Merkle B2B’s Jason Fletcher: agencies need to commit to disabled talent

For an industry that depends on fresh perspectives, diverse creative directions and essentially different life experiences, advertising has been poor in implementing disabled people into production crews and teams. A recent study by the Advertising Association found that 9% of disabled talent are employed in the ad sector, compared to 20% of the working population.

The advertising industry may have embraced diversity and inclusion in its creative work with more disabled and ethnic minorities appearing on screens and in poster campaigns, but the same enthusiasm is lacking behind the camera to drive forward real progressive change in the industry.

Agency recruitment policies are beginning to shift along with more inclusive working practices – but what can agencies do to make sure that disabled talent is considered at all levels?

Recruitment mission

Opening dialogues with disabled communities and making it very clear that you are actively wanting to recruit a representative workforce is a fundamental part of the hiring process. However, this doesn’t come without its challenges for agencies looking to find disabled talent.

Merkle B2B helped create a national advertising campaign for law firm Irwin Mitchell with inclusivity at the heart – ‘The Human Touch.’ We reached out to disabled talent using several different methods and gathered a production team made up of 30% disabled talent, with 60% in senior roles. It was one of the most incredible shoots with very talented and skilled people – the behind-the-scenes film shot by director Owen Tooth conveys the feeling on set.

There are services available such as Zebedee that can be used to find disabled talent that may have missed recruitment campaigns, and social media platformslike Facebook that host multiple groups and communities specifically focusing on getting disabled talent opportunities, projects and jobs.

Shaping the system

When hiring disabled talent for production agencies can often feel daunted about accommodating for different disabilities amongst the stress of everyday elements that need to be considered on set. But it’s actually incredibly simple. Time and adaptability are often the key components to making the shoot work, and the ability to cooperate and coordinate with disabled team members requires minor preparation. By directly asking what they need in place and what support you can offer in the first instance to be able to create their best work is all that is needed.

When creating the Irwin Mitchell campaign, meaningful conversations with the crew beforehand led to a smooth production shoot as it included understanding and careful planning for PTSD and accessibility and mindfulness on set for wheelchair users for example.

Agencies need to be prepared to be flexible – but it’s also about finding a production company who can help navigate challenges that will exist. We found Annex Films to be fantastic on this campaign and other companies such as 104 films and Beacon Films are giving disabled people the platform to showcase experience, skills and are highlighting work opportunities on both sides of the camera.

Accomplishing permanent inclusivity

The issue of diversity and inclusion in the advertising industry is still only half cracked – which is why we need to get multiple agencies to start hiring disabled talent.

Moving forward, we need to see a proactive dialogue between agencies and HR leadership, production companies and crews as well as brand marketers and other stakeholders to make this the norm within our industry.

The on-screen push must now be sewn into the very fabric of the creation of campaigns to make sure disabled individuals find a permanent place to feel valued.

Jason Fletcher is executive creative director of Merkle B2B

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