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DEI is the new standard: #AdWeekEurope

Updated: May 20

This week, we headed to Advertising Week Europe to immerse ourselves into the ongoing conversations in the creative landscape at the moment. We heard about why it’s important to invest in innovation, how accessibility is key to the future of inclusive advertising, how to build brave partnerships, and so much more. 


What was clear is that current conversations in creativity are anchored by DEI – the diversity of pitch teams, the inclusive expectations of brands and inclusivity bringing the home the bag. 


I noticed the word ‘progress’ floating around, followed by a feeling of apprehension by many speakers. I got the sense that small changes have given people the incentive to keep going, but people are feeling a bit burned out. But can we blame them?


With government bodies cutting DEI jobs, politicians making it increasingly difficult for minority groups to live their day-to-day lives and news headlines saying “DEI is dead”, where do we go next?


With that in mind, here are my five unmistakable takeaways from Ad Week Europe: 


  1. The deprioritisation of DEI is being questioned


As ever, the conversation around the DEI moving further down the creative agenda was still ongoing, with many wondering if we’re actually heading back to the pre-2020 era. With the government seeking to cut diversity programmes and put DEI on the back burner, there were lots of questions as to whether brands and creative agencies will eventually follow suit. But from listening to these concerns, it’s apparent that DEI isn’t going anywhere.


For the president of Bloom UK and co-founder of Join Our Table, Elizabeth Anyaegbuna, we simply have to double down on DEI objectives: 


‘We have to cut through the noise’

Similarly, the founder of Soho House, Nick Jones, expressed that we can’t allow government decisions to deter us from accelerating inclusion:

‘The government doesn’t run our businesses, so we just have to keep going with what’s right’

2. The business case for DEI is well-established


Funny enough, the observation completely contradicts the one above. On one hand, there’s a conversation about DEI ‘not working’ and on the other, business leaders are standing by the fact that DEI brings in the coins.


Grayling UK’s CEO, Heather Blundell, shared her perspective on DEI being profitable for business:


‘I know that having a diverse team is going to make our pitches better and in turn win over clients, so it’s critical for business’

Despite reports last month that there is no evidence diverse management teams boost profits, leaders in the creative industry may beg to differ. 


Times are changing, and more brands are prioritising inclusive marketing – Nike, Skims and Apple are just a few brands that spring to mind. Therefore, creative agencies cannot afford to take a backseat when it comes to embedding inclusion into the creative process. 


3. Is it cancel culture, or is it just accountability? 


Munroe Bergdorf gave an interesting take on ‘cancel culture’ being buzzwords for those who refuse to take accountability for their actions. When we think of brands getting called out for being too woke, what does this really mean? A brand is trying too hard to be representative of its consumers?


Last year, ONS data found that 1 in 200 people identify as trans: so why wouldn’t this group want to be seen like everyone else? The current ‘war on woke brings’ raises the question: why wouldn’t you want society to be inclusive? Who does this benefit? Bergdorf puts it plainly: 


'If you’re anti-woke or resisting change, ask yourself why you want things to stay the same' 

We have to think about what cancel culture is really about. Bergdorf offers a fresh perspective:


'It's not the trans person being ostracised from public spaces, it's not the Black youth being stopped and searched, and it's certainly not the single mother who can’t think of what to feed her kids'

So before we express discomfort with being ‘called out’, perhaps we need to start with why we find ourselves here in the first place.


4. Accessibility is the future of inclusive advertising 


In 2024 – when over 24% of the UK population have a disability, clients are finding disability and accessibility quite daunting. No one knows where to start, and no one wants to make a step wrong – which is where many go wrong. 

It’s better to start conversations with organisations that are on the front line or with people with disabilities to understand the nuances behind the lived experience instead of burying your head in the sand. 


With the Purple Pound in the UK amounting to £274 billion, allowing fear of getting it wrong to deter you from making a step is a costly mistake.


Business Director at AMV BBDO, Henrietta Corley, offered some encouraging words: 

‘Think progress over perfection’

Embedding inclusion may be daunting to brands and companies as there is so much richness to lived experience, but small steps go a long way. This could look like a quota of disabled employees or 1 in-5 policy concerning the representation of disabled people.


To help influence the DEI agenda in creative industries, CEO of The Valuable 500, Katy Talikowska offered some helpful advice: 


‘Always frame it as something exciting, a change to make creative work more disruptive. That in turn will make a return on inclusion and ensure a return on investment'

In a society where diversity is closely intertwined with creativity, it’s better to get ahead than be left behind.


5. Inside Out Inclusion is the answer 


Now, at The Unmistakables, we build our clients’ confidence to have an unmistakable impact on culture and creativity using our inside-out inclusion model. By this, we mean embedding inclusion inside a business, i.e. everything from having a vision to inclusive recruitment to how you enter the outside world, i.e. through your brand or through advertising. Throughout AdWeek, we heard a lot of emphasis on brands and agencies needing to be inclusive internally before they venture outwards. UTA’s Senior Director of Artist Brand Strategy and founder of TTYA, Irene Agbontaen, put it perfectly: 


‘DEI has almost become this facade to fix things that were visible but what about the internal problems? Are your teams diverse? There’s rice at home!’

Given our work with Tilda, we could get into the nuances of rice in different communities, but that’s for another blog post. Instead of spending big budgets on an ad and ticking off your checklist for underrepresented groups, without consulting with impacted communities – eventually receiving online backlash, it’s actually cheaper to hire more diverse teams and include subject-matter experts in the creative process. These efforts will eventually foster a more inclusive creative ecosystem. 


What’s the tea?


This year’s AdWeek showed me that more than anything, DEI is going nowhere. 


As we approach the fourth anniversary of George Floyd's death, we all can feel that the conversation around DEI is changing — we’re at risk of disillusionment, but enlightenment is just around the corner. 


At first, it was about pledging commitment to the cause, putting up your Black squares and brands putting their money where their mouth is.


Now, things are, a little different. 


People are growing tired of being called out for offensive words, creative agencies are still falling victim to culturally appropriative ads, and budgets are being cut all round. 


The romanticisation of life before the pandemic, before cancel culture, before endless protesting seems to be at an all-time high. What’s more, protesting around other global issues is still on the rise. 


The foundations of DEI have already been laid – especially when it relates to the creative ecosystem. What AdWeek taught me was that DEI is now an expectation, not a nice to have.

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