If not quite a changing of the guard at the top of the holding companies, this year’s Cannes welcomes some new faces – with some more familiar ones returning.

The venerable John Wren and Michael Roth retain their longstanding positions at the top of Omnicom and Interpublic, respectively, and Yannick Bolloré remains at the helm of Havas. Tim Andree debuts at Dentsu Aegis Network and Mark Read makes his first outing as the confirmed chief executive of WPP following last year’s “unpleasantness” with his predecessor, Sir Martin Sorrell.

Meanwhile, Publicis’ Arthur Sadoun makes a return after the group’s self-imposed, Marcelinduced stint in awards purgatory last year.

So a couple of the faces might be different but the issues that they face haven’t changed much from recent years. While the industry seems finally to be wriggling out of its existential crisis brought on by in-housing and management consultancies, the need to adapt remains top of the agenda.

There’s nothing particularly new in this, of course – all businesses need to adapt to survive, and advertising is no different. Indeed, you could argue that the challenges that it faces are not far removed from any other vertical: technology, data, new entrants, and all the disruption that ensures.

Clients, faced with the same demands, are also having to change, meaning that the relationship between them and their agencies are in flux and in need of realignment.

But what makes advertising different – and more exhilarating – than other sectors, is the reason that so many people traipse to this overpriced corner of the Mediterranean year after year. The work.

Creativity, in whatever form it takes (and now acknowledged in an almost bewildering number of categories by the Cannes organisers), is also the reason most of us got into the business in the first place and a quality on which all the holding companies can be judged. And, in the final analysis, it is creativity that will determine the success of those same agency heads and future of this industry.

Campaign asked the holding company chiefs to describe their progress.

Mark Read

Chief executive, WPP

Cannes is important to WPP. It represents the pinnacle of excellence where the very best compete for honours. When we relaunched WPP as a creative transformation company at the end of 2018, we chose the words very deliberately. It’s no accident that “creativity” comes first. It’s our most important competitive advantage, we’re putting it back at the heart of WPP where it belongs, and we’re bringing that commitment to life with substantial investment in creative talent, especially in the US.

At the same time, clients increasingly want us to help them evolve, look around corners, see what’s next and succeed in a world shaped by data and technology. We have long been trusted partners to chief executives and chief marketers; today we have strong and growing relationships with chief technology officers and chief information officers, too. We have 6,000 people in our marketing technology operation and we’re the largest global partner for the Adobe, Salesforce, Google, Marketo and Oracle marketing clouds.

I have often said that I believe our industry is facing structural change, not structural decline. The attraction that our industry has for new players, the continued pace of innovation and the interest from clients in finding the right partner demonstrate this. Clients aren’t spending less on marketing overall, but they are shifting that spend rapidly, looking for a broader range of services, well beyond our traditional areas of strength; and they are looking in new places, including at home. Hence our new offer that comprises not only communications but also experience, commerce and technology – as well as more flexibility on location so that we can be closer to our clients.

As we invest more in creativity and technology, simplify our offer and break down the artificial distinction between “digital” and “analogue”, I have every confidence that WPP will be the very best partner to our clients and will prosper. When I speak to clients, the consistent theme I hear is that, in a more complex world, they are looking for greater simplicity. They want ideas that resonate across channels, with a closer relationship between creative and media, and the ability to show how technology connects all this together.

This is what the new WPP will provide, and it’s why we believe WPP can be the destination of choice for great people – including the next generation of talent we need to attract. Important appointments such as Jacqui Canney as chief people officer and Judy Jackson as global head of culture are helping us to instil a new culture within WPP. People want to work for an organisation with its eyes fixed on the future, not the past, and expect working environments that are modern, diverse, inclusive, collaborative, respectful and charged with positivity.

That’s the spirit we’re fostering at WPP, and one we will be celebrating at Cannes.

John Wren

Chairman and chief executive, Omnicom

We’ve all heard that the marketing industry is evolving at breakneck pace. I actually think it’s consumers that are doing the evolving and we are just trying to stay one step ahead. In a mobile-first world, consumers are browsing, researching, shopping, receiving, rating and reviewing 24/7. They are demanding that businesses deliver value immediately and with greater relevance to them.

