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Lights, Camera, Affirmative Action? Behind the Scenes of Production’s Social Impact


APR gathers industry experts to offer their views on the state of play in the industry regarding ESG - with a special focus on sustainability and DE&I

Lights, Camera, Affirmative Action? Behind the Scenes of Production’s Social Impact

The world of production was built to move quickly. From the often-furious whirlwinds of activity on-set to the efficiency needed to hit shrinking timelines, the industry has rarely if ever been a home to those who stand still. And yet, even amidst this most agile of environments, there have been some conversations which - for many - haven’t quite moved quickly enough. 

Picking through the state of production’s relationship with ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) policies - with a particular focus on sustainability and diversity - is a fascinating process. On the one hand, it’s impossible to ignore the scale of research, initiatives and, yes, success stories that are there for all to see. On the other hand, it’s virtually impossible to conduct a conversation on these topics without hearing some variation of “needs to move faster” expressed as a sentiment. What’s undeniable, however, is that these issues are a major theme throughout the culture of the production landscape - and are already transforming its future. That’s why social impact in production was identified as a ‘Content Creation Trend’ in 2022 by the production consultancy experts APR, who conducted polling amongst their own client base to identify how an awareness of social impacts are changing the industry in real-time. The results were in equal parts fascinating and enlightening. 

For example, APR found that whilst more than half of their clients - 55% - had “defined goals for progress in diversity, equality and inclusion”, far fewer than that number were hitting those targets. Unfortunately that tension, or disconnect, between noble aims and quantifiable successes is a recurring theme when it comes to ESG policies in the production space. However, that’s not because of any insincerity on behalf of decision-makers; rather, defining and measuring success with regard to sustainability and DE&I is simply very difficult. Without expertise, or a reliable partner on-hand, building a successful internal framework is an enormous challenge. 

To delve further into how production is grappling with these issues, and figure out how creative agencies, production companies, and brands alike can become a part of the long-term solution, APR has been collaborating with experts from across the industry. In this report, we’ll hear from AdGreen founder Jo Fenn, Creative Equals founder Ali Hanan, Green the Bid’s cofounder Gabi Kay, and Another Production cofounder Helen Parker, alongside APR’s global director of industry relations Traci Dunne and group director Marisa Tweed. 

A Sea Change in Sustainability? 

First of all, a bit of forgiveness. Production is far from the only industry on the planet wrestling with sustainability challenges. And, while every sector has its own problems to face, there are ways in which those looming over production are especially tricky to confront. “When you’re looking at a direct product supply chain, things are a bit more straightforward”, says Traci Dunne. “You can think about your packaging, or perhaps your distribution, or even the way you make your products. From a marketing and production point of view, it’s much less tangible. Where - and how - are we supposed to start?” 

That question will be hauntingly familiar to many across the industry. Fortunately, however, figuring out those practicalities is becoming easier. A great example of that is the Carbon Calculator, launched by AdGreen last year. The idea behind the calculator is to provide data and insights including the production industry’s entire carbon footprint, as well as a breakdown of carbon impact of different production-related activities. “Since the Carbon Calculator tool launched we’ve seen a brilliant take up in terms of advertising agencies and production companies who have registered to use it”, remarks Jo Fenn. “Currently, around 750 organisations from 20 different countries have created accounts”. 

The data captured by the Carbon Calculator will be put to print in AdGreen’s upcoming annual report - the first of which is set to be published in January. As Traci notes, that kind of data and reporting can be invaluable when it comes to constructing a solid organisational framework. “As a data-driven organisation ourselves, we know the power of having that data to drive behaviour change”, she says. “The reality is that we are tackling years of learned and inherited behaviours. Change is never easy, but we need to remind ourselves that if our planet is to survive, it is essential we work together across our entire industry to do our bit”.

Whilst the scale of the task might be intimidating, there are reasons to be hopeful that the industry is heading down the right track. In addition, there are voices arguing for why the responsibility for improving sustainability on-set might not lay solely on the production industry’s shoulders. “Green The Bid is just two years old, and we’ve already seen a massive shift in the vital prioritising of environmental practices”, says Gabi Kay. “However, we think it is important to note that commercial production is being done at the behest of brands, and if brands want to represent their values in the marketplace it’s up to them as buyers to set clear goals and expectations for how that work gets produced. Green The Bid advocates that sustainability practices should be paid for by the brands commissioning the work, and we recommend that brands and agencies ringfence approximately 1% on top of every production budget in order to cover the costs required”. 

No matter how the responsibility is shared, however, there are still steps that production companies can take to ensure that their own sustainability agendas are successful. As Traci says, “the most important thing companies can do is to ensure that these conversations are not left to the last minute. This comes back to why having data is so valuable - it can ensure that no-one is heading into the wrong direction and you’re much less likely to encounter nasty surprises later down the road”. 

