Consulting firms are crashing the party in Cannes

Digiday covers the latest from marketing and media at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. More from the series →

Management consultancies are taking their tussle with agencies for marketing budgets to the Croisette in Cannes.

Accenture Interactive, Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young and McKinsey will all be out in force at the festival. Purists might argue their presence is indicative of how industrialized advertising has become, but few can deny the influence these companies could wield in the broader marketing landscape.

“It’s natural for consultancies to be in Cannes because they’re doing a lot of the work that digital agencies do when it comes to connecting brands,” said Joydeep Bhattacharya, managing director of Accenture Interactive. “Most of the clients we will have out here will be CEOs and chief digital officers and getting them into this [festival] and showing them that we are relevant here [in Cannes] will be key.”

There’s an event Accenture is hosting with the World Federation of Advertisers that will put it in front of senior marketers from some of the world’s biggest brands, alongside the keynotes, presentations and networking events agencies do when they pitch up to the Croisette. Any parallels to those creative shops should come as no surprise, given the Cannes veterans at Karmarama, the agency the consultancy acquired last year, drew up a key portion of Accenture’s plan.

“I think having consultancies there [in Cannes] actually shows how creativity is becoming more important than ever,” said Mark Sherwood, group chief strategy officer at Imagination. “It’s not seen as a separate skill; it’s now becoming an integral part of every business. The only question is, can the consultancies allow creatives to push what is possible, to take risks, to play, to test, to learn, to unlearn, to push the possible.”

It’s a thought not lost on Deloitte Digital’s CEO Andy Main, who will be casting a watchful eye over the firm’s sponsorship for the Cannes Lions School, which includes courses and competitions for emerging talent. Deloitte executives will also be on hand to trumpet the company’s first-ever five sensory virtual reality experience at Cannes, which will show off projects with Oculus Rift and Michael Kors.

“We are very proud of the fact we have won Cannes Lions and the message is loud and clear – as a creative digital consultancy, we have the clear advantage when it comes to helping organizations solve business challenges, generate growth and achieve their ambitions,” Main said. “The conversation has changed. It has changed to helping businesses secure their future. A 30-second TV ad on its own will not future-proof a business. We not only imagine the future of business, we help companies communicate that future to the markets and their customers.”

However, contrary to perceived wisdom, agencies are seemingly sanguine about the prospect of consultancies muscling in on their turf. Chris Pearce, chief executive at TMW Unlimited, explained, “Without doubt, the plethora of consultancies and ad tech firms does change the focus of Cannes and, at one level, of course detracts from a purist celebration of creativity. It also underlines to me that these companies are part of the broader comms ecosystem, and it would be anachronistic and parochial to rail against them.”

One agency executive who spoke to Digiday under condition of anonymity said: “Would the Democrats’ convention still be the Democrats’ convention if twice their number of Republicans showed up each year? Probably not. And if the overwhelming majority of conversation at Cannes becomes tech-focused and funded, then the advertising industry will lose its creative focus and, with it, its value to clients. Since Google, Facebook, Twitter have taken over the town these last few years, that looks like it could someday be a real risk.”

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