuel insisted he was simply trying to prevent the agency-of-the-year award going to an agency which had been shortlisted for the Grand Prix and Lions, but hadn't actually won any. Brazilian entries are down dramatically this year because of their economy, he says, not because they are "pissed off" with him.

The Germans also are "pissed off" with him-although their entries are actually up. Last fall they threatened a mass boycott of the Cannes sibling event, Eurobest, as an economy measure. Mr. Hatchuel responded by decreeing that if the country did not enter the event, no German judges would be allowed at Cannes. He accused them of cartel-like behavior and much worse.

"This is because I am French and I am a Jew. This illegal cartel activity-it made me mad. There have also been some things I do not want to discuss further," he says cryptically. "They wanted to boycott Cannes-I do not care. If I decide that I do not want to let the Germans piss on the law, that's my own money. I do not have a private plane or a yacht. I may spend 500,000 pounds to stop the Germans being illegal with us through a cartel..." he trails off. "I was fighting the principle-not about money. At a certain age and culture there are things you do not accept. "

About Mr. Prenner, he simply says "he was a mistake." But, perhaps the saddest thing about this extraordinarily driven septuagenarian is that he remains estranged from his own son, Romain, who was CEO through the 2001 festival. Their stormy work relationship had become embarrassingly public in Cannes on several occasions.

"I feel sad. And to a certain extent happy. This is personal. Sad because I have kept the festival, really holding it only for Romain. I have no reason to work like a dog like I am doing at 70. I have been training him. Suddenly I have no heir and therefore one of these days I will sell."

deliberate choice

"The good part is as a father I have given enough tools in the whole thing of his life in private and business and enough money that he could make a deliberate choice. And that choice was `I hate London, I want to live in Paris.'

"No, we are not reconciled," he continues. "I have probably worked in the last 18 months more than ever in my life. I think Romain has not been nice in the sense that he was absolutely inflexible when I asked him to stay longer. I told him I was tired. I have worked like a donkey all my life."

The younger Mr. Hatchuel is now director of global new business at Euro RSCG Worldwide. He skipped the 2002 festival and won't go this year.

The festival itself has survived these disputes, the ravages of recession and anti-award sentiment to establish its place as the annual global showcase, and, is arguably, the only awards show that has the power to spark both people and account moves. It is to the indomitable Mr. Hatchuel's credit that he has achieved this growth and dragged Cannes into the modern era.

However, the seeds of his obvious lack of personal peace lie in those same ruthless qualities that achieved success. Age and security have made him blunt to the point of not caring. And there is little sign that at 70 he is even close to being able to enjoy the fruits of his continuing labors, let alone to finding contentment beyond them.

Most Popular
In this article: