Rita Ferro: Building a Diversity Muscle at Disney Ad Sales

By MediaVillage Education Foundation Archives
Cover image for  article: Rita Ferro: Building a Diversity Muscle at Disney Ad Sales

For Disney Ad Sales president Rita Ferro, the quest to expand diversity within her organization, other branches of parent Walt Disney Company and the media industry at large, is a muscle that entails consistent, intentional development and exercise in order to function. (You can watch their entire conversation in the video above.)

"There's an unbelievable amount of work that remains to be done," Ferro declared minutes into her afternoon portion of the Advancing Diversity virtual conference's second day. "You have to be extremely patient." Nevertheless, there's no question media companies have made substantial progress, inside of an ongoing coronavirus pandemic, to nurture a diverse workforce that produces diverse, impactful content and ad campaigns, Ferro told MediaVillage and AdvancingDiversity.org founder Jack Myers.

"Our company has understood the importance of having diverse voices and diverse storytellers to represent the audiences we serve. We've doubled down over the last 18 months. I'm encouraged by the momentum I see," Ferro continued. "It's never going to be back to where it was. I don't think anyone in the industry will allow it."

In recent months, Disney Advertising Sales has launched several diversity-expanding projects that encourage participation from their clients. One is "Project Elevate," an outreach crafted to accelerate the growth of minority-owned small businesses with nationwide potential. Ten companies will be selected to tap resources of Ferro's organization and possibly various brands. The resources range from customized ad campaign development and opportunities to showcase over Disney's media landscape, to consultation on ad creative.  The first pair of participating minority-owned enterprises are vegan candle maker CAVO, based in San Francisco, and Korean culture-influenced natural skin care product line Glow Recipe, the beneficiary of investor funding on an episode of ABC's Shark Tank.

The other eight companies will be announced and start their "Elevate" relationships in the coming months. Ultimately, the goal is giving all 10 participants the best environment to engage their target consumers. "When you learn how to do something, you earn your business and well-being," Ferro said.

Another venture getting off the ground involves the universe of historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). This one has multiple layers, such as clearing a path for advertisers to launch ongoing campaign and employment relationships with HBCUs and encouraging brands to run messages on ESPN and other Disney TV channel content featuring HBCU activity on-and-off campus. Ferro also wants her organization and advertisers to reach out to HBCU students and advocate the benefits of a media career, whether in programming, ad sales or data research. Such joint advocacy can be extended to state schools across the nation.

What's critical, now that the business benefits of expanding diversity in every possible direction are getting through to executive management, is for media companies to develop road maps and milestones to accomplish broader results. "We all have to be accountable, be responsible, be allies and show empathy to one another," Ferro suggested.

As for people of color and members of other diversity groups looking to break into media, a big key to that breakthrough is being as prepared as possible to assume that media role when the invitation is extended.

"Don't let anyone make you feel scared or afraid," Ferro advised. "Do your best job and surround yourself with the smartest people around. Know your work. You're good enough to be there."

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