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Marketing Briefing: ‘This year is tougher’: Another virtual Cannes Lions shifts focus to creativity as agency execs count on a return next year

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Instead of sipping rosé before running off to catch a panel at the Palais, attendees of the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity are once again drinking anything from anywhere as they tune in virtually.

The annual boondoggle announced earlier this year that it would be virtual once more due to the pandemic. That was in April and the world looked different. Still, industry execs said at the time that networking and dealmaking would likely be the biggest casualty. That’s a takeaway they’re likely to repeat as Cannes this week may take a backseat for some attendees grappling with Zoom fatigue — as well as the draw of in-person meetings for those fully vaccinated.

“Cannes without Cannes isn’t really Cannes,” said Barry Lowenthal, CEO of The Media Kitchen, referring to the festival’s destination in the south of France. “I’m glad we’re doing that but the best thing about Cannes was the in-person networking and that doesn’t happen in the virtual world. For me, the last thing I want to do is a virtual meeting. I want to do in-person meetings — I’m doing them and loving them. [Right now,] I’m looking forward to Cannes in-person next year.”

The return of in-person meetings for some vaccinated execs is more appealing than sitting in on another virtual conference. That’s not to say people won’t be attending Cannes, but the excitement is more palpable for in-person business meetings, according to agency execs and industry observers.

“People are really excited about in real life meetings again,” said Michael Miraflor, strategy lead at DotDotDash, adding that he’s recently been making the rounds for in-person meetings in New York City. “A high vaccination rate and open restaurants and bars are bringing out a lot of people, and we are all realizing how much more we can get done face-to-face. We’re all burned out from Zoom meetings. All this is to say that I think there is definitely an appetite and demand for large-scale conferences such as Cannes into next year.”

Agency execs and industry attendees recognize that a virtual Cannes shifts the focus from parties and beaches to honoring the best creative work of the industry.

“We’re able to sit with the work and really review the work rather than seeing a quick reel,” noted Walter Geer, executive creative director of experience design at VMLY&R, of one possible benefit of being at home for attendees looking to study the work submitted. 

Debbi Vandeven, global CCO of VMLY&R echoed that sentiment: “There’s no doubt that this year is tougher — but I think everyone is making the best of it. Attending sessions and watching content on demand. Our global team is connected and celebrating on a group chat.” 

That being said, “we all have video fatigue,” added Geer. “No one wants to Zoom anymore. We spent a year doing video conferences and it just drags. No one wants to watch this stuff anymore.” 

Despite two years without an in-person Cannes (and chief financial officers getting a solid idea of what years without expensing Cannes looks like), agency execs and industry observers say there’s a healthy appetite for the return of an in-person festival next year and that they expect it to make a comeback. 

“If you really want to get in front of CMOs, be in Cannes,” said Derek Walker, founder of Brown and Browner. “Business-wise [agencies] need to be there. Hopefully, it’ll never be what it was — it got too big — but it needs to come back because it serves a business function.”

3 Questions with Mailchimp CMO Tom Klein

E-commerce has soared in the pandemic as many turn to online shopping. How has that impacted Mailchimp?

The pandemic’s effect on e-commerce has impacted us twofold: not only have we pivoted our marketing strategy, but our product strategy was accelerated as well. Once the pandemic hit, we reprioritized our product roadmap to get small businesses online quickly, and most recently, released our Stores and Appointments tools so that customers can do it all — e-commerce and marketing automation. 

What about Mailchimp’s marketing strategy?

From a marketing perspective, we’ve had to effectively rewire how we think about e-commerce and what it encompasses. Nowadays, we like to think that every company is an e-commerce business, because diners sell online, yoga studios sell online, and pie shops sell online. There’s a whole spectrum of engagement required to help our SMBs succeed, but what’s wonderful about the Mailchimp approach is that we are already a very powerful marketing, communication, and automation tool. So, if you’re a small business creating transactions (whether it’s a money transaction or an appointment transaction), all of that data is absorbed into Mailchimp, and it turns into better marketing, which means better results. 

In that same vein, will those efforts continue in light of vaccine rollout pushing many back outside and away from computer screens?

Absolutely. You can’t really turn back the clock on these changes, especially when we’re all feeling personally and fundamentally changed. I believe consumers, our customers’ customers, have an even higher bar than they did before the pandemic. There’s a new expectation around curbside pickup, takeout, the option to do everything online, and how the world is now supposed to work, and our job is to make sure our customers are equipped to serve what is, essentially, a new consumer. But what we’re really excited about is one of the benefits of that new consumer: a renewed and strengthened interest in what’s local, what’s small business. My hope is that people continue to support their local small businesses, and we continue to see small businesses be reborn. — Kimeko McCoy

By the numbers

The Covid-19 pandemic rattled small businesses across the nation. But as the vaccine pushes society into a slow reopening, new research from customer engagement software company Freshworks shows these businesses are poised to make a comeback. Find the research below:

  • Main Street is back: 41% of consumers were inspired to support local businesses during the pandemic and 94% plan to continue,a major shift in the global economy
  • Local and small business raised the bar on customer service: Consumers applauded the strides small businesses made in customer service — and said their improvements outpaced large companies by 50%
  • Patience is wearing thin & expectations are getting higher: 1 in 4 consumers (25%) said they were extra kind during customer service exchanges during the pandemic but more than half (54%) said the Covid excuse won’t cut it for bad experience once vaccinations are widespread — Kimeko McCoy

Quote of the week

“Offices are not the be-all and end-all of working life and they have to be an attractive proposition and a destination that adds value to the business and the employees’ working days. But what we do know is that offices are creative spaces, and while tools such as Slack and Google Meets are valuable, they do not give the same opportunities and a positive company culture can be lost. Humans are essentially social creatures and need face-to-face time to bond.”

Worksome CEO Morten Petersen told Steve Hemsley when asked about the return of traditional office space.

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