Diversity in the advertising industry requires agency collaboration

Industry-wide challenges can only be truly solved with industry-wide solutions.

The advertising industry is working on the frontlines of conversations about COVID-19, racial injustice and a presidential election that created angst and uncertainty. 

Therefore, we are responsible for ensuring diversity is reflected in not just our internal teams, but those of our suppliers. But while more brand content includes a broader scope of gender identity, race and sexual orientation, diversity behind the scenes is still lacking. 

Grow Your Circle: the backstory

To do our part at Forsman & Bodenfors, we focused this year on changing our partner selection process to ensure we had more diversity. While we had made progress against working with female directors, our production needs were wider than just one role, and our diversity goals reached beyond gender. 

But finding underrepresented talent proved challenging.

So we decided to create an online tool, called Grow Your Circle, that helped us discover diverse talent while providing access to underrepresented entrepreneurs. The platform offers a searchable database with filter menus that help us find the right talent based on expertise, location or specialty, as well as certification -- for example, whether it’s a women-owned small business or a minority owned business.

From competition to collaboration

After seeing how Grow Your Circle worked to broaden our own talent pool, we made the platform available across the industry. Since its soft launch in 2018, we’ve encouraged our competitors to use the tool to find diverse talent, allowing it to facilitate new relationships and incorporate new voices beyond just our agency. 

More than 100 agencies are now using the platform, from big creative shops like 72andSunny and Droga5, to indie production companies such as Prettybird and WAX.

The advertising industry spends $20 billion on production every year. It’s up to all of us to make sure that money is distributed across as diverse a group as possible. 

Moving forward

We hope to work with the industry to grow the database meaningfully year over year, as well as to partner with other industry platforms that help source diverse talent, such as BidBlack and FREE THE WORK.

Industry-wide challenges can only be truly solved with industry-wide solutions. If there was ever an opportunity to band together as an industry, it’s now. Cultural issues are in the spotlight and employees are putting more pressure on employers to facilitate an open, diverse and equitable workplace.   

When it comes to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion, agencies should put aside their competitive tensions to share inclusion tactics, formalize hiring strategies and partner on solutions and provide free and open access to diverse talent with competitors.

Kim Jose is head of integrated production, and Amanda Schultz is executive integrated producer at Forsman & Bodenfors.

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