We had the opportunity to interview Philip Thomas who led 10 editions of the famous Cannes Lions and is currently the CEO of Ascential Events. Ascential is the organiser of festivals such as Cannes Lions, Dubai Lynx, Eurobest and closer to home, the annual Spikes Asia. He has some interesting views on marketing, fintech and the size of London as a city.


Philip Thomas, CEO of Ascential Events at the Money20/20 Asia Press Launch.

Philip and his team are currently preparing Money20/20, a concept that saw its 6th edition in Las Vegas last year and its first appearance in Copenhagen. In 2018, Money20/20 Asia will be coming to Singapore. Philip is confident that this event will attract 3,000 visitors for its first edition. Why is he so confident that the first Asia edition will attract a substantial crowd?
“Like marketing, the financial sector is changing rapidly and dramatically. When we started in Las Vegas 6 years ago, we attracted 3,000 visitors for the first edition. By now this has gone up to 15,000. Fintech is quickly becoming a very important topic that touches the livelihoods of many, ranging from customers all the way up to traditional banks.
“For Money20/20 we get participants from the consumer and investment banks, from the tech sector, the new big players in payments like Apple and Samsung and finally from start-ups and VCs. After the US and European editions, Singapore as a major finance-hub in Asia was for us a logical place to host the Asian version.”


Going back to Spikes and Cannes, the advertising and marketing landscape is changing dramatically, as you pointed out. To what extent does that affect the formula of these events?
“There are currently two major issues or challenges in marketing, the first one is the steady rise and use of data, the second one is the importance of content, story-telling and creative to attract the attention of crowds that are increasingly online and on mobile. As an event organiser, we listen to our customers and what we have learned is that data and content is where the focus of agencies and brands is shifting. We follow suit with our event formats. This has led e.g. to the introduction of new award categories like branded music and entertainment at Spikes, as well as a health category and more emphasis on content for Cannes Lions.”


Do you see changes among the sponsors and businesses that you attract as a result and could you name a few that are successful in mastering these changes?
“We definitely attract players outside the traditional agency and consumer brands area. We get interest from media owners, film makers and music publishers and even start-ups. This is proof of the changing and more intermingled advertising and marketing landscape. We attract also tech players like Oracle and Adobe and internet giants like Google and Facebook. I want to be careful when naming agencies or companies that get the new data and content paradigms. What I will say is traditional consultancy companies like PWC, Accenture and Deloitte are moving into the agency area. They have traditionally a strong understanding of businesses and organisational transformation, which they now start combining with technology and creative services. They are also very aggressive and are quickly making inroads into the traditional agency space.
“At the same time, it is a myth that agencies are not trying to change. They know they must change, although not all of them are getting it right. There are definitely a few examples of smaller agencies that can cover the complete chain from strategic planning via creative to multi-channel distribution.”


What was your best edition of Cannes Lions so far?
“That is the last one. It was the biggest and the culmination of being 10 years at the helm and helping it go and transform.”


But isn’t Cannes getting too big?
“Is London too big? Yes, it is but it is also exciting. When you look at festivals, they invariably start small and when they are successful they grow and then the complaints come in. But are big festivals exciting? They are! You see this happening all the time. Just look at SXSW, Burning Man, Glastonbury music festival and Cannes. But people keep coming in ever bigger numbers.”


Which brings me to the opposite trend, quite a few festivals are in decline. The organisers invariably resort to co-hosting events that were previously independent. Some refer the changes in visitor behaviour. They rely more on social media and online communities to inform themselves and socialise among peers. Do you see a similar trend in your portfolio of events?
“In my opinion there are way too many events because too many companies started organising them to compensate for a decline in business. This is specifically true for media companies. I am convinced that there is a need for consolidation. In my opinion there will always be a need for events, specifically the larger ones. The networking opportunities are simply better, both in volume and quality. There is a basic human need for face-to-face meetings. Social media and online communities are not going to replace this.”


But what about VR? The other day I participated in a meeting where some people joined from another country. Through a VR headset these people would be projected as sitting right opposite of me. I must admit it was a scary good proxy for a face-to-face meeting, until the moment we tried shaking hands.
“You may be right that VR or actually I would call it Mixed Reality, might replace several face-to-face meetings. Yet, I am still convinced that meeting people in the real world will remain a need. Events will be the perfect way to cater for this need, although an influx of Mixed Reality tech is totally thinkable.”


How do you run marketing for Money20/20? Does the fact that Ascential has Cannes Lions in its portfolio help?
“That is an excellent question. It comes down to two things, raising awareness and executing a B2B marketing strategy. In B2B we are dealing with a very small and powerful set of decision makers. Cannes Lions does help but even more so the fact that we have proven the success of the formula in Las Vegas and Copenhagen. We raise awareness through the development of high quality content.”


How is Money20/20 Asia shaping up and where will it be held?
“We have a few companies that have committed already and are confident that we will get to the 3,000 visitors, which we regard as a realistic but conservative number. It will be held at Marina Bay Sands, in March 2018.”

We look forward to meeting you then.

Editor: Matthieu Vermeulen


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