AOL Goes To Cannes — And Brings An ‘Agency-Only’ App With It

A day after AOL (NYSE: AOL) held a gala presentation for analysts in New York’s Soho, execs are now descending on France for the week-long Cannes Lions Festival, the annual gathering of ad agency awards shows and networking. In addition to getting in front of agencies in person, AOL hopes to stay attached to executives at the four major ad holding companies with a non-consumer iPhone/iPad app designed especially for them.

As AOL has fully launched its Project Devil and Pictela ad units, which promise a larger, interactive canvas for more premium branding campaigns, the company sees Cannes as a perfect spot to make its direct pitch to the agencies that determine what and where billions of ad dollars get spent.

“This is AOL’s first major appearance at Cannes and we had been thinking of ways start a conversation with agency execs there, aside from the usual networking that goes on,” said Erin Clift, AOL’s VP of global sales development in an interview with paidContent. “I can’t remember last time I saw an agency exec who didn’t have an iPad, iPhone in front of them. This app will enable us to push information about what we think is important to them from AOL.”

Among the apps features are:

— AOL press releases and research tied to Cannes
— AOL’s activations with each agency within the holding co – so business reviews for each agency within the holding co, partnership information on what we are doing with each holding co, etc.
— Regular insights on key agency audiences (per their clients) – after Cannes we will push new information on a monthly basis on key insights we have that pertain to their clients, and audiences that matter to them
— City’s Best functionality for Cannes – the best of things to do, places to go at Cannes, restaurants, etc.
— Full Cannes schedule
— Photos from Cannes events within an hour or two

While the app is Apple-based, it won’t be found in the iTunes App Store. And it won’t be available on Android, since Google (NSDQ: GOOG) does not allow “closed apps” in its App Marketplace. AOL has been sending e-mails out to the individual agencies — IPG, Omnicom, Publicis Group and WPP Group only– telling them that they can receive a download via text.

“The week of Cannes is a whirlwind of meetings, meals and gatherings,” said David Cohen, EVP, global digital officer, Universal-McCann, in an e-mail. “Keeping it all straight is a real challenge and the AOL app has the potential to significantly simplify knowing where to be and when. In addition to overall calendaring help, the app will curate news relative to our agency and holding company ensuring we are on top of all the latest announcements. In addition, once Cannes has finished the app has the potential to be an ongoing conduit into all of the AOL developments, both public and specific to our needs in the marketplace. Our companies are already working in lockstep on many strategic initiatives, but this application definitely has the potential to draw our organizations even closer. It is a wonderful idea, and I know we are all looking forward to using it in Cannes and beyond.”

AOL hopes to keep the conversation going after the festival by morphing the app into a more general news and insights offering for agencies.

“We see this as part of an ongoing partnership — we don’t need to wait for a business review or coordinate schedules for a meeting,” Clift says.

While the use of an iPhone/iPad app as a business tool hasn’t gotten much attention, given Blackberry-maker RIM’s weakness, it’s conceivable that Apple’s products could be taken much more seriously as an “enterprise” item, not just a consumer one. As for AOL, well, it’s something different — and at the very least, it’s cheaper and probably more meaningful than just inviting every exec to dinner and lunch.