Since November, 2017, Cannes Lions has been in the news for two things. One, Terry Savage is moving on from his role at the Festival after a 33 year-term. Two, the Festival has announced a series of changes it plans on bringing in — a start towards the Festival of tomorrow that Cannes Lions is looking to be. Savage, over a conversation with BrandWagon’s Shinmin Bali, discusses what’s next for him and for the Festival, what the changes will translate to, and more. Edited excerpts:
How would you describe your Cannes Lions journey and what prompted your decision to move on?
I have given a substantial part of my life to Cannes Lions and enjoyed every minute. What I enjoyed the most about the role was the ability to make a difference: to individuals, to companies and a difference to the level of creative achievement. Once we deliver a great Cannes 2018, I will focus on doing more of that.
So what’s next for you?
Spreading the word about the value of creative thinking, at all levels, to enhance businesses and for good.
Will it be about replicating the Cannes Lions model in other parts of the world?
I have found in life that there are people who are experts at everything and as such, they become experts at nothing. In my view, the Cannes Lions model will never be replicated — it is a unique intersection of all ecosystems of a business, a place where different sectors meet and learn with creativity at its very centre. Why ever try and replicate something that is not broken? Evolving, maybe, but still strong and relevant.
To confirm, will there be no replacement appointed in your position?
My role will not be replaced.
What has the industry reaction been to the changes announced by Cannes Lions?
It has been generally positive. Change is something we embrace. Look at the event five years ago and look at it last year — it was almost a different event. That is because the rate of change occurring in our industry is massive and we have never been reluctant to embrace the need for change.
What are your views on bettering the Cannes Lions experience to add more meaning to the Festival?
I have been in this advertising/creativity sector for my entire working career. I started when the business was simple and I now work in an industry which is incredibly complex. I have always said that Cannes is a reflection of the industry, and at a time when the complexity is huge, then that will reflect on what you see in Cannes; it surprises me people do not see that.
The fact is, though, to survive in business today, you have to think creatively — be it ad agencies, media agencies, PR, marketers or tech. Creativity is the driver and that’s the one massive commonality that people in Cannes are there for — to think creatively — if you are there for that then the Festival is already full of meaning. But the fact that creativity has and is changing, that creativity is coming from many different sectors, makes it look different at times. It is for the attendee to know what they are attending for. Be disciplined in your approach and you will be enriched by the experience.
Do big networks pulling out of the Festival affect it, in terms of perception of the Festival as well as monetarily?
I will respond to that if it happens. Publicis has taken a one year break from all events and has publicly stated it is back in 2019. No one else has indicated that they will not be there.
How has the presence of tech and management companies changed the Festival?
The world has changed; we merely reflect that change and we will continue to do so. I don’t see it as a threat to agencies but clearly as more and more companies or indeed the brands themselves enter into the creative space, they will also have opportunities to win Lions.
What will the monetary/revenue effect of the changes be on the Festival? Will the dialogue with stakeholders continue?
I cannot comment on monetary matters; as a public company, it is not appropriate. Since I have been at Cannes, we have always discussed the way forward with the industry. In fact, most new ideas at Cannes come from the industry; we have simply acted as a filter.
Among all the countries that find a platform at the Festival, how does India stack up?
Pretty well. India had a great year last year. We value the community and the strength of creativity in India. With specific regions, there is always a chance that cultural nuances can be missed but the juries are very internationally focussed and the best work invariably rises to the top irrespective of the country.
What efforts is the Festival taking to ensure greater levels of transparency?
I am not sure I agree with the premise that the Festival is not transparent. We are the only Festival or awards that actually releases entry numbers by category, so in that regard we are more transparent than anyone.
What are the checks and balances being put into place to better match juries with the categories they are assigned to?
This is always a difficult area but we would like to think we do a pretty good job of this. Do we get it right 100% of the time? Probably not, but we do the vast majority of the time.
For some countries, regular participation at Cannes Lions might simply be unaffordable. How does Cannes Lions look to address this to make the Festival more inclusive?
We do a lot of things. We visit many countries and present the findings of Cannes Lions to the industry in those countries. This year, we will be live streaming the awards ceremonies and though we already stream some of the seminars, we will increase these this year.
How would you now like the larger industry to see Cannes Lions?
A place where the entire industry gathers, from all sectors and from all geographies to challenge and discuss creativity and our business, be inspired and learn from it. Cannes is inspiring, it is challenging. It creates both joy, fear and awareness to those that are attending. You cannot walk away unmoved, if you are engaged. It reflects what is really happening in the world we live in. We are about creativity in all sectors of the business and that has never changed. Creativity has and will continue to always be at the heart of Cannes Lions.