Claire Beale: Cannes is more than a jolly - it's big business

You'll notice that this week's issue has more than a whiff of the South of France about it.

The 59th Cannes International Festival of Creativity is about to kick off, and adland is heading for the sunshine.

OK, not all of adland: just a thin layer of senior executives and a handful of lucky young creatives being treated to some world-class inspiration and a lot of fun. Most will be staying at home. In the rain. Working.

Time was when buggering off to Cannes for a few days of privilege and a few crates of Domaines Ott was something you should have felt pretty sheepish about, even if you never did. And, fair enough, anyone not off to the festival dismissed it as a glorified piss-up (read Jonathan Burley on page 16 for the ugly lowdown). Then, for a while there, as business got tougher and colleagues were losing their jobs or working harder for less, some people thought it was prudent to stay away. Until they'd had enough of being miserable, reckoned it was time to enjoy life a little again and re-embraced the whole Cannes thing. Last year was rocking again.

By then, though, clients had started signing up. And media agencies, and media owners, and the tech companies and PR agencies and branded content companies and analysts, and, and. And the seminars, lectures and workshops became a big willy contest: who could bring along the biggest and least relevant celebrity to parade before crowds (contenders this year: Crispin Porter & Bogusky with Smokey Robinson, Innocean with Mark Ronson, Grey with Debbie Harry, Grupo ABC with Bill Clinton)? And it all shifted the shape of the whole festival. Cannes now is about learning, networking, deal-making. Working.

So no need any more to feel sheepish about decamping to the Carlton Terrace for a few days. There's a record number of entries into the awards this year, up 19 per cent on 2011 - as good a barometer as you'll find for a return of confidence in the industry, though it's true that new categories have been added that have also boosted the numbers. So this is a serious, full-on business event that's a thoroughly justifiable way of spending a week out of the office and even a fairly justifiable way of spending several thousands of expense-account pounds. It's perhaps not as much fun as it used to be, but then, what is?

The only downside, I think, is that Cannes is becoming so noisy it's drowning out some of the creatives. Yes, everything that happens at Cannes is about creativity, about inspiring it, awarding it, challenging it. But whereas it used to be all about those people who had "creative" baked into their job description, it's now embracing such a broad definition of creativity that it's harder to keep a focus on the advertising creatives for whom this is their Olympic moment. I hope there's still plenty of room on the Carlton Terrace this year for all those ad people who actually make ads.


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