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Have reset the festival, hope the debate would be around creative work and not us: Jose Papa, Managing Director, Cannes Lions

Papa tells BestMediaInfo how the festival overcame the criticism it got last year for reducing categories and biggies like Publicis being absent from the circuit. He said the festival wants to grow bigger and a lot of investment is being made on digital

Jose Papa

It hasn't been easy times for the Cannes Lions festival. Last year, Publicis pulled out for a year and the number of categories was also reduced. Also, there were whispers that Martin Sorrell wasn't happy with the way festival was shaping up.

Jose Papa, Managing Director for the Lions Festival, was shouldering the twin responsibility of restoring the credibility of the festival and at the same time taking to a level higher. BestMediaInfo spoke to Papa to learn about what goes into making the biggest ad festival in the world and how he's managed to bring along the voices of dissent.

“I will not say that it was an easy challenge for one to be confronted with such a massive transformation of our industry as a whole. We have been criticised many times before also," he said.

"I sense that there is much debate and it is not actually what we want. We want the debate to happen around the work and creativity. There is a lot of discussion around our purpose is because people care," he added.

In March 2018, along with becoming the CEO of Ascential Events, Philip Thomas also replaced Terry Savage, who has been serving Cannes for more than 30 years. Commenting on Savage’s departure from Cannes and what would it mean for festival of creativity, Jose said, “Terry would never depart. Terry is a part of our story and legacy. He will always be a part of the brand Cannes Lions and the family. I think it is his legacy that we need to carry further.”

Excerpts:

What is your reaction on day one of the festival, especially after a little turbulence last year?

Last year was an opportunity for us to reset. We have always been changing. Cannes Lions is in evolution for the last 20 years. We began changing when we first had the brands beginning to engage with us. In 2001, P&G was the first brand to embrace the platform. It continued when we began seeing the various agents of the ecosystem of the communication to engage with the festival and it became much more than just an advertising festival. In 2011, we changed the name from the advertising festival to the festival of creativity. We launched various streams like Lions Health, Innovation Lions and Entertainment. Last year gave us the opportunity to continue our process of listening to the agents of communication of our industry.

Are you satisfied with the changes?

It’s the first day and so far everyone has recognised that being a much more streamlined and focussed event was the right approach because it gives a chance to people to organise their tracks in a much better way. It intersects very effectively the awards to the content that we offer. Like this, people have a better opportunity to organise their schedules in a much purposeful way. We have been engaging with our community with the propositions that go beyond the week here at Cannes. We have launched our digital platform ‘The Work’. We are doing our live proposition with Cannes TV, which is something that we have progressed with. This is something that we could progress doing in the future throughout the year.

Although Philip Thomas and you are at the helm of the Lions festivals, what would Terry’s departure mean for the future?

Terry would never depart. Terry is a part of our story and legacy. He is in our Cannes DNA. He will always be a part of the brand Cannes Lions and the family. I think it is his legacy that we need to carry further. We have this responsibility not just with Terry but many people who have been engaging with this platform for many years.

Your first year with Cannes Lions, which was last year, witnessed a lot of controversies from the biggest stakeholders, including WPP and Publicis. How confident or nervous were you back then?

I will not say that it was an easy challenge for one to be confronted with such a massive transformation of our industry as a whole. I was privileged as I was given an opportunity to be a part of something. If I have the opportunity to look back, I think I have arrived in at the exact moment. The timing was absolutely perfect.

Anything that people always care, there is always a lot of response on suggestions. I did investigate in the archive of many publications. Similar headlines that we got last year date to 1977-79. It is not something new. We have been criticised many times before also. I sense that there is much debate and it is not actually what we want. We want the debate to happen around the work and creativity. If there is a lot of discussion around our purpose is because people care.

The controversies temporarily brought Ascential stock prices down. Were you concerned about the brand Cannes Lions?

Any organisation should be concerned and obsessed regardless of financial sentiments, investments, shareholders and others. Any brand should be obsessed about its relevance and we are no different.

Removal of three categories and over 120 sub-categories has impacted overall entry numbers by 13% and hence the financials. Have you been able to contain the ‘feared’ losses through increased volume in existing categories or other means like sponsorship?

The moment we saw the Publicis move and the moment we began organising our awards architecture, we knew what the Publicis impact would be. Even our CEO of our public company did an interview in a leading news website, stating that this is a platform to serve its industry for the long term. If we needed to make changes, whatever the impact would be of such changes this year, we were ready to do it and that’s why the industry as a whole reacted positive to everything we did.

This is an organisation that is focussed on growth. So, we will always be looking for alternatives regardless the impact we had on the changes we made or the Publicis debacle. That’s why we are investing heavily on digital and have launched ‘The Work’ and doing Live programming. We are doing many initiatives and believe in our purpose.

Had Publicis not been absent this year, would you have sailed through the decline in numbers despite changes and does this also mean that you will witness a significant jump next year?

Publicis has mentioned many times earlier that they want to come back stronger next year. It was actually an opportunity that Publicis gave us to understand the intricacies of the issues that are happening in the industry as a whole. We need to understand the whole transformation happening in the ecosystem. How clients and brands are interacting, how technology is impacting the way work and much more. It was a benefit that such debate on Publicis raised many issues on how the industry operates, which was very healthy.

The number of brands and media owners entering work is on a sharp rise this year. What reasons would you attribute to for this sudden rise?

It is the acknowledgement that creativity drives value. They are now more and more realising this with proper fact.

Why didn’t they realise this earlier?

It is not the matter of realising. The journey of transformation began 20 years ago. It takes time. It began with P&G engaging with us in 2001.

How would you make sure that the festival is more focused on learning while celebrating creativity?

When you walk around our seminars, workshops and forum and Cannes Lions school, you will find we transpire learning. This is the core element that sustains the value proposition of Cannes Lions.

Last year, India gave its best performance at Cannes and this year Piyush and Prasoon Pandey are being honoured with Lion of St. Mark. What is your remark on India’s growing creative dominance?

A country with diversity, global presence, size of the country, economic progress and intellectual capacity; it has to be one of the most profound players in the world. Hopefully St. Mark transpires and mirrors what the Indian creativity has.

What are the three improvements that you would like to make to the festival in short term?

Hopefully this year we would not be the topic of the debate. This year is going to be around the work. The week is the pinnacle of Cannes Lions, but we’ll have an engagement that goes beyond the week. That’s why we launched ‘The Work’. We want to create a more compelling notion of creativity.

Info@BestMediaInfo.com

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