First Publicis Groupe Pulled Out of Cannes. Is WPP Next?

Well, it looks like the organizer of the Cannes Lions Festival Of Creativity — Ascential being the parent organization — has a holding company problem to address.

A big problem. First, it was Publicis Groupe that decided to pull out of next year’s Cannes Lions festival — along with other awards shows to fund its AI initiative Marcel.

Now WPP is threatening to do the same.

Let’s face it. WPP chief Marin Sorrell is a smart cookie and knows how to use leverage. (He has certainly complained a lot about how clients are using their leverage to squeeze WPP’s margins from all angles!)

Anyway, an internal WPP email exchange has surfaced (first reported byAdweek) that indicates WPP is pondering whether it will participate — or not — in next year’s festival. A meeting next month with Ascential representatives regarding concessions the holding company wants may tip the scales one way or the other.



An email from WPP’s worldwide creative director John O’Keefe details WPP’s likely withdrawal from the Eurobest Awards, also put on by Ascential, which O’Keefe said has “no real credibility to us, nor does it much impress our clients.” Sorrell gave the go-ahead to pull out.

Also at stake in the upcoming talks is WPP’s participation in Ascential’s Dubai Lynx and Spikes Asia awards.

An email, dated last week from O’Keefe, notes: “Final decisions on WPP and Cannes will await the result of a meeting Martin and I have with [Ascential CEO] Duncan Painter in a couple of weeks time.”

O’Keefe sounded an optimistic note that Ascential is making changes that may keep WPP in the game. “Already we are seeing moves in the right direction,” he wrote, noting a reduction in categories. Also, “there will be a refocusing on creativity, and there is talk of cutting the overall length of the festival.”

How much money WPP will or won’t save wasn’t spelled out in the emails and probably won’t be finalized until after the talks next month. But if Ascential isn’t flexible enough in the end, it could be a bundle if WPP decides to pull out altogether. Guess we’ll find out soon.

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