Driving DE&I in Advertising Production
Accountability and compliance are central requirements for diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) initiatives - with good reason. Brands can no longer skate by through industry statements and awareness campaigns, alone. People, policies, and organisations must be held accountable and compliant if we are to ever truly create lasting change as advertisers.
For many marketing organisations, driving DE&I throughout the creative supply chain may appear to be a colossal task. However, the myth that supporting DE&I is a monumental task is exactly that - a myth, designed to throw smokescreens in the way of progress. Diverse talent already exists. Diverse suppliers are already creating phenomenal work. Many organisations simply need to provide tangible opportunities for these creators to engage in the work they deserve, as we truly believe that “diverse thinking breeds better creativity,” as stated by Keith Cartwright, co-founder of Saturday morning.
So, exactly how does an organisation drive DE&I in advertising production? To answer this question, APR convened a panel of experts who are already creating meaningful changes in these areas in a recorded Virtual Town Square event. This panel included Tabitha Mason-Elliot from Bark Bark & the AICP, Pamala Buzick from Free the Work, Adele B. Williams from Streetlights, and Greg Smith from The TEAM Companies.
Here are their key takeaways:
Major Challenges Facing DE&I in Production
Before engaging in meaningful action, it is crucial that you understand some of the major challenges currently facing DE&I initiatives in order to better address these challenges when they inevitably arise - starting with the hiring process.
Don’t Just Hire Who You Know
One of the major challenges DE&I initiatives encounter lies in the hiring process. Driving actual diversity throughout every level of your organisation requires the implementation of more equitable hiring processes - which, of course, conflicts directly with the biased hiring practices that dominate the ad industry.
Adele B. Williams states that “people [in the production industry] are not blind to this problem, or blind to the diverse talent that already exists, here. The issue is that, in this industry, you hire who you know.” Which, in a white-dominated field, translates to the hiring of more white colleagues from predominantly white social circles. Brands must actively seek out diverse candidates through tangible processes and accountable goals to combat this systemic issue. In Tabitha Mason-Elliot’s words, “You can’t win the bid if you aren’t invited to bid in the first place.”
Avoid 'One-Size-Fits-All' Solutions
Another major challenge you may encounter is the tendency of brands and agencies to seek out a one-size-fits-all solution to DE&I while simultaneously hesitating to commit the necessary resources required to make sweeping changes. The current lack of diversity in this industry is systemic, meaning that it is perpetuated through every phase of production - and thus requires systemic reform to recover.
Pamala Buzick warns that “there is no one-size-fits-all solution - you’ll likely work with several different programs and several different initiatives to properly meet your DE&I goals.” She also reminds us that “we have to keep in mind that this isn’t solely about ethnic diversity - it’s about diversity across the board, including gender and sexual orientation.” This intersectional approach is vital to ensuring that no one is left behind.
These gaps in diversity are granular, as well. Tabitha Mason-Elliot adds that “there are also gaps between entry-level positions and leadership positions to address.” Remember the aforementioned issue with “hiring who you know?” This practice can actually be co-opted to reverse the dichotomy of racial and gendered preferences in the hiring process. “When you include diversity from the top, you ultimately get more diverse crews along the way.”
The Distrust in Data
Lastly, DE&I initiatives face major hurdles in the collection and management of demographic data. In order to identify, address, track, and improve on DE&I in any organisation, data has to be collected - typically surrounding private personal information like one’s ethnic background or sexual orientation. The proper management of this information presents a challenge for brands, agencies, and production companies seeking to hire talent directly related to these demographic criteria.
At Free the Work, Pamala Buznick circumvents this issue by requiring self-identification from creators. “The legalities around privacy laws are so complicated and constantly change, so self-identification is really the only way around these issues.” Which brings forth another key challenge - the apprehension to self-identify as BIPOC creators due to a long history of this data being used as tools for exclusion as opposed to tools for inclusion. From Blood Quantum to Jim Crow Laws in the U.S. - and many other discriminatory practices around the world - institutions and people have leveraged demographic data for centuries to further marginalise and exclude minority groups. Understanding this history is a key component in creating more open discussions on this topic and consequently establishing greater trust. “Unfortunately, when your identity has historically been used against you, you might be hesitant to raise your hand and say ‘I’m XYZ.’”
