Sir Martin Sorrell speaks out yet again about WPP’s uneasy relationship with Cannes

Sir Martin Sorrell, founder and CEO of WPP, has spoken out about the advertising industry’s “collective seven-year itch” with the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

The comments follow Sorrell’s decision to cut the group’s delegation in half this year, from the 350 staff members present at the festival in 2016. He also reportedly asked staff to cut around 25% of their expenses.

For the seventh year in a row, WPP was named the world’s most creative parent company at the festival. Sorrell said: “As ever, this award simply reflects the achievements of our wonderfully talented people all around the world, and of course the support of our clients. In the year of our seventh successive win, the industry appears to be experiencing a collective seven-year itch in terms of its relationship with Cannes.

“The importance of recognising the outstanding creativity of our people and the work they do for clients is not in doubt. The question is whether the festival does that in the most effective way, and we look forward to playing our part in finding the best solution.”

This isn’t the first time Sorrell has hinted at WPP’s uneasy relationship with Cannes. Back in 2016, Sorrell threatened to pull WPP out of the festival, citing growing costs and problems with the event’s mammoth size as reasons “to think again” about his company’s relationship with the event.

Along with cost concerns, the historical problem of ‘scam’ ads winning Cannes Lions have been ever-present with the awards in recent years, causing some within the industry to doubt the legitimacy of many wins.

Sorrell’s comments come just days after Publicis Groupe told its staff in an office memo that it was pulling out of all awards shows from 2018 including Cannes. It read: “No promotional events. We’re serious about that. No Cannes next year.”

John O’Keeffe, Worldwide Creative Director of WPP, said: “Cannes Lions 2017 draws to an end tinged a little with sadness. I’m personally sorry that so many good friends from Publicis won’t be at the awards next year. The festival is the poorer for their absence.

“My congratulations of course go to my friends and colleagues throughout WPP, but also to all the winners, and indeed to every great client who bought all the brilliant work on show this week. Over the past 10 days I’ve seen, writ large across the categories, the myriad ways now at our disposal to create fame for our clients. But equally I’ve seen proof of what I said last year: no matter what the platform, The Big Idea will always be The Big Winner.”


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