Sabrina Sanchez
Dec 14, 2021

After hiring DEI consultancy, Cannes Lions 'will have to follow up with action'

Abraham Abbi Asefaw, who called the organisation out in May after being removed as the only person of colour from the Dean's list of the Cannes Lions School, says consultancy is a "step in the right direction"—but wants to see more urgency.

After hiring DEI consultancy, Cannes Lions 'will have to follow up with action'

Cannes Lions appointed The Unmistakables as its DEI specialist consultancy earlier this month, to conduct a “full and independent review” of the organisation's diversity practices and processes, led by CEO Asad Dhunna. 

Cannes identified the consultancy after a “robust” RFP process “involving a number of potential specialists,” Camilla Lambert, head of press and PR at Cannes Lions, confirmed in an email to Campaign US. The organisation reached out to 25 candidates and received 10 responses.  

Cannes Lions appointed The Unmistabables after the organisation, which produces the prestigious creative industry awards program in the South of France, committed to progress on DEI following a controversy over leadership appointments at the Cannes Lion School, its career accelerator program for young industry professionals. 

In May, Cannes Lions came under fire on social media after replacing the only dean of colour at the school with a white person, calling into question its commitment to diversity. 

Lecturer and chairman at Hyper Island, Abraham Abbi Asefaw, called out Cannes Lions in a Twitter thread following the announcement, saying the organisation removed his deanship and replaced him with a white person after he repeatedly requested his position be filled by a person of colour. Ad industry pros shared support for Asefaw on Twitter and called out the organisation for its lack of diversity. 

As a result of the blowback, Cannes Lions committed to hiring a DEI consultancy and promised to “report on each stage of the process” and “share with [its] community the policies on DEI that are defined as part of the process.”

Cannes Lions told Campaign US that Asefaw was asked to be involved in the DEI consultancy selection process and “has been provided with regular updates over the past few months.” 

In an email to Campaign US, Asefaw confirmed that he was kept in the loop on the selection process, but said he was only notified of the organisation’s choice on the day of its public announcement. He says Cannes Lions has asked him to sit down and talk about his experiences but hasn't asked for any further involvement in the process. 

Asefaw also said that while hiring a consultancy is a step in the right direction, Cannes Lions will have to follow up with action. He noted that it took seven months since he spoke up about issues at the organisation to find a partner, and that this is the first action the organisation has taken.

In December, Cannes Lions announced that it has added a creative B2B excellence award for the 2022 festival, which it plans to host in person in the eponymous city in June.

Campaign US

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