Tom Denford
By Tom Denford
Jun 22, 2012 2:22:32 PM

How Much Money Did Agencies Spend In Cannes?


So, how much do agencies really spend in Cannes? I have no idea I'm afraid, but certainly ALL the talk this week seemed to be about the costs.

We are in a horrid recession, so politely enquiring about the lavishness of the spending with faux-disgust whilst standing on a $10m yacht (I did this myself, yes its weird, I'm not judging) seems entirely appropriate. And it was going on everywhere we went. Consensus seems to be about $30,000 per head just for the basics like getting there in comfort, sleeping there in comfort, eating and drinking there in style and being able to walk along La Criosette with a large white lanyard on. We know that much.


Conservative estimates say that the companies who are "making a play" will budget around $2-5m for the week. That is a lot of new business to generate to pay off the bills. Then there's the bonkers stuff like that little Elton John gig at Hotel du Cap (which I didn't go to) which must put a little bit of pressure on some sales teams to have a good second half of 2012...

There is no need here to offer you readers a glamorous list of events, parties, cocktails and international celebrities (with frankly tenuous links to the communications business) just to get some headlines. Lots of other people have been doing that all week.

The question for us was not "how much" but "why...?"

The "how much" is rather like football players' salaries, the number itself becomes irrelevant so long as you know that your number is better than the next guy's number. Its from that number that you know how good you are, or not. It does seem from the outside that spending in Cannes is a little out of control by any standards and the biggest motivations seem to be on agencies out-doing each other in some way.

Out-doing your agency neighbours in Cannes is quite hard when the raw materials available with which to wow your potential new clients / recruits / journalists are pretty limited. In Cannes there is finite amount of grand white hotels, a finite amount of prime beach frontage, a finite variation of cool summer drinks to offer and a finite supply of blonde female DJs, white sofas and good looking (A&F quality) waiting staff.

It would appear that despite such lavish spending, there are relatively few opportunities to engage with someone else's clients and win new business to pay for it all. There is however such strong headcount attendance from agencies in a climate of a talent famine, that agencies are surely marketing to their own people as much as anything else. There were clearly teams of agencies being treated to a week of fine living (or debauchery depending on where you draw your distinctions). This makes sense, in a relative way, I appreciate there is currently a drought and famine in East Africa so in context its pretty mental, but the effort to retain and attract talent these days is a war not a battle for even the biggest of agencies; it is a long-game which means being big at Cannes is an investment in your people and your future people.

Some attendees quickly spotted the slight irony in this, like this tweet from@adamkmiec


"The War on Agency Talent" (with its own interesting and appropriate acronym) is genuinely a big deal. Talent famine is bordering on crisis for some, especially in the larger creative and media agencies. At first glance, spending millions on a week long beach party would appear a very strange strategy to improve this situation. But perhaps in an industry which once boasted top-notch glamour (as conveniently represented by the appearance of Don Draper in Cannes on Monday) and now finding a dearth of glitz this is a perfect, packaged presentation of pampering and p*ss-up with which to reward the troops and make them still believe (just for a few days) that the business is still Advertising and not Accounting.

ID Comms' first visit to the Cannes International Festival of Creativity was genuinely valuable for us. We didn't compete with anyone in the party stakes, mostly drank water and talked. We talked alot. And walked a lot. It was great to be there, be seen, connect with clients, friends and colleagues old and new for a few days. We'll definitely be back, whilst we don't deal in creativity we do help clients work better with their agencies and we also help procurement leaders find greater value in their agency relationships. There's appetite for that in Cannes, we found.

Cannes is about showing your priorities, about status. Of agencies AND clients. 

We advise clients that one of the secrets to unlocking greater value from agencies is being considered a priority. A nice side-effect of the Cannes crazy-go-round is that clients get to see how important THEY are to their agencies. That's a huge pressure on the agency leaders brave enough to start entertaining clients in Cannes.

I asked one agency head "Are you in Cannes entertaining Client X?" (a newly won global assignment?)

"Nope" he replied "This week it's all about Client Y" (a new global pitch they're currently in)

They win, they move on. Sucks to be yesterday's news in Cannes, huh?