While the nation didn’t quite break the glass ceiling at the White House this year, women entrepreneurs and creative pros long ago shattered that ceiling in the advertising/creative content production and post production world. Whether it’s running agencies, production studios, post houses or casting agencies, or working at the highest levels as directors, editors, digital artists, composers/sound designers and mixers -- women have been leaning in and getting it done for decades.
What is new is the number of women owned businesses going strong today. According to the 2016 “State of Women-Owned Business Report,” the number and economic contributions of women-owned firms continue to rise at rates higher than the national average – 36 percent coming from the arts and entertainment industry alone.
But those are just stats. Are those numbers borne out today by those women on the front lines running their own businesses within the advertising production and post niche? By and large yes. More women are running successful companies, but as you’d expect, their individual journeys getting there differ as widely as the challenges they faced.
For SourceCreative readers this is an issue that remains hugely important, so we asked a collection of leading female entrepreneurs – ranging from content production companies like @LArge Productions + Post, Cutter Productions, Derby/New York, Blonde + Co and Traveling Picture Show Company, editorial/post houses like Hootenanny, to one of the industries top award-winning casting specialists Liz Lewis Casting Partners – to share their experiences in dealing with gender issues and how optimistic they are about the future.
Flipping Gender Roles:
At Hootenanny, the editorial/post studio based in Chicago, Editor/Owner Liz Tate sees a push in the industry to promote diverse creative voices, with an increased emphasis on the value of having a women’s perspective when creating content for today’s consumer.
“Stereotypical gender roles in ad storytelling are becoming a way of the past,” Tate says. “Not to underestimate the work of our male editors, but Hootenanny’s female editors can bring a unique creative view to the projects that women consumers can relate to. And that includes products like beer, not just tampons."
With work on the Hootenanny reel geared toward the female consumer like Allstate, McDonald’s and Always, the reel caters to the fact that women are making the majority of decisions about buying in their households.
"I think agencies are coming around to seeking diverse talent," Tate states. "With movements like #FreeTheBid, which asks agencies to bid a female director on each job, I'm hoping that editorial will be the next area where agencies will be looking for female talent and female ownership."
While that is certainly encouraging, there are always subtle and not so subtle reminders that many of the decision makers at the highest levels, whether at agencies or brands themselves, remain men.
“I know there have been times when I was not chosen as the editor on a project because I was a woman,” Tate says emphatically. “While it’s not quite as prevalent as it was, there has been a boy’s club in advertising that has not always been kind to women. I think owning my own shop was a way that I could have more control over my own destiny as an editor and also create the workplace I wanted to be in every day.”
That notion of entrepreneurship as a way of affecting change in ways big and small is one that rings true with other women business owners.
Take The Traveling Picture Show Company, whose recent noteworthy projects include a co-branded spot for Amazon Echo and Genesis, Budweiser and Hormel featuring comic/musician Reggie Watts. CEO Carissa Buffel is co-owner of the LA-based content production company working with Executive Producer Dawn Clarke.
“I’d agree that there has been an increase in women owned companies since I started in this business,” Clarke says. I’ve had the privilege of working with so many smart, talented women in positions of authority in my career and it’s inspiring to see them further rise into ownership positions.”
From Buffel’s perspective, she’s never looked upon what she’s done or how she got to this point in her career from a gender perspective.
“Like everyone, I aim to do good work and hope it speaks for itself,” Buffel says. “As a company we have tried to create an environment where everyone feels their voice is heard. Specifically as a women-owned company that has been an important step not only in what we do internally, but in how we are viewed by the industry.”
Learning In A Big Way:
For Hillary Cutter, the owner of production company Cutter Productions known for its ads, network promos and branded content work for such clients as ABC-TV, Colgate, NFL Network and Under Armour, she still recalls an account manager at an agency client who “behaved like a bully on the playground.”
“I couldn’t quite put my finger on what I did wrong and what I needed to do to win him over,” Cutter recalls. “It was my director on the job who was able to finally identify what was going on -- he basically told me ‘Hillary, he doesn’t respect women, that’s why he is being so mean.’”
Fortunately incidents such as those have been few and far between, but that didn’t stop Cutter from launching Cutter Connections two years ago -- a mentorship program created by women for women in the entertainment industry.
“For the past two years,” Cutter says, “female professionals from various fields ranging from TV Production to Commercial Audio to Film Editing, and positions ranging from Producer to Composer to Marketing Executive and more, have donated their time to provide guidance and advice to aspiring young women looking to enter their fields.”
She continues, “In 2010, Cutter Productions became certified as a Women-Owned Business and this has become a huge part of our company messaging and branding. We want to be a voice to female entrepreneurs, artists and filmmakers. Since becoming a Women-Owned certified company, I’ve mentored several other female business owners in the certification process. I want every woman business owner to be able to wave the WBE logo and feel proud of their accomplishments.”
Blonde + Co’s Founder/President Julie Stahl also sees reasons to be optimistic in terms of more female business owners stepping up and putting their stamp on their own company.
