Why we must keep fighting for the industry's future
As we come to the end of Women’s History Month, Honor Society EP Megan Kelly says that, faced with a barrage of other threats, the industry must not renege on its commitment to DEI and to allowing new voices to be heard.
It’s been a few years now since headlines rang throughout the world and the importance of the underrepresented and their voices became a priority, both within our society and our industry.
We’ve taken a hard look at ourselves during this time and realised just how much diversity our business lacks. We’ve been making wonderful progress in discussing the importance of underrepresented talent, however, within this past year in the US, we are seeing a rise in laws - both passed and proposed - to roll back women, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC rights.
With new threats on the horizon, now is the time to keep pushing for change.
Coincidentally, our industry’s pledges for diversity, equity and inclusion seems to be losing a bit of steam. With new threats on the horizon, now is the time to keep pushing for change. True diversity in our business can lead the way for systemic change, but we need to renew our commitment.
Above: The industry has looked at itself and seen it lacks diversity.
First of all, we should, of course, celebrate the progress and significant changes that have been made. However, sometimes when we make progress, we feel that we have done enough, and there is some fatigue that keeps us from continuing to push forward. Brands and agencies should renew their commitment to underrepresented talent as a core value of their business’ culture, and not just make it a 'nice to have', or an item on a bid checklist. We need to ask: are we providing opportunities because we want women and other underrepresented groups to thrive? Or is it because it looks good to the shareholders on the end-of-year report?
Agencies and brands have to trust new and emerging - yet talented - directors by giving them bigger opportunities.
For those of us on the production side, we need to review our actions. Are we providing opportunities? Are we actively working to grow our talent? Are we advocating and mentoring? Furthermore, production companies have an obligation to continue to speak out and be compelling enough for the brands and agencies to listen. We cannot accept complacency with the progress that has been made. Underrepresented talent needs to have access to bigger rooms and to sit at the table. We have to act, to be the change we wish to see.
Agencies and brands have to trust new and emerging - yet talented - directors by giving them bigger opportunities. With the budget that comes with a Super Bowl or Oscar spot, it’s almost always an A-list director, but it could also make a rising star’s career. Plenty of people are under-represented who possess strong reels, have years of experience and could absolutely deliver at the level agencies and brands want to produce. It’s a mindset change and it has to start happening.
Above: Sometimes, when we make some progress, the drive to keep pushing forward falters. Advertising must not let that happen.
For many audiences, star power has run its course. One of the biggest complaints with the 2023 Super Bowl ad lineup was that it was star-packed, but lacked creativity. We learned that the creative concept, the story - and its execution - is what makes a hilarious or thought-provoking Super Bowl ad, not the names attached. Having an unsung director takes nothing away from the quality of a commercial and can even bolster the ad with a brand-new take on a story. I’m personally going to work towards change, and make sure next year’s headline isn’t, once again, 'Only Four Black Directors and One Woman Director Helmed a Super Bowl Ad'. Aren’t we embarrassed, at that point?
[We need to] make sure next year’s headline isn’t, once again, 'Only Four Black Directors and One Woman Director Helmed a Super Bowl Ad'.
Ensuring emerging talent has the chops to succeed starts with caring about their career growth, starting with education and mentorship. As a company owner and EP, sometimes my colleagues and I take opportunities that don’t make much money, or may even lose money, but which do honour our commitment to growing our talent and their careers.
The production company/director relationship is long-term and two-way and sometimes we make sacrifices in terms of budget to provide growth or experiential opportunities. Production leadership has to invest time, money and resources into people, check in about their careers and mentor their progress. It’s not just signing somebody to check a box.
Above: Advertising leaders have the ability to pull people through doors that can be very hard to access.
I think we have to be mentors and allies for women, LGBTQ+ and BIPOC directors, and we have to take action. What opportunities are we helping to create for them? It’s not enough to hold the door open; sometimes we have to pull people through because they don’t have the connections, financial resources, experience or opportunities. We, as leadership and tenured advertising or production professionals, have those.
It’s great not to just talk about an emerging director, but have them shadow an experienced director because they’re getting that on-set experience. Everyone in a production pipeline should be thinking this way, from directors to DPs to post production and audio. It has to be a team effort.
It’s not enough to hold the door open; sometimes we have to pull people through.
We watched a film led by an Asian woman and BIPOC cast sweep the Oscars this year. While they have experience in music videos and films already, The Daniels offered a fresh insight into filmmaking and storytelling with Everything, Everywhere All At Once that wowed audiences and the jury without traditional Oscar mainstay actors. It ultimately became A24’s highest-grossing film of all time.
When we give these opportunities to rising talent, we give ourselves amazing new creative viewpoints. Why wouldn’t we want the same in advertising for our most visible work, on one of the most visible days of the year? Not one member of a brand’s audience will ever be sad that they got a new perspective on something.