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Cannes Lions Is An Information Product

Nearly six years ago business-to-business media company Ascential Plc, previously known as Top Right Group, appointed Duncan Painter as its CEO. Within four years in his tenure that marked a significant business turnaround, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 2016

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For Ascential Plc, owner of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity, a few things such as crafting the perfect experience, and constantly improving and pursuing goals of true diversity are part of mission critical, reveals CEO Duncan Painter in conversation with Noor Fathima Warsia.

Nearly six years ago business-to-business media company Ascential Plc, previously known as Top Right Group, appointed Duncan Painter as its CEO. Within four years in his tenure that marked a significant business turnaround, the company was floated on the London Stock Exchange in February 2016.

Since, Ascential Plc has further upped its focus on making each of its properties a leader in its segment. The list includes Cannes Lions; financial services congress Money20/20; Spring Fair/Autumn Fair; fashion trend forecasting service WGSN; environmental risk data business Groundsure; and e-commerce analytics provider One Click Retail. Earlier this year, Ascential also acquired advisory and business services firm MediaLink.

Speaking on the sidelines of Cannes Lions, Painter reflects on some of the key trends and changes in the festival this year, and what the advertising and branding ecosystem means for the company. Excerpts:

Is Cannes Lions this year going as per expectations so far?

Cannes Lions’ growth drivers of the last few years have been in play this year as well, making it the most vibrant environment that we could have served. We see engagement from dynamic markets — India, for instance, has only grown in presence over the years. There is constant growth in the impact of technology on countries and businesses at large. All this brings in diversity, several styles and adaption of creativity through different mechanisms. It is opening up people’s minds on how creativity changes with culture, nation and geography; and the event is to support and bring that change to life. From that viewpoint, Cannes Lions has begun strong.

Does the MediaLink acquisition signal a stronger interest in the branding and communication segment for you?

This market is very critical for us. We own products and services too. Around 80 per cent of our company’s revenue comes from information products. Cannes Lions is an information product, delivered in a live format, to help businesses understand how to distribute, market and report on the sales and effectiveness of their products. Ascential’s brands are world class in delivering on these parameters. Of the 19 brands that we own, 16 are number one in their individual markets because we help our clients in their ecosystems. Cannes Lions, and now MediaLink, indicate our focus on the business of creativity.

What are some of the key trends that you are witnessing in the festival this year?

There is a real clarity across the industry on diversity and inclusion issues. This industry has always been about great creative work, but in a way we have just started on the subject of inclusion. If I was to highlight one thing, it would be the commitment from senior leaders on this. This applies to us as a company too. When I joined Ascential, we constantly reiterated our position as a global company versus a UK company.

A point of pride for us this year was when we were number one in the UK-listed companies on gender diversity. We have about 58 per cent female representation on our board, leadership, all the way through the company. And while we may have done a good job on gender diversity, we are focusing on true diversity. We have to ensure that leaders from some of our newer operations, including India, are coming to the fore and becoming part of the executive group. Our goal is to be the representatives of the best skills. When you are true to that, it will match the demographic.

The quality of the event has changed this year with increased finesse one may say, and also security. Is it all part of a bigger plan?

For three years now, we have been on an investment drive in the event quality. We are the world’s best advertising and creativity awards, but we wanted to uplift the whole Cannes Lions experience. We wanted it to be simple, superior quality and safe. If we have learned anything over the years, it is that a world-class product needs constant improvement, and we are working on improving everything.

What led to the decreased number of on-site jurors who award the final metal?

The endeavour is to be efficient. The live jury process, across the entire entry stack in a 17-day window, is too difficult. It takes away from the quality of discussions. Over the years, the number of entries and jurors have grown. Our goal is to now find a system where the jury teams represent the cultural mix of the entries at the forum. We never say Cannes Lions is perfect; we work with the industry to develop this platform. But if I was to take the work that we do in the whole year, around 80 percent of our dialogue is about the awards. The ‘Lions’ is our brand, and we live it. Our single goal is to create a credible, fair and balanced award, and we relentlessly work to be a bigger champion of that.


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Magazine 8 July 2017 Duncan Painter cannes lions