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1. Yes, the cost of jetting to the Côte d'Azur for the Cannes Lions International Festival of Creativity can add up. Astral Media Inc. is giving a helping hand – and endearing itself to some of the agencies that bring in clients for its billboard space. The Carte Blanche for Creatives contest invited agencies to design outdoor advertising, with the winners seeing their campaigns in Toronto and Montreal, and winning a trip to Cannes. BBDO Toronto’s artistic director Alice Blastorah and copywriter Neal Khosla won for their “Youth Without Shelter” campaign, a bus shelter ad that removes three of the walls and the roof of the shelter to illustrate the experience of homeless youth. Astral will be deconstructing a shelter in Toronto to run the campaign. “This contest is popular with the creative community because it offers them the opportunity to push the envelope of the art of display, by allowing them to design an ad without a briefing or restrictions,”Astral Out-of-Home’s vice-president of marketing and media creativity, Nathalie Doré, said in a statement. The contest had 120 entries this year. In May, Astral awarded the francophone winners of the contest. That prize went to Geneviève Jannelle and Geneviève Langlois from Montreal agency LG2.

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2. And of course, there’s more. On Wednesday night the One Show Entertainment awards in New York honoured the best in branded entertainment. One Canadian agency took home bronze pencils: Leo Burnett Toronto snagged two. Its spelling bee interactive campaign, which had customers collect James Ready beer caps with letters of the alphabet in them, then race to post photos of the phrases they spelled out on Facebook, was a winner. So was its “Dig it! Get it!” campaign for Procter & Gamble’s Cheer, which used a video by the band Strange Talk to give away brightly coloured clothes and promote the detergent.

3. Head counts at advertising agencies should remain relatively stable in the next few months, according to the latest hiring index survey from research firm the Creative Group. The majority of the roughly 250 Canadian executives polled plan to keep staffing levels stable in the third quarter, with 10 per cent planning to add staff and 6 per cent forecasting cuts. Ninety per cent said their chances for growth are good in the next three months. “While many marketing and advertising executives do not expect to change staffing levels in the next three months, they are feeling confident that their companies will see growth,” Lara Dodo, a regional vice-president of The Creative Group in Canada said in a statement. A greater challenge, according to more than half of those surveyed, is the ability to find workers with the right skills – especially digital. Web design and production and social media ranked among the skills most in demand for new hires. Account management is also a priority.

4. We interrupt this call with your mother to bring you a word from our sponsors. Skype, the service that allows free voice and video calls over the Internet announced the debut of “Conversation Ads” on Thursday, coming to 55 markets worldwide, including Canada. The ads will appear in the call window during audio chats, alongside the image of the person on the other end of the line. Microsoft Corp., which bought Skype last year, has been looking for ways to make money from the free service. In February it began selling ads on Skype’s home page, and said it was experimenting with in-call ads to ensure they did not disrupt the user experience too much. Microsoft says the small banner ads will be silent.

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