Advertising depends on the power of visual storytelling for success, and on-screen representation in media is a large part of that—but what about off-screen representation?
While Hollywood circles have discussed the topic of diversity behind the camera for years, it goes beyond Hollywood. Understanding and creating a culture of diversity in advertising is just as important, if not more so.
Why is DEI in advertising so important?
We spoke to Integrated Producer Michelle Leon, who has years of experience working behind the camera in Advertising productions. Her experience and advice shed light on what’s needed in the industry, how we can make it happen, and why these changes matter to both the client and agency.
From Michelle’s experience, here’s a few tips on why DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) in Advertising and Production is so important.
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What is Integrated Production?
“Integrated Production is the act of bringing together all the departments and their respective needs to coordinate campaigns and anything else that requires output.
It merges the production of digital, broadcast, print, social and experience. We work together to coordinate campaigns across all departments and platforms—combining services to produce better, more efficient results.
Integrated Production ultimately helps coordinate content in a cost effective and efficient way and assists in unifying a consistent message and strategy.”
How did you get into Advertising Production?
“Production happened to fall in line with what I liked. Fresh out of high school, I wanted to be a curator and planned on going to NYU to do just that. In the interest of making the smart financial decision long-term, though, I stayed in South Florida and double majored in communications and marketing for business in FIU.
I started as an agency producer for Print, small things like business cards and stationary for corporate identity. We then moved into broadcast, and by the time I got to my next agency, I’d run some of my own shoots and hired my own crew—and I loved it.
And that evolved. Since I could coordinate the production, we thought we might save money on hiring a production company. We decided: let’s try it out. It was scary, and it was a hot mess. But more than anything, it was awesome.
And that evolved too. Soon enough I came to THE 3RD EYE, where I jumped into doing more. Broadcast, radio, and of course, digital. Pedro, our current Digital lead, really encouraged me to dive in head-first the first few years. With his help, I became familiar with the particularities of digital production—which now overlaps with nearly everything I do.”
What does DEI look like in Advertising and Production?
“When it comes to DEI, the goal should be to create an environment where everyone is seen as equal and given opportunities in front of and behind the camera. I won’t call myself a DEI expert, but I can definitely speak to my own experience.
As a Hispanic woman, I’ve seen DEI overlooked in sets plenty of times in the past. In my experience, working in shoots in South Florida is a bit more open-minded. With so many Hispanic people around, we’re more sensitive to cultural differences.
On a shoot in Boston, I found myself having to convince people backstage that they needed to be more diverse. I’ve witnessed people make sweeping assumptions behind the scenes. As the only minority in the room, there have been times where I’ve felt like the only one who noticed.
There’s a difference between an African American and Haitian black person, for instance. As someone outside of the cultural group, you may not be able to see it—but people within those cultures sure can.
In a similar shoot, casting chose a tan, non-hispanic caucasian woman to try and pass off as a Hispanic woman. And it was very obvious to me that she wasn’t Hispanic. I explained that if I could tell, so could the consumer.
The aim is to choose fewer stereotypes and avoid making assumptions about someone solely based on their background. And transparency around diversity goals helps everyone be held accountable when putting together ad campaigns.
It’s incredibly important to hold decision-makers accountable. We can push boundaries in casting and how we represent consumers, but clients easily fall back on what they’re used to. It’s on us to be honest with them and call out any instances of white-washing and tokenism, while also reminding them of our commitment to diversity.”
What advice would you give young women in Production?
“I’d tell young women in production, ‘don’t be afraid to make mistakes or ask for help.’ Learning to navigate the waters when things go wrong is a part of the process.
Part of that is working with good people (if you have control over that). To this day, THE 3RD EYE is often able to work with teams that may be out of the client’s price range—all because they know us and they like working with us.
It’s important to be able to think on your feet, be creative and resourceful. As much as people remember the mistakes, they will also remember how you dealt with those tough situations and how you treated others.
Nerves and anxiety are normal before a shoot—at least for me. Things usually don’t go smoothly. The client won’t love the first rough-cut or casting lineup; they may very well hate the wardrobe. I’m the type of person who wants to make everyone happy, and that’s a difficult balance to find. So, if you’re anything like me, you will get stressed.
While it’s hard to stay calm when things go wrong, getting through with a good attitude will always give you a sense of pride.
Be confident! Believe in your skills. Don’t be afraid to speak up and share your ideas. Some cliches are true: you miss every shot you don’t take.
Stay resilient. Granted, resilience can be challenging in this industry. The hours are long, the stress is high. Persevering through rough patches will make you stronger, though. And your tenacity will earn respect from your peers.
At the end of the day, it’s all worth it. Despite the unavoidable stress, I still love it.”
Why is DEI important for clients?
“Brands need diversity in production for 3 main reasons.
- Social responsibility
Brands should prioritize social consciousness, promoting diversity and inclusion. Social responsibility improves a brand’s reputation, strengthening relationships with consumers that share similar values.
A diversity of people brings a diversity of ideas! With different perspectives brought to the table, brands can distance themselves from competitors and stay ahead of the curve. People notice when you stand out.
- The world is more diverse than ever before
Consumer demographics are changing, with the world becoming more diverse than ever before. Brands who fail to acknowledge this alienate potential consumers and risk losing existing ones.
So, how can clients ensure diversity, equity and inclusion? Simple. To ensure on-screen representation reflects diversity, equity and inclusion, ensure they’re considered off-screen too.”
Want to ensure your productions consider diversity both on-camera & behind the camera? Reach out to us here.