The Cannes Lions festival hasn’t yet begun but already the event is bringing out the worst in some people.
Take the torrent of bullshit that’s arrived in my inbox over the past couple of months purporting to showcase serious contenders for coveted Lions. Almost always from agencies I haven’t heard from since this time last year and almost never on behalf of a blue-chip brand, a few hundred emails have screamed for my attention ahead of next week’s awards.
The first few times I got an email like this, I drew up my chair and prepared to be stunned. They promised me exciting, innovative, tech-clever new apps/devices/experiences that were sure to earn their creators a place on the podium next week. Yes, please.
But so much of the work itself has little ambition beyond making the creative agency famous. We used to call them stunts at best, or scams at worst. Now, they’ve got their own marketing programme to ensure they’re well-hyped ahead of the festival. I hope the Cannes juries can see through this.
Meanwhile, though agencies have got carried away trying to PR brand stunts, a lot of PR agencies have pursued a low-key approach to showcasing their clients at Cannes, sending me long checklists of all of those who will be there. I can almost hear their slow, weary typing as they hammer out name after name after name. And rather than suggest interesting reasons why I should meet any of these people – any stories their clients might have to share or insights they could offer – I’m simply invited to "let me know if you fancy hooking up with any of them".
This is PR at its most commoditised and irrelevant. But perhaps it’s the only viable tactic when the festival itself has become such a monster: the chance of making any meaningful connections or telling any nuanced stories is undermined by the scale and ferocious pace of the event. Do I want to hook up with the chief executive of a medium-sized agency from Canada? Er, why? (And what’s he paying you to ask me?)
No wonder the festival organisers are keen to prove the return on investment for those companies spending hundreds of thousands – millions, even – on being there: it’s become harder and harder to cut through with a meaningful presence in Cannes. And no wonder many agencies – under intense scrutiny from clients that are demanding transparency – are trimming their attendance.
Soft benefits such as networking, rewarding hard-working teams and being inspired don’t really fit the hard metrics demanded now as proof of ROI. That’s a real pity – but you don’t go to Cannes for any of that any more, do you?
Claire Beale is global editor-in-chief of Campaign.