Call me grumpy, but I worry that Cannes doesn't paint PR in a favourable light

Do clients really want their corporate advisers to be gadding about in France rather than advising them, guiding them and helping them succeed?

Ah, Cannes! The sun and the sea, walking the Croisette amongst the beautiful people, seeing and being seen.

I remember a trip there, fresh out of university, sitting with some friends in the sunshine outside a bar drinking beer in litre glasses and generally lowering the tone. It’s a beautiful holiday town.

But whatever Cannes’ attractions, I am just not sure it makes sense for so many PR professionals to spend so long there once a year, allegedly because they’ve got a vague hope of bagging a Lion. My social media feeds have been stuffed lately with colleagues and competitors drinking in the sun and the sauce, schmoozing with fellow PRs on a bit of an extended jolly.

Can it really be worth it?

I doubt it – particularly when there is so much going on at home.

We’ve just gone through a seismic election campaign, and we’re still experiencing the aftershocks. Brexit negotiations are finally underway. There are plenty of deals being done and investments being made.

I find it hard to believe that clients want their corporate advisers to be gadding about in France rather than advising them, guiding them, helping them succeed. Staying here, where the action is, feels like exactly the right thing to do.

There are obvious responses to this; that I’m grumpy because I’m stuck at home in boiling hot London rather than enjoying a sojourn by the sea. That’s not right: this is where the action is, and anyway this town looks amazing in the sun.

Or that networking is important, and Cannes is ‘The Place’ to do it. Yes, networking matters a lot, but I’d rather be meeting clients and prospective clients in their natural habitat than slapping competitors on the back in sweaty pavilions with warm white wine in hand.

Another response might be that I’m only saying this because we haven’t got work up for an award – and that awards are important in our industry. I couldn’t agree more, creative and award-winning work matters. I’m definitely not against the Lions per se. Sometimes, though, it’s not possible to enter awards simply because you’re just too busy to jump through all the hoops. Real work has to come first.

What I really object to is not the awards, but the length and growing ostentation of the surrounding event, and the fact that oh so very many people go. It feels like a monumental waste of resources and time and I’m not sure it paints our industry in the best possible light.

I’d love us all to think again about this.

Last year Cannes took place during the week of the EU referendum, leaving the cream of the agency world sat in an expensive bubble far removed from reality. This year, as I’ve said, many PR folk are again very distant from a fast-changing reality at home.

So put down the champagne glasses and get back to work. Stop agonizing about whether our event makes us feel as important as our advertising frenemies. Refocus on the needs of clients.

Gavin Devine is chief executive of Newgate Communications


If you DO want to know what's going on in France, click here for all the latest from Cannes Lions 2017

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