“I have definitely met a lot of women who own businesses in our industry lately, but there is still a lot of gender stereotyping in our society so we have to work harder,” Stahl says. “It’s still a patriarchal society we live in and I fear we’re going to go backwards before we can go forwards again. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve seen surprised expressions when I have been introduced as the owner of the company. Those moments have only served to motivate me further.”
For Stahl, whose company’s recent work includes branded content for leading fashion brands like Maybelline and Redken, as well as the powerful anti-domestic violence campaign #NotAFan and original content they hope to unveil in 2017, she’s gone out of her way to build a company that is incredibly diverse ethnically and cultivates shared values in terms of the environment, education and the world we hope to leave behind to the next generation.
“I wanted my company to reflect the world,” Stahl explains, “which is why our team runs the nationality gamut -- China, New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Dominican Republic, France, Mexico, Greece – are represented. Passion is our number one factor when we hire for any role here. It’s our diversity that gives Blonde the ability to communicate our work globally.”
Grow Your Network:
@LArge Productions, the full service production studio whose indelible stamp can be seen on current work for Ancestry.com, Athene Financial, Cabela’s and Gillette, boasts not one female entrepreneur but three. The company is led by the power trio of Tracy Mays, Beth Aranda and Ashley Hydrick, who bring their respective expertise in creative development, production and post to bear for their clients’ creative needs, advising today’s female grads entering the ad industry not to dwell on slights, real or perceived. Rather, stay focused on the work and most of all -- grow your industry network.
“The biggest key to success is doing something that you love,” Mays says. “Find what turns you on and do that. No amount of pressure from external sources will be a bigger motivating factor than what feeds your soul. Once you find that, everything else flows easily because you enjoy everything in its path, even the hard stuff.”
Aranda offers, “Keep moving forward toward your dream and goals. Listen and watch everything and everyone in your path. Pay attention to the details and, above all, network like crazy.”
Closing The Gap
Mary Crosse, the founder of production house Derby, New York, whose work runs the gamut from the dramatic for Sports Illustrated to epic and hilarious slow-mo water balloon fight for S’well bottles, to the downright silly as in their Lucky Charms spot featuring 80s rapper Biz Markie rapping about marshmallows, remains cautiously optimistic about the strides in women business ownership.
“Women are great producers, and more and more women are becoming producers, so one might think it would be natural that more would start production companies,” Crosse notes. “But when you look at the number of female producers there are versus the number of female entrepreneurs there are, there is still a huge gap.”
Crosse adds, “There are certainly always going to be some who will never accept your success at a certain level. I think most women are discriminated against in ways they don’t even realize -- small, unseen actions.”
One aspect that everyone we spoke to seemed to agree with is the notion of mentoring the next generation of women, whether through organized programs like Hillary Cutter’s own Cutter Connection program or just through acts of simple kindness where women entrepreneurs attempt to impart some of the wisdom they’ve gleaned to the next generation of female entrepreneurs.
As for mentoring, @LArge Productions’ Ashley Hydrick adds it’s everyone job to be a mentor to the next generation of talent. “I often set aside time with our young up and coming directors and give them extensive notes on what I think will make both them and their work more ‘saleble.’”
“Recent college graduates have so many more opportunities than I ever had,” Lewis notes. “If you have a passion for the entertainment industry, you need to jump in and learn as much as you can. Work long hours, ask questions and volunteer. The object is to become indispensable so that you will be hired for a full-time job gig.
She also stresses the value of finding a mentor who can help you find your footing in the business. “I have mentored many people who are now very successful in casting or in other areas of the entertainment business,” Lewis says. “I enjoy being able to give back and help young women find their passion and take a risk. I love what I do and enjoy helping others see the joy and excitement of casting.”
Lewis adds that when she started Liz Lewis Casting Partners, she never saw herself as a minority because so many casting directors were women. But as a woman dealing with men in advertising it was tough in the beginning.
“I had to stand up for my rights and speak louder, and as a result, I became the go-to person who was respected because of my abilities not my gender,” Lewis offers. "We try to add women to projects because their unique voice enhances the feeling in a positive way in advertising. Their voices need to be heard. Women have a finesse and smoothness that is clearly different than men. Not better, necessarily, but women definitely bring unique energy to the table that compliments many projects.”
As for the current political climate, Hootenanny’s Tate sees a potential catalyst for change that could ultimately lead to something positive.
“One of my priorities as we start 2017 is to make a daily effort to forge connections with other women-owned businesses and women creatives and figure out ways that we can work together,” Tate says. “Maybe it’s the current state of politics, but I feel very motivated in the past few months to collaborate with women and make sure that our voices are being heard.”
Cutter couldn’t agree more, “I’ve personally made it my mission to seek out and partner with other women-owned production/post-houses and freelancers. I want to be an advisor, supporter and cheerleader to any woman who is taking the leap to launch her own creative business.”