Stefano Hatfield on Advertising

There's no place like the gutter bar in Cannes. And I should know ...
Click to follow
The Independent Online

Everyone is a Cannes Advertising Festival virgin once. I recall Mike Dolan, the painfully straight former worldwide CEO of Y&R, wide-eyed and clinging to my arm as I toured him round a night's partying. He muttered "Oh my gosh" so often it became his survival mantra. When that mantra became "The women! The women!" he realised he had forgotten to breathe, and took himself off for an early night.

Respect then to the Interpublic Group CEO, Michael Roth, a man for whom I have displayed precious little previously in this space. Roth lost his virginity in style on Thursday night, hob-nobbing with hoi polloi like your columnist until the small hours amid the broken glass and shattered dignity of the "gutter bar".

For the uninitiated, the "gutter bar" is Bar 72 opposite the gaudy Martinez Hotel. No one knows it as such. Bar 72 lost its name because hundreds of admen with death wishes nightly refuse to go to bed in the vain hope of schmoozing the likes of Roth, or - better - getting a wide-eyed production company babe so drunk she won't notice they are twice her age, and waistband.

Once, it was exclusively Brit and Aussie, basically because the booze was cheaper. Meanwhile, Euros and Latinos colonised the Martinez bar to sing dodgy Beatles covers around the piano, and go to the loo in same-sex pairs. Americans huddle together for comfort on the Carlton Hotel's terrace, praying no one will speak to them in a foreign language.

The intrepid and charming Roth mistook the glass shards beneath his Gucci loafers for ice as he somewhat incongruously downed several "Baileys on the rocks". Having ascertained I was the journalist who wrote such mean things about him in the Indy, he did not punch me out, but humoured my idiot's guide to Cannes for CEOs who wouldn't be seen dead in a place like that in New York.

Of course, there isn't a place like that in Manhattan, nor London or Paris. Of Roth's exalted peer group, it's inconceivable that WPP's Sir Martin Sorrell or Publicis's Maurice Levy would go to the gutter bar, although Omnicom's John Wren does. Neither Lord Saatchi nor Vincent Bolloré showed there this week after their Cannes appearances.

Bizarrely, Roth seemed to be actually enjoying the company of attentive lieutenants like Lowe's Mark Wnek, McCann's Brett Gosper, Universal McCann's Nick Brien and the new Draft-FCB boss Howard Draft. I swear Draft's newly merged cigar looked even larger!

Brien was looking almost as pleased with himself as Draft. Deservedly so, having won the media Grand Prix for UM's stunning Lynx Australia campaign, which wowed the festival. He is also my wife's immediate boss and I have been mean in this space about their company, so I hope the editor leaves this bit in.

Roth said it was "important to get to know the people who work with me". He didn't say "for". He may have learnt to say that at CEO school, but it was telling. It wasn't the place to ask if he has a grand vision for IPG, but he seemed decent enough. When I began telling him how to improve not just IPG's PR but the senior management line-up too, he understandably made his excuses.

* ROTH ADMITTED that one of the surprises of his job was dealing with the foreign media. Given how tame the star-struck US trade press is, he was shocked to go to London, where not only was his every move made public, but critically dissected, be it a visit to Lowe or a Chelsea-Newcastle game. Should've gone to Craven Cottage then!

In that Big Brother spirit, Roth's plane ride over to Cannes from New York was spent in the accidental company of two of the least virginal Cannes delegates, Headquarters' Tom Mooney and the irrepressible Maya Brewster, now of Radical Media. Maya, who knows everyone, has seen in more Croisette dawns than anyone in world advertising. She has an iron constitution, although her liver must be rusting. A somewhat bemused Roth admitted she was "quite an introduction".

MindShare's Dominic Proctor and Publicis's Tim Lindsay were on my flight. But they don't sit in the cheap seats. The Unilever head global marketing honcho, Simon Clift, was wearing possibly the worst pair of baggy shorts ever sported by a Brit abroad. Was anyone brave enough to tell him?

* I ALSO had a mole on Sorrell's Wednesday morning BA flight to Nice. Sir Martin proved to be a surprise hit at the festival, delivering a fine comic turn in which he satirised the industry and mocked himself. Weirdly, no one ever believes me when I tell them Sorrell's funny. Perhaps they've been on planes with him?

Onboard, Sorrell burnt up his Blackberry, and played musical chairs with his flunkies all flight, so he could berate - er, speak with - each in turn. Thing is, apparently not all the flunkies were his, and he managed to rearrange a few surprisingly willing Aegis types too in front of their watching CEO, Robert Lerwill. I bet they wouldn't have given their seats to Vincent Bolloré!

* MONSIEUR BOLLORE, the Havas chairman and Aegis shareholder, made his Cannes debut too. He spoke to a standing-room only international press crowd with the utter ease that only comes with being from "old money". He even began Chirac-like in French before being told to speak English by a newly re-energised Jacques Seguela, France's Charles Saatchi. Bolloré's words were honeyed, but he didn't really say anything new, other than to admit there was serious thought to changing the Euro RSCG name (10 years too late). If one entered the room unclear as to why Aegis would benefit from a partial collaboration with Havas, then one left none the wiser. Good handshake though, and old-money manners just like his Spanish CEO, the second-nicest man in world advertising, Fernando Rodes.

* INDUSTRY CUTBACKS meant Publicis and TBWA abandoned their annual lavish parties. McCann swapped the Christina O yacht for the terrace at the tacky Noga Hilton, leaving DDB and Leo Burnett to slug it out for party of the week. It was impossible to be at DDB's beach rave without remembering fondly the late, great party animal Ken Kaess, the CEO who suddenly died of cancer earlier this year.

* GREY'S COCKTAIL party was a surprise hit made more so by Mr Grey himself, the septuagenarian Ed Meyer, greeting all-comers at the entrance. Meyer, like Roth, is a big fan of the Indy's advertising column. Inside, you never saw fawning like the account exec bees swarming around the giant honeypot that is the Procter & Gamble worldwide head of marketing, Jim Stengel. Somehow Brit creative boss Tim Mellors and I found ourselves shooting hoops with Stengel and Grey CEO Jim Heekin. It was fun. Then the whooping began. We left before the first high-five.

* ONLY IN Cannes: Y&R created a new festival institution: the "recover" party that begins at 3.30am. It's billed as breakfast, though there aren't too many places that serve Domaine Ott with your muffins.

Worth it for the sight of Bernard Barnett as bouncer and a very relaxed Ann Fudge. I met the new Y&R global CEO, Hamish McLennan, later in the week. He looked like a rabbit in headlights at the mere thought of going to USA Today's big cheeses dinner at the Moulin de Mougins, let alone the gutter bar. Mind you, I've been to that dinner. He has a point. Should've had a couple of Baileys.

E-mail if you know a nicer, funnier man in world advertising than Euro RSCG's Gerry Moira. Thank you Gerry. You know why.