Cannes Lions and parent company Ascential announced the move today, noting Savage’s 33 years associated with Cannes, first representing Australia, then serving as CEO and finally chairman.
As a gauge of Savage's success leading the festival, Cannes Lions had 16,392 entries in 2003, the year he was appointed as CEO. In 2016, entries reached a peak of 43,101. The 2017 festival brought in about US$82 million in revenue for Ascential - 7% higher than 2016 despite "slightly reduced" entry and delegate numbers, according to Ascential.
"I have given a large part of my life to Cannes Lions and enjoyed every minute," Savage told Campaign Asia-Pacific. "I am embedded in creativity and want to use that passion to help others to also follow this path—which I will."
The chairman’s departure comes at a time of reflection and change for Cannes following criticisms that the Festival has lost some of its creative focus and become too costly and excessive. In response, Cannes Lions consulted with industry players before announcing a wide array of changes for 2018, including a shortened five-day programme, a simplified award structure, plans to separate commercial and non-profit work and changes to pricing policies. Some, however, feel the moves don't go far enough.
Savage, who noted his decision to leave was not taken lightly, downplayed the notion that his departure was part of a wider signal to the industry that the Festival is willing to change to return to creative roots. "Those that do know me well will know that I embrace change and new directions," he said, reiterating his past insistence that Cannes has always been a reflection of the industry but has not strayed from creativity.
"All platforms need to be creatively engaged—agencies, marketers, media, PR," he said. "Creativity is certainly changing, and maybe because of the changes and the complexity of the industry you have to look at it in different ways, but it is still at the very centre of Cannes Lions and our regional events Spikes Asia, Dubai Lynx and Eurobest."
Ascential Events chief executive Philip Thomas praised Savage’s "big personality with a big passion for creativity and for the Festival he has worked on for so long," noting they would continue to work closely in the lead up to the 2018 event.
Savage said his focus for the next six months will be on making the revised 2018 Festival a success. Beyond that, he would not divulge what will come next, but hinted that Cannes' creative successes could be applied elsewhere.
"Post Cannes, through the business opportunities I have before me, I will continue to ensure that the profound commercial and social impact of creativity takes a preeminent place in organisations around the world, and look forward to helping others achieve a like-minded position," he said.
Asked if he has any regrets about his decades-long leadership of the festival, Savage was unequivocal: "None that I will waste a second thinking about," he said.
Savage was named Cannes Lions' executive chairman in 2005 and became chairman in 2006, taking on a strategic business development role for the division’s other festivals, including Eurobest, Dubai Lynx and Spikes Asia. Prior to his becoming Cannes CEO in 2003, he was executive chairman of the cinema advertising company Val Morgan, in Australia. Under his leadership, the company expanded from Australia into New Zealand, the US, South America, the Middle East and Asia.