In order to meet these high expectations, chief marketers’ responsibilities are expanding beyond building and communicating brands to also include driving sales and customer value, which represents a tremendous opportunity for agencies. More than ever, our client CMOs are looking for a valued partner who can help them grow by addressing rising customer expectations on the back of data and technology.

With the goal of “personalisation at scale”, our agencies are now working with many of our clients to help them build individual relationships with their customers through compelling experiences. As part of this evolution, we knew, like others in our industry, that to stay ahead we needed to up our game in data and analytics.

For Omnicom, this journey began more than 10 years ago and has resulted in the recent enterprise-wide roll-out of a peoplebased precision marketing and insights platform called “Omni”. Omni uses data, analytics, cultural insights and technology tools to deliver a powerful brand voice that connects with consumers across every touchpoint, whether it’s marketing, sales, service or support and through all media. We’ve already witnessed Omni drive enormous value for some of our clients.

However, one can have all of the knowledge of the consumers in the world, and all of the technology to reach them, but if the content and the ideas are not right, if they don’t persuade, it won’t have any impact. As we’ve recently seen, consulting firms know this. They are buying creative agencies precisely because they realise there is no way that the future does not require creativity. Which is why at Omnicom, we still believe that data and technology should be in service to creativity and content. We maintain strong agency brands and cultures, knowing they are vital incubators for creativity and innovation, as well as magnets for the best talent. I may be biased but we have the best creative people in our industry, as demonstrated by the hundreds of Lions our teams win every year. This is a key competitive advantage for Omnicom.

Creativity will always be the future of our business. It’s precisely why thousands of people from around the globe show up at Cannes every year. I’ve been travelling to the South of France for almost two decades, and it always makes me smile when I see the pure exhilaration of a group of young creatives proudly showing off their Cannes Lions as they walk down La Croissette. That moment is both ageless and priceless.

Arthur Sadoun

Chief executive, Publicis Groupe

It is clear that our industry is facing tremendous challenges and it can be very easy to lose faith. But while others see the glass half empty, we at Publicis Groupe see it brimming with possibility and greatness for modern creativity.

Perhaps this is because we felt the need to start our journey of transformation well in advance by creating the “Power of One” model, to give clients the best access to integrated talent, data and creativity, which helps drive marketing transformation, and by acquiring Sapient to deliver digital business transformation. If we needed any further proof that our vision is the right one, the recent acquisitions of agencies by consultancies demonstrate how priceless the alchemy of creativity and technology truly is.

To be future-fit for our clients is to be able to do two things well: the hygiene part of our business; and the “leapfrog acts” that drive our industry forward. We recently made the game-changing acquisition of Epsilon to do these two things simultaneously, ensuring we deliver the data-driven creative solutions of today seamlessly and at scale while inventing what the future of personalised creative experiences will be.

At Publicis, we have always been prescient by design, and believe in harnessing the future by making big bets. Sometimes these bets are met with controversy – did someone say Marcel?

Today, Marcel is already in the hands of thousands of our people. As we look at what it is starting to bring to them, we can feel confident in our ability to reinvent the way we learn, share, and create for the good of Publicis’ clients and our industry as a whole.

Michael Roth

Chief executive, Interpublic

In today’s complex marketplace, the role and expertise of the agency is unique.

Where else can a client find the type of end-to-end marketing expertise we offer? From deep consumer insights, to business innovation. From creativity coupled with technology to the skills needed to build products and services. We deploy integrated campaigns that grow businesses. No-one is better equipped to provide end-to-end marketing.

It’s a talent business, and we excel in our ability to attract, retain and manage the creative people so essential to developing market-moving ideas. At IPG, we incentivise and reward talent in unique ways, and we’ve worked for more than a decade to create a culture defined by inclusion and respect. Taken as a whole, I’m very optimistic about our future.

