Cannes Questionnaire: Harris Diamond has three breakfasts a day

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

It’s 10 a.m, and Harris Diamond is on his second breakfast. He has another to go after this one, the side-effect of being the business guy at a creative festival. (Another side-effect: Not being “allowed” in perennial favorite Gutter Bar, since that’s really just for the creatives.)

As part of a series in which we talk to execs about how Cannes Lions 2016 International Festival of Creativity, is going, Digiday caught up with the chairman and CEO of McCann Worldgroup for quick mid-morning Coca-Cola Light to chat about why he still comes. (Hint: It might be because the brand winning — McCann is already having quite a good week, having been named network of the year at the Lions’ Health festival over the weekend.)

Why does Cannes still matter?
It is meaningful to us. When you’re recognized by peers, it matters. Look, we don’t enter as many awards as others, and some of that is cultural and historical. But we do take this seriously. We take it more seriously every year because there are things that are good here, like with the Health Lions. Cannes starts new categories and it has its reasons for it, but they’re also good for us.

Do you do much business here?
This is not a new business arena. It’s for current clients. And it’s not for recruiting as much as people make it out to be. We only have one internal meeting. I don’t want people here to feel the necessity for us to meet. Go see work, meet clients, go to seminars. If I’m paying for people to be here, I don’t need them to meet with us. Would be a questionable use of my resources.

What are you looking most forward to?
Have McCann continue to be on the stage winning. I sent a note Saturday night after we won at Cannes Health and I sent a note to all 24,000 people and said “You should know that we were named Network of the Year.”

Cannes is where the ad world meets. Do you think brands and agencies are as worried as they should be about big issues in the industry, like ad blocking?
No. To a certain extent it’s about whose problem is this. Most clients see it as an issue where they need to have information about what’s being seen and what’s not being seen. The general sense is similar to my sense which is this is an issue for the publishers. You can go lean and charge less. Or you can try to be basically continue to oversell and fundamentally have people look for the “X” or put on their blockers. It’s just one more issue to think about in a mix. It’s not deadly for us, but it is deadly for the publishers.

What is the role of the agency with the ad blocking issue?
Put pressure with money. It’s where do we spend. I’d buy billboards right now for a desert in the U.S. and they’re a nickel. I also buy billboards in Times Square. I pay more nickels for those. That’s what’s going to happen with the digital world. We’ll continue to evaluate that. And the way we put pressure is whether we fork over money or not. The digital world so far has had a free ride because of fascination. But now we’re saying “Wait a second.” It’s time to quantify.

What’s your Cannes diary look like?
Three breakfasts a day. A lot of meetings. Every dinner and lunch is with clients. There are worse places to come. My Cannes is a good Cannes. It’s a place where I can see a lot of folks in a condensed period of time before the summer.

Do you have a secret spot in Cannes?
Go out to the docks. There’s a stone wall there. You sit on the end of the stone wall at 6.30 in the morning. It’s a cool place to be.

Is Cannes still about creativity?
Remember that it is mostly creatives here. The reason they’re here is so they can see the work. That’s what it is about. It’s nice to have the Gutter Bar — I’m not allowed there — and the parties. They sell it as a place to “do business.” But it’s time to get back to why we’re here. To be creative. That’s what I want my people to be doing.

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