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June 17, 2011 11:06 pm

Admen and marketers to woo geeks at Cannes

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For advertisers and agencies attending the annual marketing industry shindig in Cannes next week, there is a new must-have accessory: an internet start-up.

As attendance and entries to the Cannes Lions awards hits an all-time high – with 9,000 expected, up from 8,000 last year – confidence is returning to the media industry, freeing up advertising budgets for more “experimental” campaigns.

More than half of marketers are shifting more spending into “riskier activities” over the next year, according to a survey conducted by Universal McCann, the Interpublic-owned media agency, in partnership with Advertising Age magazine.

About a quarter would be prepared to use part of their media budget to make venture investments in start-ups, the survey found.

Brands and agencies – eager to position themselves as innovators in front of an audience of thousands of their peers at Cannes – are keeping the geeks close by.

BMW, the carmaker, and kirshenbaum bond senecal + partners, a New York agency, are set to share a stage with Dennis Crowley, chief executive of Foursquare, the fast-growing smartphone-location service. Hill & Knowlton, the WPP-owned PR agency, will be hosting a session with mobile games creator Rovio on “what brands can learn from Angry Birds”, the popular game it devised.

Cannes remains in thrall to the big hitters of the technology world. Facebook is sending to the show Carolyn Everson, one of its most senior sales executives, while Eric Schmidt, Google’s chairman, will be crowned “media person of the year”. Even Jesse Eisenberg, the actor who played Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, is making an appearance.

But aware of the speed with which fresh internet heavyweights can be minted, brands are increasingly cosying up to smaller tech companies too.

“Every start-up is one big brand or media buy away from becoming a big company,” said Marc Ruxin, chief innovation officer at Universal McCann. “A lot of it is the vanity of a brand being able to say they are in an emerging space and did the first thing with platform XYZ.”

But there can be meaningful returns too. “These [internet] platforms are in fact global,” Mr Ruxin said. “It’s important for [advertisers] to understand what that means and that consumer appetite for deeper engagement is better than on TV.”

Traditional media companies are fighting for Cannes’ attention with the star power that only TV and movies can supply. Jeff Bewkes, Time Warner’s chief, is hosting a session with chat-show host Piers Morgan and acclaimed screenwriters Aaron Sorkin and David Simon. Sir Martin Sorrell, WPP chief executive, will be interviewing Jeffrey Katzenberg, co-founder of film studio Dreamworks, and James Murdoch, News Corp’s deputy chief operating officer.

Nonetheless, when marketing chiefs visit California these days, they are more likely to make a pilgrimage to Silicon Valley than Hollywood.

“Everyone is realising how important it is to identify the right companies,” said Marc Speichert, chief marketing officer at L’Oreal USA. The cosmetics group recently struck an exclusive partnership with Demand Media’s eHow websites.

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