The event was due to take place from 22-26 June in the southern French resort, but yesterday it was officially postponed until October.
On Tuesday, France put a strict 15-day lockdown in place, requiring citizens to not leave their homes in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19. The virus has killed 148 people in France and infected more than 6,000.
The festival attracts thousands of delegates from around the world, including many comms professionals.
Speaking to PRWeek, UK PR agency bosses appeared relatively resigned to the news as the growing scale of the pandemic had made postponment seem inevitable. There's also a sense that people's priorities are elsewhere as the industry adjusts to the crisis.
Helen Bennett, London MD at Weber Shandwick, said: "The Cannes Lions Festival is a major milestone for our industry – one that we look forward to engaging with each year as an agency. Equally, we completely understand that events such as this one will need to be postponed out of an abundance of caution for everyone involved.
"While the autumn postponement may mean cooler climes, less consumption of chilled rosé wine and less time spent on the beach, we still warmly look forward to participating in the Festival with our usual energy and vigour later this year."
Ketchum UK chief executive Jo-ann Robertson said: "There will be plenty of time to celebrate the best of the best creative in our industry when this unprecedented threat has passed. For now, we need to focus on looking after our people, supporting our clients, and ensuring that communications plays a critical role in influencing people to follow government guidelines."
Chris McCafferty, London chief executive at MSL, gave a similar response: "Frankly, Cannes is the least of our concerns at the moment," he said. "Our number-one, -two and -three priority at the moment is to keep our people safe and to do everything we can to help them through this difficult time, and to continue to secure the future health of the business.
"If this is a lockdown for only a matter of weeks, which it won't be, I think it's good that [Cannes Lions] been taken out of the diary, and let's hope life is more normal come October."
McCafferty also made a broader point about the impact of the pandemic on the kind of creativity showcased at the festival. "It will be interesting to see brands react creatively to the situation, whether that's the creative use of their resources, like LVMH producing antibacterial lotion, or a more conventional brand response."
Joe Mackay-Sinclair, founder and executive creative director at The Romans, alluded to the impact the pandemic is having on companies that work alongside PR.
“Most PRs on the Croisette are only there to get selfies with Lions won by advertising agencies, so this announcement won’t make a huge difference to us," he said.
"However, its postponement does raise a serious issue about the wellbeing of the various businesses and individuals that our industry collectively relies on – award shows, recruiters, consultants, freelancers, production companies, measurement and analytics companies, influencer/talent/modelling agencies – not to mention our excellent trade media – all of whom are going to be feeling the heat right now.
"It’s up to us to do whatever we can to treat the above with the respect they deserve, offer support and, at the very least, pay on time, to ensure we all get through this together as unscathed as possible.”