After Publicis Groupe’s seismic announcement that it was pulling out of all awards shows in 2018 to focus on developing an AI tool, it felt apt to discuss the value of Cannes.
On the Publicis decision, half of the diners felt it was correct, and they were equally mixed about the prospect of the new AI tool.
There was less ambivalence about awards shows themselves. Straight away the knives came out for an institution that is viewed as bloated and avaricious. One guest complained that, with over 1,400 Lions given out at Cannes this year, awards shows had become like a school prizegiving ceremony where it’s almost impossible to go home empty-handed. ‘What happened to competition?’ he asked.
Most frustrating are the vague category definitions, which seem designed to encourage agencies to enter the same piece of work as many times as possible, to the benefit of the awards show owners.
‘Awards shows are predicated on the fact that most people don’t know what creativity is, so they need a sign post,’ said one guest, suggesting an element of transience to the whole setup. That said, awards still have tangible consequences for creatives. One senior creative said he received part of his bonus based on his agency’s performance at awards shows, noting that a holding company’s stock price tends to do better when its agencies have secured a good haul of gongs.
Another guest relayed an anecdote about an agency where one day each week was reserved for copywriters and art directors to come up with work that would play well in front of awards juries, much to the frustration of account handlers, who found it impossible to get any proper client work done on that day.
The result is work that’s little better than a scam, although one diner was more charitable, saying it was a chance to show clients the work an agency ‘could do’, if given the chance. A less positive spin was offered by another diner, who said ‘You can play the game, but ultimately it devalues what you do’.
Some solutions were offered to curb the gaming of the awards shows by agencies. One guest suggested that awards show management tweak their entry rules each year, similar to the approach taken by Formula One bosses, in order to keep agencies honest.
But for all the ire directed at awards shows, most felt they still served a purpose. First, an event like Cannes is an occasion that brings the industry together and helps oil wheels. One guest described doing a £30m deal with a client on a yacht in Cannes this year, adding that although the location wasn’t the reason for the deal, ‘it helped’.
Other than that, awards remain one of the best ways to retain talent and one of the most relied-upon metrics when scouting new hires.
Young creatives might even end up undermining the worth of awards before agencies do, as one CD said: ‘Some of my young creatives have 80,000 followers on Twitter; I’m not sure they feel they need awards.’