Just how severe is this distrust? Greg Smith states that, through his company’s involvement in payroll data, “only 2-3% of people tick the ethnicity box because they are worried about what’s going to be done with that data. But this data is important. Ultimately, we need this information, because - especially when people get paid - it is an accurate, tangible way to hold people accountable.” Tabitha Mason-Elliot reminds us that “it is on us to facilitate more open discussions on this topic” to drive the data conversation away from a fear of privacy and towards an eagerness for opportunity.
Direct Actions to Drive Your DE&I Initiatives in Content Creation
Now that we’ve covered some of the major hurdles in DE&I, let’s talk about some of the direct actions brands, agencies, and production suppliers may take today to drive tangible solutions in these areas - starting with the development of a more diverse talent supply chain.
Diversifying the Talent Supply Chain
Adele B. Williams states that “marketers can begin by investing in the right talent - in organisations like Streetlights that have their boots on the ground, providing training and increasing the minority pool in the US.” Over the last 25 years, Streetlights has proven time and again that these investments provide real-world solutions for underrepresented talent in production. A shining example of this is the story of Mathew Cherry - who won an Academy Award for Best Animated Short (Hair Love) just thirteen years after graduating from the Streetlights Production Assistant Program. Streetlights doesn’t just stop at entry-level assistance, either - they continue to nurture their graduates through union memberships and career development opportunities, as well.
Sourcing Diverse Talent
Streetlights and other organisations around the world work to provide brands with a tangible way to invest in the creation of more diverse supply chains - but what about those seeking to hire from pools of underrepresented talent that already exist? To address this challenge, Free the Work provides a “Discovery platform comprised of underrepresented creators - which, in the U.S., includes people who are non-binary, female-identifying, LGBTQI+, disabled, veterans, and BIPOC,” Pamala Buznick says. “I specify ‘in the U.S.,’ because we are a global organisation, and ‘underrepresented’ categorises different groups of people in different parts of the world. To us, ‘underrepresented’ means anyone in the lesser percentages of the local population.”
Pamala also reminds marketers that “DE&I isn’t something you can simply incorporate into your workday; you have to create an actual program centred around real results… and it is okay to get it wrong. We deal with DE&I every single day, and we can still get things wrong. It is okay - so long as you address it and correct it moving forward.”
Allocating Real Resources
All of the efforts mentioned so far mean little or nothing if - at the end of the day - no resources are actually allocated to addressing these inequities. The AICP’s recent “Double the Line” initiative provides an immediate solution for brands seeking to increase DE&I in their content creation efforts. “Double the Line” works by doubling the line-item cost of individual roles in a production budget, essentially creating a duplicate role. That duplicate role is then filled with a BIPOC candidate who works alongside the chosen position in a partnership to create more diverse productions.
Tabitha Mason-Elliot specifies that “this isn’t a permanent solution - but it is a quick, effective way to solve the problem on budgets that can afford it.” But how about the budgets that can’t afford to Double the Line? “Simply make a commitment to award an actual percentage of your work to diverse creators. Don’t just ask for a bid. A bid is a simple way to say you tried without a strategy. Commit to a real award (like 30% of your budget), and don’t underfund the project. Make sure you are creating an actual opportunity - and not just more obstacles to that opportunity.”
Lastly, APR’s ounder & CEO, Jillian Gibbs, encourages brands to “seek accountability through the extensions of agency partners, as well - especially through tier 2 supplier diversity programs to ensure that your DE&I efforts impact the entire chain of production.”
DE&I is not an abstract concept. There are plenty of concrete ways your brand can begin creating the change we so often talk about. Include diverse decision-makers at the highest levels of your organisation, nurture the diversity of your talent supply chains, hire diverse creators, and make real investments in diversity, equity, and inclusion - supported by tangible goals and data to provide accountability. “It is such a small investment to make for such a huge return.”