It’s a transformational time for Cannes Lions.
After industry leaders this year criticized the festival for becoming too bloated, the company announced a set of changes last month to streamline the event and bring the focus back to creativity.
Last Friday, Chairman Terry Savage stepped down after leading the festival for more than three decades. A replacement hasn’t been named for Savage, who will become an independent creative consultant.
The Cannes Lions isn’t the only industry trade show going through upheaval. Dmexco recently had its own leadership kerfuffle, leaving the event’s future uncertain. For Cannes, the transition leaves an opening for new blood to step in and shape the event.
“Change in this world is inevitable and that change will continue to reflect what is happening in our business,” Savage said in an email. “We have navigated this path very well and, as always, any evolution of the Festival occurs in consultation with the industry.”
At this point, it’s not clear what this change will look like or where it will come from.
While MediaLink, the strategic advisory firm Cannes Lions’ parent company, Ascential, acquired last year, seems well positioned to play a bigger role, CEO Michael Kassan said its relationship with Cannes Lions will remain the same.
“MediaLink and Cannes Lions happen to be owned by the same company, but we are very distinct,” he said. “We will not have anything more or less to do with programming than we did prior. The only programming we’ve ever had influence over is MediaLink's.”
Kassan refers to MediaLink and Cannes as cousins. The companies attend the same all-hands meetings, but MediaLink hasn’t gained any discounts or influence over programming. It’s still submitting for speaker slots in standard fashion and plans to sponsor the 2018 event.
But Kassan acknowledged that industry festivals need to adapt to a disrupted market facing financial pressure. For Cannes Lions, a big part of that change depends on redefining what creative means to the industry in a digital world.
“The struggle people are having about Cannes is a lack of willingness to accept that creativity exists across the spectrum and isn’t the domain of one constituency,” he said. “Terry represented a lot of the heritage of Cannes, but there’s a new Cannes and we all know that.”
Publicis Groupe, for example, will forgo Cannes altogether next year to reinvest the savings in an artificial intelligence operating system, although it has recommitted to the annual festival starting in 2019. And WPP CEO Martin Sorrell’s outspokenness about the changes Cannes needs to make in order for him to keep sending his employees led to a streamlined redesign of the 2018 festival.
Correction: MediaLink does not submit for Cannes awards, but rather speaking slots.