Indepth Part 1: Cancelled – The burden of COVID-19 on live events

The alarming spread of COVID-19 globally as well as in India has led to the cancellation or postponement of all industry events across the world, scheduled at least for the first half of the year. This has put a spanner to the events calendar for 2020. With no cure or vaccination in sight to contain the pandemic currently, no one knows when normalcy will return.

In this two-part indepth report, Adgully takes a look at the major industry events that have had to be either cancelled or postponed in light of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis. In Part 1 of the report, some leading names of the advertising industry speak on what this entails for Indian advertising, their reactions to the cancellations and what can be done in such an unprecedented situation.

The latest casualty of the crisis is the Goafest Abby Awards 2020, which has been deferred by a year to 2021, close on the heels of cancellation of Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity 2020. The next edition of Cannes Lions is expected in June 2021.

Read More: Danone-AQUA appoints Wunderman Thompson Indonesia lead Brand Agency

Read More: Havas Group India Wins Integrated Communication Mandate for Fortis Healthcare

Veritably the biggest advertising event globally, Cannes Lions 2019 received 30, 953 entries from 83 countries. Agencies around the world send entire creative teams to visit the festival. The event is a hub for agency professionals around the world to network, trade ideas and be exposed to work that is recognized on a global platform. A lot of stakeholders are involved in making the festival a success.

When the most premiere advertising event of the year gets cancelled, what does it imply for the rest of the industry? Earlier in the year, the outlook was that events would be postponed until the pandemic passes but that timeline doesn’t look to be anytime soon.

The loss of press publicity, creative showcase and networking opportunities will be an enormous blow to the advertising fraternity.

Industry Reacts

Tarun Rai, Chairman and Group CEO, Wunderman Thompson, South Asia:

I think it’s a difficult, but sensible decision. And I am glad that it has been announced now rather than closer to October. If the Olympics can be cancelled so can Cannes. These are unprecedented times that require unprecedented actions.

I think our people understand that what’s important right now is to focus our energies on partnering our clients through this very difficult period. And that our resources can be better deployed than on award shows. As I said, these are exceptional times and it requires an exceptional response from us. I am extremely happy at how our staff has rallied around, supported each other and continue to do excellent work under trying circumstances.

Bobby Pawar, Chairman & Chief Creative Officer, Havas Group India:

It’s the responsible thing to do. Right now, the first priority is people and cutting costs as the money will help agency networks save jobs. Also, personally speaking, it feels wrong to be celebrating anything when the world is hurting and so many people have lost their loved ones.

Financially, there will be savings from entry fees, cost of making case study videos, sending people to the shows. In the near to medium term, I don’t see the lack of events or awards affecting morale. The shadow cast by this virus is going to hang over our people’s lives and the business for a good while. Actually, I think people’s spirits and morale will improve when the lockdown ends and we can all re-enter the world and partake of the simple joys that we took for granted, like a stroll after lunch, popping by the nearest tapri for a cutting chai, etc.

Anand Bhadkamkar, CEO, Dentsu Aegis Network India:

Earlier, Cannes Lions had announced that they will postpone the festival to October. When they took this decision, Europe had not quite become the epicenter for the pandemic. Now, cancelling the event is the most responsible thing to do as the countries are trying to cope with the outbreak and they have gone into lockdowns, the global economy is struggling and thus, affecting the jobs of people. So, having a gathering of people from multiple countries in these uncertain times would have been socially, economically and commercially irresponsible.

Awards are about acknowledging & celebrating good work across the industry and will definitely be missed this year. For agencies, awards are not a medium to drive business, rather the Cannes festival is a festival of ideas; a festival, where creativity is celebrated. It is also a colossal platform for industry experts to come together to share knowledge and learn from each other’s work and experiences.

We are all going through a once in a lifetime event with COVID 19, which has disrupted the entire ecosystem. Nobody would have thought that in India the entire advertising and media industry would be working from home and delivering the results. Awards are not a priority during this crisis. According to me, it would not affect the industry significantly at the present juncture. Also, we cannot do much about it as the reason for the cancellation is beyond anybody’s control. I am optimistic that the awards will be back in its full glory next year. At DAN, during this phase, we are focusing on team building, motivation, closer communications with clients and all the stakeholders. To be true, we are also looking at this situation with a positive frame of mind.

Praful Akali, Founder & MD, Medulla Communications:

It’s a necessary and responsible decision. It would have been very easy for the Cannes Lions Festival team to think about the commercial aspects and keep the event or festival on in some way by postponing it or converting it into an online event. However, it demonstrates maturity to put control of this pandemic above everything else.

For Medulla as an agency, we have already demonstrated our creative credentials in previous awards – I don’t think cancellation or postponement of one event changes that. On morale, the crisis has deeply impacted everyone at a personal level and the team has been wonderfully united to support each other and deliver more than ever before even while working from home through the crisis. In pharma and healthcare advertising, our workload has gone up during this crisis. So the postponement of Cannes Lions is not a big concern area at this stage.

Raj Kamble, Founder & CEO, Famous Innovations:

This is the right step by Cannes Festival. When they had announced the delay of the festival to October, we found it insensitive that the award entry late fees were still applicable all the way up to June. A revered festival like Cannes Lions should stand for the industry and lead the industry in these kinds of times.

We hope they see how the world is coming together as one community, how every organisation is making art accessible for all - be it museums, operas, musicians, etc. - and how people are putting people before commerce. When they reopen in 2021, I hope they will also emerge a changed, inclusive festival. This starts with reducing entry fees and attendance fees so that small independent agencies across the world can also enter, making the festival a truly global gathering rather than the domain of a few deep-pocketed network agencies.

I have seen the awards game first-hand as a large network CCO and as an independent agency owner. To be able to make a dent, you need to enter work aggressively and in multiple categories. That is simply not possible for many independents and their work, their levels of motivation and their ability to attract talent suffer. Good ideas should not be victims of entry fees.

This unprecedented worldwide disaster marks a fundamental shift in people's mindset and we all are realising the value of humanity and human connections. I hope a massive platform like Cannes Lions also adapts to nurture the same.

Our team is completely in support of this decision and is positive about it.

Mehul Gupta, Co-founder & CEO, SoCheers:

We were really looking forward to Cannes 2020 and are obviously disappointed by it getting cancelled. But in the light of the things that we all are going through right now, it’s a tough yet good decision. In fact, now is the time where all the advertisers, marketers and creators, globally, come together to revise communication strategies, and ensure that we spread the word and awareness about COVID-19. These are testing times for all of us and a chance to understand what we as an individual can contribute to come out of this pandemic is much stronger. In the past, our community has proven itself by devising campaigns that have helped a lot of social causes, spread positivity and happiness all around the world. Now is the time again to do this the right way, to reach out to the entire community, to spread the same positivity, the same strength & to fight this battle together.

Pratik Hatankar, Head - Innovations & New Initiatives, Tonic Worldwide:

Cancelling the Cannes festival doesn't come as too much of a surprise, but the news of also cancelling the awards ceremony to recognize effective work certainly is. Instead of cancelling the awards, I wish the Cannes Lions organizers had moved to a virtual award show. A virtual awards show could have been, in and of itself, a demonstration of creativity.  Because the virtual event would have focused only on the entries, with the by-product being Cannes Lions reinventing itself as a creative showcase in its purest form.

Huge blow for the global creative community as events is getting cancelled. I know it’s ‘just’ an award, and that we all have bigger struggles right now, but for the creatives behind the past year’s best work, it’s a lost opportunity to be recognised at a time where they need it most.

Tomorrow: The cost of cancelling big-ticket industry events


More in Advertising