Ultimately, one gets the sense that there is still much work for the industry to do when it comes to finding ways to meet - and improve upon - its sustainability goals. At the same time, the production community has never been so well-informed - or well-equipped - to meet these challenges as it is today. With the help of trusted partners and experts, there are reasons to be optimistic about the ways forward for production in living up to its own sustainability aspirations.

Changing the Picture for DE&I? 

“The unfortunate racial injustices leading up to 2020 called for substantial and immediate change”, notes Marisa Tweed. “It is sad that any of it had to happen to see this shift, but the response we’ve seen across the industry has been phenomenal”.

Listening to Marisa, it’s easy to divide the industry’s relationship with DE&I into pre- and post-Black Lives Matter worlds. Certainly in the US (but also beyond), the cultural moment was transformative in the amount of priority organisations afforded to these issues. “We found that many brands were coming forward with the best of intentions, and they were authentic intentions”, continues Marisa. “But what we’ve found in the years since that moment is that genuinely moving the needle takes a certain amount of structure, organisation, and determination. It’s far from impossible, because we’ve seen some fantastic success stories already - it just doesn’t happen by accident”. 

Ali Hanan, the CEO and founder of Creative Equals, strikes a note of agreement with Marisa. “Measuring DE&I can be daunting because it exposes a company’s performance. Although measurement is essential if change is to happen - they need to know where they’re starting from if they’re ever to know how to improve - it’s common for companies to fear this information”, he says. “In addition, many will be grappling with how to integrate DE&I measures into existing frameworks within the business - or indeed, how to create new frameworks”. 

Increasingly, it’s clear to see that the creation of frameworks - and systems by which success can be measured - are essential to any kind of improvements regarding DE&I in the production space. “In the US, there are third party companies who are able to offer accreditation to confirm if suppliers and other companies are diverse, but outside of the States, particularly in developing markets, these kinds of accreditations are harder to find”, continues Marisa. “As a result, companies do need to put work into this. Add in the element of privacy related to collecting an individual’s information, and it’s not a simple task by any means. The best way to tackle it is to figure out what’s measurable and what’s achievable. We invariably find that success is built bit by bit, rather than overnight”. 

In the UK, one production company which has been able to build DE&I into its model is Another, based in London. In 2019, the company co-founded Equal Lens - a not-for-profit organisation championing the work of women and non-binary photographers to support more pathways into the industry for diverse talent. “For those unsure of where to start or how to approach this, I’d encourage businesses to have more open conversations about diversity with their staff, supply chain and clients”, says Helen Parker, Another’s cofounder. “Set aside the time to analyse how you do business and how you can create a more diverse workplace not just at a project resourcing level, but also contributing to grass roots development”. 

Crucially, Helen and the team at Another also invested time into creating metrics by which their success could be measured and tracked. “We have developed a robust operations model and proprietary analytics to track DE&I on all our shoots and creative campaigns”, she says. “By measuring and reporting diversity statistics on all our projects, not only can we assess our own performance but our clients have full visibility on the metrics and outcomes of a more diverse supply chain which they can then incorporate in their corporate social responsibility reporting themselves”. 

Ultimately, it’s that kind of organised approach to DE&I that is going to bring about the results so many in the industry are pushing for. “What’s good about where we are today is that no one can say they don’t have the means available to tackle these issues”, notes Marisa. “Thanks to organisations like the ANA, AIMM, and Free The Work in the US amongst others, a wealth of information is available about trusted partners and accreditors. The best thing that any organisation in the production ecosystem can do is to find those partners, and begin the necessary work”. 

How Companies Are Getting Started 

As both Marisa and Traci note from APR’s client engagements across DE&I & sustainability, there isn’t necessarily one simple method to ensure success when it comes to incorporating social responsibility in the production world. Whilst some companies have been able to improve their performance quite quickly, others have needed to start from scratch in terms of building the all-important systems and metrics against which to chart their success. 

“In summary, we’d generally offer three core pieces of advice to companies we work with”, notes Traci. “The first is to start somewhere and start now. Trying to get everything sorted before you start is a recipe for never starting - the best thing you can do is to find a partner you trust and begin working together”. 

“Secondly, we absolutely recommend that companies set realistic and authentic goals”, says Marisa. “One of the most common things that we do is carry out a corporate target assessment so we can work out where marketing and production can align to support those targets. We don’t need to boil the ocean - we often find that even small actions can contribute a lot to meeting the right goals”. 

On which note, Traci sets out APR’s final piece of advice for companies in the production space. “Thirdly, don’t overwhelm yourself with data”, she says. “Although data can be a very powerful tool, it’s also easy to get lost in it. Often, one or two data points are all you need to start your journey”.

And so, whilst the picture across the production industry may be complicated, there are also genuine causes for optimism. At this point, enough companies have attempted to invest in socially responsible initiatives that there are existing frameworks upon which decision-makers can lean or be inspired by. Whilst these conversations might not have moved with the industry’s trademark pace, progress is building up momentum. And, as ever, the best time to add to that momentum is today. 


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Genres: People

APR, Tue, 13 Dec 2022 10:29:57 GMT