Maurice Lévy, the chairman of Publicis Groupe’s advisory board and former CEO, talked to Atifa SIlk, Campaign Asia-Pacific brand director, in Cannes about the group's decision to withdraw from festivals and why Cannes needs to change.
For better or worse, how has Cannes changed in your view?
I am wondering, is Cannes about the celebration of great work, or is it something else? A few years ago, meeting at Cannes, you and I would have spoken about an interesting new agency from Brazil, Paris, New York or somewhere. Today, rather than keeping our eyes focused on creativity, we see that tech companies are taking over Cannes. This has been one of the reasons why we have decided to pause. I believe it’s right and important to take a bold decision to say, ‘Hey, come on, let’s look at what Cannes should be’. Cannes should be about celebrating great work and creative people. But all we see are the tech companies: IBM, Snapchat, Facebook, Google, and on and on, plus the consulting companies. We should be mindful of the change. The world is changing, and we must recognise the change. But at the same time, we should not shift to a degree that we are in a Cannes that’s dominated by tech. We need balance.
Is that contradictory to Publicis Groupe’s push into technology?
I welcome tech. I love the idea that they believe in us and that they are coming to share their new technology, ideas and solutions with us. It is something that I consider very important. But I don’t like the idea that we are losing sight of what we have. And what we have to do is, very simply, to look at our business as a creative business. We are creative people, generating ideas that transform the business of our client, and I don’t believe that our clients want to see us becoming tech companies. They like the idea that we can be consulting technology, but that we generate ideas that transform their business. This is what they want, and this is what we should be doing.
Related from Campaign UK
Why are the tech companies a threat to ‘creativity’ in Cannes?
The tech companies are in Cannes because they are looking to sell their services. Cannes has turned into a marketplace. And the consulting firms want to sell their services, and to show that they can serve clients in some areas. This is a creative festival about films, digital and creative ideas. It is about everything that we can create to generate a different image and growth for our clients. We should all try to be true to our roots.
How much has the cost of Cannes become a barrier to entry?
For a few years now, there has been a drift in cost, which is an issue particularly at a time when we are being asked by clients to reduce our fees. Let’s be fair, Ascential had done a great job. If we are thinking only about the growth, there will be a limit, and they have to be mindful of that. The festival is extending in term of time, which is becoming a great problem because we cannot have people for 10 days in Cannes. It’s huge; it’s very expensive, and we have to be cautious. Given the number of awards and entries, they cannot think that we can pay for all those costs endlessly. We have clients who are telling us, ‘we cut your fees because we need to’. The reality is that our fees are being cut and in response we have to cut our costs. Otherwise, we’ll be in a difficult situation. The first thing that Cannes should have done is to create a committee with the advertising world. It’s good to have the advertisers involved, and let’s not forget that we have been working very hard and investing to bring the clients into Cannes. But they should not forget that Cannes has a goal, which is a celebration of great work.
Has the MediaLink deal influenced your decision?
MediaLink was just a broker, brokering relationship, when it started. Progressively, they have put more intellectual power into their business. They are at a consulting level. They were looking for a strategic solution and, clearly, they couldn’t be acquired by a holding company because there is a conflict. The choice of Ascential presents some advantages and some question marks. The advantage is that I’m sure Michael Kassan can help them look at the world differently. The question mark is that we have something that is neutral today, because the organisation of the festival is neutral. Tomorrow, it might well be less neutral, and that is worrying.
How will you keep your creative talent motivated?
Despite the noise that has been made they understand very well what we are doing. It’s something that makes sense. They understand that if we want to be responsible in the future, we have to help rethink Cannes. [Our talent] will not be left aside, and they will not be out of the industry. They will be at its core and they will be at the group that is really changing the industry, and caring about the future of the industry. We are the one who are really making some bold decisions in the interest of the whole industry. So, I think that our people will be extremely proud of what we are doing, and they will love it.
Some clients have responded with concern. What is your client and new business strategy?
There are two aspects. One is how to protect our business, and the second is how to enlarge our business. I don’t believe that we will protect our business by developing defensive strategy. Defensive strategy works only partially. The most important is the offensive strategy, the one that can help you to go to the attack, and to enlarge the pie on which you are working, and that is our strategy. So, we want to be not only in creative solutions and solving some of the marketing aspect of our clients. We want also to be on the transaction side and help them sell it. And we want to be on the transformation and help them build platforms. So, we are enlarging the pie in which we have our share. And if we have a smaller share on a bigger pie, we will grow faster than any of our competitors. And this is our strategy. So, I consider that our strategy is right. I consider that the growth will come from the fact that we will be working on more complex problems, and grow the strategies.