Over the past decade, ad-tech firms have gone from newcomers to mainstays at the annual Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity. But the hustle is far from over.
Amid 2023’s choppy economic waters, ad-tech firms are using the annual French conference to lay the groundwork for second-half 2023 business goals, half a dozen industry told Adweek.
“Almost everyone is behind target this year and therefore, pressure is on at Cannes [to make] half two better than half one,” said Robert Webster, global vice president of strategy at marketing consultancy CvE.
Cannes is one of the last conferences to secure deals for the current calendar year, said Ana Milicevic, co-founder of programmatic consultancy Sparrow Advisors. Meetings at other big industry events, which have dwindled slightly post-pandemic, would be more focused on securing deals for 2024.
Despite its associations with rosé-swilling and yacht parties, Cannes has always been about meetings, sources told Adweek. What’s different this year is the increased pressure on dealmaking. Many ad-tech firms laid off employees earlier this year and late last year. Magnite, PubMatic and The Trade Desk, some of the biggest and publicly traded ad-tech firms, all reported slower growth in the first quarter of 2023 compared to the same period in 2022.
Against this backdrop, there are more ad-tech firms on the ground at Cannes and fewer advertisers, intensifying the competitive pressure on the conference. Webster estimates around 85% of Cannes participants are now ad-tech firms, compared to 60% in 2018 and 2019.
“The digital transformation of television has created an explosion of ad-tech partners to help facilitate it. And that in of itself is problematic,” said Michael Piner, evp of Advanced Advertising at Mediahub Worldwide. “There are too many partners probably out there. All of them aren’t needed, and they all add a fee of some sort.”
Piner said that he spends about 20% of his time meeting with ad-tech firms, with the rest devoted to meetings with larger media and digital companies and programming from parent holding company IPG.
“It’s always good to meet,” with ad tech, Piner said. “I wouldn’t say it’s a priority.”
An execution mindset
In the face of these inclement conditions, ad-tech firms are coming to the French Riviera with briefcases in hand.
“We’re starting the year strong performance-wise [but] we don’t assume the market is going to get better. We assume we’re kind of in a stable place,” said Adam Singolda, CEO of content recommendation firm Taboola. “You have to do the work. It was always around getting shit done.”
Singolda added that meetings at Cannes are focused on execution—a stage of dealmaking defined somewhere above relationship building but not quite at signing—which would likely happen after the conference.
“If we thought it was mainly a relationship thing, we would send five or six people,” Singolda said. Taboola is sending around 24 of its employees this year, roughly the same as last year.
“For us, meetings are a currency and they always have been,” said Jana Friedman, senior director of events marketing at PubMatic, who added the company has seen more inbound requests for meetings this year. “We are focused on setting up clients and prospects.”
In lean economic times, carefully planning which employees are going, and who they’re meeting with, plus tracking those encounters and following up post-conference, is critical to justifying the hefty price tag of attending. Renting a yacht, beach cabana, or penthouse, as is common for ad-tech firms, can cost between $5000 and $15,000 a day, Singolda said. Another source noted that costs can be north of that.
“If we can get three good meetings with a specific outcome on a daily basis, we feel like that is making the attendance worthwhile,” said Maria Link, svp of Prohaska Consulting’s Magnify practice, which helps tech firms with their sales operations.
Past peak Cannes
Firms like Taboola, PubMatic and Prohaska Consulting note they’ve always approached Cannes seriously, but an all-business attitude at Cannes hasn’t always been a given.
“We had clients who had sent team members they wanted to reward to Cannes,” Milicevic said. “No expectations. You don’t have to bring anything back. That’s not happening anymore …and that’s very refreshing,” she added.
In the years up until the pandemic, advertising professionals went to Cannes en masse, whipping hype around the event into a frenzy. Since the pandemic, and in more austere times, the mood has changed.
“It hit peak pre-pandemic, and I don’t know if it’ll hit that peak again,” Piner said.
This piece was originally published by Adweek and was written by Catherine Perloff.