Expert Speak: Cannes Lions’ high entry fee making agency participation prohibitive?

Cannes2022

The adland is more than thrilled for the hybrid version of Cannes Lions International Festival this year – but the high entry fee stands as a potent deterrent of making the award an elitist club. Experts discuss the fine line…

After turning online for two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cannes Lions Festival of Creativity is coming back in a hybrid format this year, bringing celebrations and superyachts around the world to France.

While the advertising industry is certainly upbeat about the festival, what is still amiss is large-scale participation from Indian agencies.

Experts tell Social Samosa how the prohibitive price of entry at Cannes Lions, in addition to pandemic catalyzed factors, is deterring Indian agencies from increasing participation. 

Some suggest scaling down entry fees and delegate fees can help accelerate the participation from India, others say if an agency strongly believes there is an entry that can make the cut, it finds that budget. We attempt to find out, how agencies tread this fine line.

A Costly Affair

Fame is a potion everyone wants to be drunk on – but it costs euros.

The cost of an entry at Cannes is INR 65,000 to Rs 100,000 depending on the category, which keeps increasing w.r.t to the delay in submission of entries. Multiply this with the number of entries, and all miscellaneous expenses including transportation, living, etc.

At €800 to €1000 per entry, Cannes is clearly a premium-priced award. The high price of entry does deter independents and smaller agencies from entering, says Ramanuj Shastry, Co-Founder and Director, Infectious Advertising.

“The basis of a global creative award show is to showcase the ‘best ideas’ – not the ‘best ideas from the richest agencies’ – of the world. If the entry fees continue to be as prohibitive as they are, the award show may invite tags like ‘elitist’ and ‘exclusive’ – of not being a level playing field. It impacts the smaller agencies more. Their ‘awards budget’ is usually way smaller than those of bigger agencies. Therefore, they do submit lesser entries,” he adds.

On the contrary, Anand Krishnan – Founder, Partner – Sunny Side Up, believes that the high entry fee is a good deterrent – keeps award shows lean with only the best entries flowing in, making the shortlisting easy and more accurate. 

“I will enter in Cannes, whatever the entry fee if I believe the work has a chance of winning. The high entry fee puts more pressure on creative heads to remain self-critical. Creative heads are always weighing options when entering. Only if they believe will they go ahead, whatever the fee,” he says.

Also read: Cannes Lions issues an apology after being rebuked for lack of diversity & inclusion

For some, despite the cost of entry, the deserving creative gets to bask in an international spotlight. If you have work that is good enough to showcase then no amount of money is small or big for them.  

Amit Wadhwa, CEO, dentsu Creative India shares that a higher fee certainly is a deterrent towards more work being entered but at the same time, it also ensures certainty in the quality since it needs to be worth the buck. 

“There needs to be a right balance between costs without hampering possible winners entering Cannes because it’s too high. Having said that, does that reduce the significance of awards? I don’t feel so,” he adds.

The cost being too high will deter the big and small agencies together and hence, there needs to find a right balance in terms of the entry fee. However, experts feel it needs to be high enough to determine that the right quality of work is put through. It should push agencies to be quality conscious and submit good pieces of work.

At the same time, the high entry fees are of course limiting. It limits the number of pieces agencies enter, limits the number of categories that agencies enter work in, everything is rationed. That makes one more prudent. 

Mukund VMLY&R

Amid these high costs, Mukund Olety, Chief Creative Officer, VMLY&R, shares that one needs to make sure that the entry is worth it – filter more, polish more and make sure you are picking the right categories. 

For agencies in India, the conversion rates kill. But that said, if one is confident of the work, cost should not be a barrier to entering the work. The return on investment, if the work wins, is huge, he adds.  

Also, these days there are new offerings, like The Shortlist, that assess entries for award potential, so as to optimize the final entry costs. The festival will, as it does, keep adding more and more categories as a temptation for agencies to enter.

Impact on the Number of Entries

Last year, Cannes Lions which took place virtually for the second year in a row, received 29,074 award entries from 90 countries covering a two-year period after 2020’s festival was canceled in light of the pandemic.

The annual festival recorded a fall of almost 2,000 entries compared to 2019. India had sent 699 entries in 2021 as compared to 1,053 sent in 2019.

Nagessh Pannswami, Director, Curry Nation, says, “What will definitely happen this year is a reduction of people being sent to Cannes to attend. Companies are doing all possible cost-cutting measures so this will continue.”

Shastry shares that he wouldn’t be surprised if the entries are less in a pandemic year when most agencies’ bottom line has taken a hit. Agencies struggling to meet their ‘revenue targets’ are unlikely to behave in an extravagant fashion. 

Fortunately, Cannes had reduced the entry fees last year. Agencies are hoping that the price remains the same as last year. Plus, the festival comes back to its physical format this year, which might restore normality to some extent. 

As we attempt to emerge out of the pandemic, more work is getting produced and hopefully, there will be enough pieces of great work to enter, says Olety

Also read: Cannes Lions 2020 canceled

Wadhwa too foresees more submissions this year with the economy picking up and hopefully, more physical events leading to that extra excitement.

Cannes Losing its Shine?

While the high cost certainly adds to the inertia (in terms of the entries), Rajesh Ramaswamy, Co-Founder, The Script Room, feels that over the years the significance of these international awards has dropped drastically. 

“We all know that the most popular and loved ads in our country have never won a Cannes. Or might not even qualify,” he adds.

It is a known fact that the agencies have been judicious towards spending across various heads including awards but that for Wadhwa meant making sure that the process of selection was more stringent and only the best possible work gets submitted. 

Also, it is quite likely that a purely online awards function may have not created as much excitement, however, this certainly does not mean that the significance of the awards has gone down, he says.

Within agencies, the excitement around Creative Awards has traversed well beyond the creative department. And more and more clients want to win a Lion. 

Olety feels this is only because everybody realizes it impacts the overall quality of work and the business and the significance of awards has only increased in recent times.

Cannes Lions continues to be one of the most coveted awards to win. However, it’s just that the entry fees have become ‘eye-watering’ high for many. 

Shastry warns that Cannes Lions should be careful not to become a ‘Rich Kid’s Club’ – a kind of ‘mutual admiration’ society of the deep-pocketed First World.


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