If you were to look only at the headlines (never a good idea), you might think that there’s a lack of trust between agencies and their clients. In fact, it’s the opposite. Today’s marketing arena is more complex and multifaceted than it’s ever been. And the consumer landscape is more intricate than ever before. What we’ve seen coming out of this is the building up of trust between agency and client.

Critical issues such as privacy, brand safety and diversity and inclusion, mean our clients look to us for advice and counsel. Our long-standing commitment to media transparency helps clients know we are independent advisers. And it’s a two-way street. We love it when our clients come to us with a challenge that we can help them solve because we’ve worked on similar issues, or have addressed them in our own ranks.

We’ve worked with clients like Microsoft on highlighting their work on differently abled individuals, and L’Oréal on femaleempowerment issues, and have created some terrific, marketmoving work as a result. Very recently we hosted a town hall with Lego on the diversity programmes we’ve deployed at IPG – what’s worked and what hasn’t. This is where the future is heading: a trusting, two-way street.

Ensuring that our network is future-fit is something we are thinking about (and act on) constantly. Our acquisition of Acxiom is an important proof-point here.

Our media channels continue to fragment, and clients face an increasingly complex consumer environment in which data – the fuel for the digital economy – is central to contemporary media and marketing capabilities. To address this reality, we acquired Acxiom, adding a foundational, world-class data asset. This future-facing step for IPG benefits our clients, as we bring our ability to manage and leverage data at scale to market. Acxiom enables us to develop deeper relationships in the marketplace among clients, consumers and media.

Another important strategy is our commitment to open architecture. Increasingly, big marketers require and receive access to the most appropriate resources across IPG. We provide those services seamlessly across our agencies under our collaborative, open architecture model. While we have developed open architecture for more than a decade, we see it as taking on still more importance in the future of our company.

The best creative ideas come from strong agency brands. These kinds of ideas are platforms that help our clients uncover new ways of doing business. Creativity also enables our integrated marketing experts to craft campaigns that connect more deeply with people and help brands earn their way into people’s lives.

Ultimately, this means that our most creative people can actually build the new products and services that help clients drive business transformation. Increasingly, we are being recognised for this – LinkedIn recently ranked IPG as the top holding company to work for within the ad sector, and, just a few weeks ago, the Human Rights Campaign named IPG a best place to work for LGBTQ equality, marking our 10th year of receiving the distinction.

We will continue to invest in the outstanding talent and emerging capabilities that are required to position us for the long term. In combination with the transformative opportunities of our enhanced ability to connect marketing with data, it means that there remains significant potential for us to build on our leadership position.

Yannick Bolloré

Chief executive, Havas

The agency model does have a future but only if agencies can ensure meaningful and sustainable growth to all stakeholders – clients, partners and communities.

Every day, consumers are overwhelmed by content but more than half of it is not delivering. Our Meaningful Brands study showed that 58% of content created by the world’s leading 1,800 brands is poor, irrelevant and fails to deliver. It’s simply not meaningful to consumers, and this is where the opportunity lies – brands need agencies to create content that stands out. Thanks to the combination of our first-class creativity and our in-depth knowledge of consumers, we help brands produce engaging content that cuts through the clutter, lets them meaningfully engage with their audience and boost growth.

So, I’d say brands need agency partners more than ever. And yet, paradoxically, we are also witnessing an increasing trend in clients in-housing their media, advertising, digital and PR activities. We have decided to rise to this challenge by opting to support these clients by shifting from a traditional client/agency relationship to a more advisory role.

The difference between success and failure in the future for all our businesses will continue to be the attraction and retention of the best talent, people from all different walks of life, and the establishment of an internal culture that enables our teams to outperform. We are investing more heavily than ever in talent and culture – a culture that allows us to be more agile, nimble, creative and, as a result, effective.

Our investment in talent and culture, our village model and our partnership with Vivendi make us uniquely placed to deliver the most meaningful and effective solutions for our clients today and in the future.

At Havas, our global clients rely on us to help them tap into the business of culture. Our philosophy is that we must surround ourselves in culture to truly understand. We have three global offerings that empower culture and new forms of creativity.

