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Heavy Bookings Create Hotel Room Shortage; Rental Villas in High Demand

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NEW YORK ( -- Record numbers of marketers are preparing to storm the Cannes Lions International Advertising Festival despite ongoing debates over their role at the creative-awards show.
The rush is on for rooms in Cannes.

Ad agencies are also sending more people than ever to the June event, in part to keep an eye on clients. That will swell the usual crowd of 8,000 delegates, creating a happy dilemma for the festival’s new owner, Emap Communications. As registrations climb by double digits, a scramble is on months in advance to secure hotel rooms on the French Riviera.

U.S. delegates book early
By some accounts the American delegation, which usually ranges from 350 to 400 people, is running 30% ahead of last year, although it’s unclear how much of the increase is simply people registering earlier in the hopes of scoring choice hotel rooms. Not even the pricey euro -- up 30% against the dollar in the last two years -- is stopping them.

“The agency blocks are larger, and there are definitely new people both from the agency and client side,” said Susan Lilley, marketing director for the festival at Gannett Co.’s USA Today, the event’s U.S. representative. “And not only are clients returning, they’re bringing more people with them.”

Marketer influx continues
This year P&G, after setting off the client rush to Cannes, is sending fewer than the 60 execs who went last year. Chairman-CEO A.G. Lafley isn’t returning. But the McDonald’s Corp. entourage could reach 65 people this year. Among others, marketers from General Electric Co., Anheuser-Busch, Volkswagen of America, Coca-Cola Co. and Heineken are returning, and executives from Cingular, FedEx and Nissan Motor Corp. are expected to attend for the first time. Clorox is sending its CEO, first-timer Jerry Johnston.

In 2004, about 100 client companies attended Cannes. Twelve weeks before the June 19-25 festival, marketers from at least 50 companies are already registered, said CEO Terry Savage.

The boon dovetails with the first-year ownership of the festival under Emap, the U.K. media and events group that bought the show last summer from mercurial Frenchman Roger Hatchuel for $96 million. Under the new owners, two awards -- for radio and integrated marketing -- have been added. The show also signed up new sponsors, including Brazilian adman Nizan Guanaes’ Sao Paulo ad agency Africa in the TV and cinema-advertising category. Mr. Savage said design awards are “on the table for 2006” and another category may be announced before this year’s festival.

“It’s evolution, not revolution,” said Mr. Savage, a 19-year Cannes veteran in his third year as CEO. “If it’s not broken, it doesn’t need fixing. [Emap] absolutely understands this business.”

One thing has changed. Cognizant of tight hotel space, the festival for the first time included extensive links to villa and apartment rental agents on its Web site.

Hotel accommodations
As the nationality least likely to step off the Croisette beachfront boulevard, Americans are most afflicted by this year’s hotel crunch. Americans are big fans of the four “palace” hotels that line the Croisette -- the art-deco Majestic, the white-wedding-cake-like Carlton, the new-ish Noga Hilton and the Martinez with its all-night bar. There are, Mr. Savage insists, many other “perfectly acceptable hotels.”

For non-Americans, it’s less of an issue. Cindy Gallop, Bartle Bogle Hegarty’s chairman of North America and global chief marketing officer, said her agency is staying at the Eden boutique hotel a few blocks off the Croisette. Omnicom’s DDB, London, books the entire two-star Chantilly hotel at $52 a night per person; some of the creatives pay their own way and are reimbursed if they win a Lion. And a group from Leo Burnett Hungary is driving to Cannes from Budapest in a camper van.

Block-booking rooms
Part of the current hotel-room crunch, festival executives point out, is due to companies block-booking rooms before they are sure who will go to Cannes. Bill Ludwig, vice chairman and chief creative officer of Interpublic Group of Cos.’ Campbell-Ewald, Warren, Mich., is registered but undecided, and said the Carlton hotel has already asked about giving away his room.

“Some of us have already confirmed our hotel rooms, but not our first selections,” says Nuria Halpern Serra, senior vice president of network development and knowledge management at Havas’ MPG in Barcelona. “As we get closer, we might have to rent villas.”

The Wunderman group will take over the 40-room Hotel Juana in Juan-les-Pins, a 15-minute drive from Cannes.

Richard Pinder, president of Publicis Groupe’s Leo Burnett Europe, said he is renting a five-bedroom Cannes villa for about what he paid to stay at the Majestic last year.

At least one industry festival has already outgrown Cannes -- the 3GSM mobile-phone congress, which attracts 34,000 people, is moving in 2006 to Barcelona. But that won’t happen to the advertising festival, said Mr. Savage. “Not in my lifetime.”

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