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Quick thoughts on Publicis

Now that I'm back from Cannes and putting aloe on my sunburn, and getting a blood transfusion to replace the toxins I ingested at Cannes, I wanted to say a few words on Publicis' decision to pull out of Cannes (and SXSW and CES) next year. I'm just kidding. I didn't go to Cannes. I was working my ass off for a campaign that will air in another country and I've been living on two different time zones for the past six weeks.

1. Creatives at Publicis were right to be upset.

For a creative, awards are usually a big way of getting a raise at your current job or a great way to get a raise and hired at a new job. Like it or not. High-profile work gets you known. It's the world we live in. How will the network gauge who to give raises next year? Or will they simply not give anyone raises? If they have a measure in place to compensate the current crop of creatives (and everyone else for that matter) based on their exemplary work, great. If not, then they are no different from the smarmy agencies who act like it's privilege to work there while those at the top make tens of millions a year. If they don't plan to give raises at all, then you can expect a mass Exodus this time next year and watch morale drop even further. I suspect it's already at a low point and people are already on the phone with their recruiters.

While I'm not advocating the incessant drive for awards by any means, and fall into the same camp as those creatives I know (all of them talented and amazing and have won awards in their own right) who have given up on that chase, what I want to say is this: if someone takes the option away, then you have no option. And even if I don't care, I do like to have the option.

2. Publicis might inadvertently be shooting itself in the foot.

For an agency, big or small, in New York or in New Nowhere, winning awards attract new talent that might not otherwise go there. One can argue this is a vicious circle that perpetuates greed, or one can argue that creating high profile internationally recognized work is the best way to do this. How vicious this circle is depends on your viewpoint. There are plenty of great shops all over the world. But unless you're seeing their work when we post them on Adland, you might not know they even exist.

So let's say you want to switch jobs but you want to go off the beaten path or look for an up-and-coming-shop. Those up and comers might just be that way because they won some awards that started ot put them on the map. And while it's all well and good for an agency to attempt to poach creatives form other shops using the social media channel of the moment, how effective is it really? Not as effective of doing work that people see. And in an ad world made up of increasingly fragmented channels (stop with the 360, no ones chasing your ads and you know it) reaching the right audience, be it employer or employee is becoming more and more difficult.

Publicis made a masterful PR move

Don't let's forget this is a one year moratorium on award shows. Not really all that long in this industry, in the great scheme of things. Don't let's forget the big announcement from Publicis is a big PR move which they could have done in silence. Instead they got a boat load of earned media out of it and are setting a stage for their AI project. Don't think for one second they won't enter it in award shows if successful.

Cannes has more to lose than Publicis

As far as I'm concerned Publicis' PR move was a stroke of genius in the earned media department. They will have to live up to it. And they will have a year to do so, give or take. At the end though, Cannes has more to lose. I know of very few actual creatives who see Cannes as nothing more than a necessary evil at this point. Cannes is the place where ads that are fake tend to win, year after year. Cannes is the place where your expert attendees include Sarah Jessica Parker, Iggy Pop and Simon Pegg. None of them work in advertising, to my knowledge.
In other words, Cannes is a safe space for scam ads, stars, and the starfuckers who love them. Now that Publicis is taking away a big chunk of the bankroll, (and possibly WPP as well) how will they attract such important talent to the stage?

It's a lot to think about. And like most interesting topics, it's not a black or white issue. The only thing you can say for certain is Cannes is sweating at the moment, and Publicis is enjoying some mega traction at the moment. How long either moment lasts, or what if any fallout will come, is anyone's guess.

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Dabitch's picture

Full disclosure: my best time careerwise, and best work was at Publicis, so I have a strange loyalty to the company still.

I saw a lot of people mocking this decision as it was announced, but I think it was smart of Publicis to do this, right now. Like you said, they got a tonne of press for it, but also as more clients and accounting agencies make their pilgrimage to Cannes to watch actresses talk about advertising (wtf?) on yet another celebrity panel, Cannes is making itself a circus show instead of a creativity festival. We have podcasts where non ad-people chat about ads (two are people who work in advertising), and we have actresses on a panel discussing how they'd advertise their show. When huge celebrity names like Yoko Ono arrived at Cannes it was interesting because her entire career is one of a creative, but now that celebrities Kim Kardashian are the draw I am less interested in the awards show overall. Yes, she's marketed, but she came to talk about the game she had other people make, that robs little kids of their spending money.

Even plastic man and WPP CEO says that Cannes is too costly now, and he's absolutley right. Adweek spinned it as "not the right way," but the fact is Publicis move is a classic one. All up and coming record-breaking award winning small agencies have done it some point (Kesselskramer comes to mind). They'll sit out the awards, because awards are expensive to enter and becoming way more arbitrary in who wins these days, and they're inventing new categories each year so you have to enter as many as possible to have a shot. In Cannes if your countrymen are on the Jury, you'll win. If they are not, your entire country misses out that year, feeding the non-winning circle. Sweden is on a winning streak these past years, because of Swedish jurors.

Walking away from all that, announcing it during Cannes, and Arthur Sadoun having a twitter Q&A about is freaking genius.

I may still be under the influence of the Publicis kool-aid, but I agree with this move. Only a huge network like Publicis can make Cannes and other bloated awards shows stop and check themselves for a minute. Awards may be how creatives move from one level to another, but our job was never one of getting oddly shaped metal chunks. Our job is to sell the clients product. As long as Publicis has internal checks on who is making work that works, and promotes those who do, it's a great money-saving move.

Clients love Cannes today, too much. Convince them, when they're done spending their money at Cannes, to spend money on great creative now.