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David Wheldon: Cannes Lions 2023

4 Jul 2023
Read: 4 min
Cannes 2023 David Wheldon

David Wheldon, industry giant, former RBS, Barclays and Vodafone marketing boss and advisor to Lansons tells all on his experience, past and present, of The Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity.

David Wheldon Lansons advisor
David Wheldon
Senior Advisor to Lansons

I first went to Cannes in 1989. 

In those days, it was truly a festival of advertising that celebrated and awarded creativity. The attendees were almost exclusively from agencies and the community enjoyed themselves. Everybody stayed for the whole week to watch the awards ceremony live in the theatre. I had the privilege of working with people who won many awards in my Lowe Howard-Spink days, so I was able to enjoy the dinner afterwards with the golds in the middle.

I've been to Cannes many times since and seen it go through some extraordinary changes, beginning with the arrival of media companies as media became disinter-mediated from advertising agencies. The focus was money not creativity, the backdrop always being the awards themselves. 

But it was when the tech companies first arrived, that Cannes took a total change. 

The beach became the exclusive territory of the big brand-name tech companies who had meeting and party facilities and wristbands to protect their territory. The backdrop was again still creativity, but the business of advertising was being discussed far more than the output of it.

In the past, it was unlikely clients would attend and many said they weren't interested in winning awards (until of course they won one). But today, the festival is full of clients and their teams are there to listen, learn and set new objectives for the future.  Clients want to win and take immense pride and pleasure in seeing their organisations becoming marketer of the year. 

I've tracked how smartly clients have used this event to set themselves targets, achieve them and celebrate them, great for internal pride, great for external partners and great for business. 

Creativity drives business result. 

Clearly the revenue for the people that run The Cannes Lions Festival has continued to grow and Cannes' ability to overprice everything is legendary.

One thing that I begun to wonder in the mid 2010s was whether creativity has disappeared altogether from the corporate agenda. Last year, most of the big award winners had purpose at their hearts and this year, the discord was that great work should win even if it isn't directly purpose linked. 

For me, the great thing about Cannes has always been the people of the industry having the opportunity to come together, get to know each other better, discuss business, have some fun and of course learn how to do things better and get more awards next time around.

It was fascinating to see how the lines between the communication disciplines are now blurred, reputation is brand and brand is reputation and joined up thinking and multi discipline teams drive great work, its a we thing - no longer a me thing.

When I walked onto the BA plane, I was greeted by a very friendly person, who asked if I was going to Nice for business or pleasure, my answer - both, a great week and a great place to keep learning.


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