Last June, Publicis Groupe made a splash by vowing it would not attend 2018’s Cannes Lions festival and would instead redirect its efforts and resources in an internal collaboration tool called Marcel.

But staying away from Cannes is proving to be harder than it looks. In what seemed to be an attempt to head off any awkward questions, Publicis issued a press release Monday explaining that, despite last year’s promise, 86 of its staffers will in fact be attending the festival this year after all.

The company said 12 staffers will attend as part of awards juries, 12 will compete in Young Lions competitions, 25 have been invited by clients to attend and a further 20 will be there on the Publicis dime to attend key client meetings. A further staffers 15 have dipped into their own pockets to fund attendance, said the release. Publicis CEO Arthur Sadoun himself will not only be in Cannes but also take the main stage to promote Marcel.

And Publicis agencies have managed to be up for awards for 336 campaigns thanks to clients, production companies or others fronting the fees, according to Publicis. (The holding company did pay to enter one campaign: BBH London’s “3 Billboards” work for Justice4Grenfell, the organization that is working for the victims of the 2017 Grenfell Tower disaster in London.)

“I’d say it’s a tightening of the belt more than a pullout,” said one Publicis staffer.

The no-Cannes policy has caused headaches and confusion for Publicis employees, many of whom were invited to sit on judging panels, compete in the awards, or use the opportunity to wine and dine clients. After all, their competitors will be there to do the same.

The policy has also irked some Publicis clients, who often use Cannes for global coordination meetings with key partners — and of course being wined and dined on the agencies’ dime while in the Riviera. Nobody said Cannes was a hardship assignment.

Publics staffers around the world say they’ve been repeatedly told in recent weeks and months that they are not to be seen in Cannes under any circumstances, under direct orders from Paris. Publicis management is aware that its Marcel platform will attract attention and scrutiny from press and across the industry, staffers say, and is worried its employees showing up in the Riviera might undermine those efforts.

“Pulling out of Cannes was [Sadoun] making his mark. If everyone goes anyway it threatens to undermine the whole thing,” one Publicis exec said.

“I think that’s what they’re trying to avoid. Everyone will be looking for someone [from Publicis],” another Publicis staffer said.

Senior Publicis execs, including Sadoun and chief creative officer Nick Law, will also present a “beta” version of the new Marcel platform on the festival’s main stage on Tuesday, June 19. That’s not the only time Law will be on the Cannes stage — he will also be debating what the future of agencies looks like with Accenture managing director Anatoly Roytman that week.

 

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