Vivendi: being part of one of the most creative companies in the world provides Havas with an advantage in knowing what’s next in music, content streaming, gaming and storytelling, all core elements of popular culture. This empowers our teams to constantly integrate true storytelling into the creative narrative for our global brand partners.

The Annex Culture Network: three years ago, we launched an offering unique to the industry solely focused on assisting brands to leverage the business of culture. The Annex hires people from the cultures of fashion, music, art and film to bring an authentic perspective on brand creative and culture ideas. Annex works with brands such as Adidas Originals, Coca-Cola, Alexander Wang, Louis Vuitton and Mike’s Hard Lemonade among others.

Mastermind magazine: Étoile Rouge, which is part of BETC Group, is dedicated to fashion, luxury and beauty brands. In collaboration with fashion stylist Marie-Amélie Sauvé, it publishes the highly sought-after Mastermind, a bi-annual magazine dedicated to culture, fashion and contemporary issues. This insider track gives Étoile Rouge, BETC and Havas exciting ways to help brands understand and capitalise on culture.

Tim Andree

Executive chairman, Dentsu Aegis Network

Trust is the foundation of any successful client-agency relationship and it’s a value I hold dear. A recent poll in the UK shows that advertising executives are the least trusted to tell the truth out of all professions. More than half the chief marketers in our annual survey say they’ll be in-housing marketing capabilities, which a lack of trust has contributed to. Turning this situation around requires a fundamentally human response. Deliver what you say you will. And make sure you’re in it for the long-haul. Some of our client relationships at Dentsu extend back almost a century. That’s a testament to treating client relationships like any other serious relationship – a long-term partnership based on honesty and trust. I don’t see that changing for us in the future.

However, no business has a future if it does not stay ahead of the latest developments in tech, consumers and society. Our survey of 1,000 chief marketers tells us that one-third plan to reduce the number of agencies they work with. Agencies need to respond quickly. That means higher levels of integration that make it easier for clients to access the full suite of world-class services from one entry point. It means greater focus on long-term, sustainable growth, using marketing as a driver of business value and transformation. And it means higher levels of operational excellence to deliver time and again, efficiently and effectively. This is what clients are telling us and why we’re evolving to meet their needs, ensuring the bond of trust remains strong.

Given that we’ve outperformed the industry for past few years, this is very much a case of evolution, rather than revolution. We’ve strengthened our agency brands and established lines of business around them, sharpening focus on the services they are truly world-class at delivering. We are also establishing a broader and more-aligned solutions capability, recognising large global clients often need tailored and integrated thinking, rather than simply accessing a set of services. And we’re doubling down on operational excellence, to drive efficiency and effectiveness across the network. In a low-growth industry context, this is essential. Being future-fit and a trusted business partner means setting a course for long-term, sustainable growth that can absorb the inevitable bumps along the way.

Trust is, of course, also central to brands’ relationships with consumers. Our recent survey of 43,000 consumers worldwide found that misuse of personal data was the number-one driver of mistrust of the tech industry. CMOs also tell us that data is their number-one opportunity – but also the number-one risk they face. The marketing currency of the 21st century is data and, more specifically, identity, enabling a switch from B2C and B2B, to B2Me. Powered by [our marketing agency] Merkle, we’re personalising all consumer engagement for key clients within the next five years. Done the right way, this has the power to establish even more trusted relationships between brands and consumers.

Creativity, driven by data, must also sit at the heart of consumer relationships. I recently announced two executive-level appointments that recognise the importance of creativity to our success. But it permeates the entire organisation. Yamamoto-san, chief executive of Dentsu Inc, talks about how innovation can come from anyone, anywhere around the globe. That’s because creativity knows no boundaries. A creative product needs diverse thinking, diverse skills and the ability to mix and match for the occasion. We embrace and actively promote this diversity in the way we think about talent and teams. The way we hire, train, organise and empower them. The interplay of creative ideas, data and technology is transformative – harness that power effectively and you have a true engine of innovation and trust.

This article first appeared on campaignlive.co.uk.