Fujifilm Says ‘We Must Do Better When It Comes to Diversity.’ Fstoppers Interviews Fujifilm’s Head of Marketing

Fujifilm Says ‘We Must Do Better When It Comes to Diversity.’ Fstoppers Interviews Fujifilm’s Head of Marketing

A few weeks ago, Fujifilm announced that it was shaking up its ambassador program — partly in response to the Black Lives Matter movement and the fact that the overwhelming majority of camera ambassadors are white men. I sat down with Fujifilm North America’s head of marketing for digital cameras, Victor Ha, to find out what led to the changes and what the brand is doing to reflect the diversity of its customers.

In the last few months, corporations around the globe have had to react to demands from customers that their branding catch up with public attitudes towards inclusivity and diversity. Rather than posting platitudes on Instagram, companies have been under pressure to make lasting changes.

Camera manufacturers have found themselves subject to scrutiny, suddenly having to explain why their rosters of ambassadors contain so few people of color. In the last month, Nikon added two new ambassadors, and Leica announced a partnership with Devin Allen, a Fellow of the Gordon Parks Foundation.

Fujifilm is no exception. A month ago, Fujifilm France retweeted footage from a Black Lives Matter protest in Lille, prompting questions as to why its lineup of French “X-Photographers” — i.e., its elite team of brand representatives — currently appears to be 19 white men and one white woman, an observation that Fujifilm was keen to address.

Fujifilm France, Sur Le Terrain

The suggestion that camera manufacturers start working closely with advocacy organizations such as Diversify Photo led me to the conversation with Victor Ha, Fujifilm North America Corporation’s senior director of marketing and product management for their U.S. digital camera business, and it emerged that the brand has been doing just that for more than a year, perhaps with the acknowledgment that it still wasn’t working fast enough. “This moment is particularly insightful for us as a brand here in the U.S. because it allowed us to pump the brakes and ask ourselves what we can do to meet the moment,” Ha explained as we discussed Fujifilm’s ongoing efforts to create a brand that is both inclusive and diverse.

A Good Old Boys' Club

In June, Fujifilm published a blog announcing changes to how its ambassadors are selected. Across the camera industry, the process of becoming an ambassador is opaque and you’d be forgiven for thinking that it’s a closed network designed to promote and celebrate its own. For Ha, the murkiness of the process at Fujifilm risked giving it an air of elitism and mutual back-scratching. Ha was blunt: “It was like a good old boys’ club. If a photographer knew you worked at Fujifilm, at some point they would ask you the question: ‘How do I become an X-Photographer?’ It’s funny because no one knew the answer. I didn’t know the answer and I’m supposedly responsible for the team that runs the program here in the U.S.”

As Ha himself acknowledges, like any community centered on a niche interest, the photography industry frequently struggles to look outside of its immediate sphere. Events are populated by the same individuals making introductions to the same type of person, and breaking out of that self-serving circle has clearly been a challenge. If there are no strategies to move beyond those same cliques and disrupt the existing system, nothing will change.

This realization led to Fujifilm’s new approach to creating its team of ambassadors, one where the selection process incorporates voices from organizations such as Diversify Photo and other external industry figures and where the entire lineup is refreshed every four years. To those critics who would argue that the process should be purely about a photographer’s ability, consider this: photography is not a meritocracy and never has been. Furthermore, becoming a brand ambassador has never been solely about being an excellent photographer. It’s about being a good ambassador whereby — as Ha was keen to emphasize — your images are almost secondary to your ability to educate, communicate, represent, and reflect the brand’s values. In effect, Fujifilm is seeking to shift from an unconsciously rigged system of exclusivity to a consciously rigged system of inclusivity.

'We Love Your Brand, but We Don’t Feel Seen'

For Ha, the process started by talking to those existing ambassadors who were from communities of color and getting their feedback on what should change. This involved a group call with 70 of its creators and simply listening to their thoughts and ideas for a couple of hours. “It was a tough conversation,” Ha explained, “because the things that were being said were true and real. They said, ‘We love your brand, but we don’t feel seen, we don’t feel heard, we’re not represented.’ That’s where, for us as a brand, it became an opportunity to have a deeper connection with our audience and find ways not just to make a small group of people feels seen and heard, but our entire audience. That’s the goal. We want to ensure that we’re meeting the needs of the most disenfranchised groups in our audience. It’s been eye-opening.”

The process now involves a public application process to become a Collaborator, the opening tier of partnership with Fujifilm, which means gaining support from Fujifilm for specific projects. After this, a photographer can apply to become a Creator, and Fujifilm announced its first round of new additions — almost fifty of them — on August 1. “At this point,” Ha explains, “you’re not only great at making images and know the brand, but we also believe that you have a passion for education, mentoring, or advocacy in the community. Through the craft of image-making, you’re empowering the world around you to do the same.”

After becoming a Creator, photographers are then eligible to become one of Fujifilm’s X-Photographers which, following the changes, are now renewed every four years. The selection process is done in conjunction with industry professionals from outside of Fujifilm, such as Andrea Wise from Diversify Photo.

In addition to this overhaul, Fujifilm’s current line-up of 16 X-Photographers will see 10 new additions as of September 1 with the aim of creating a team that is more representative of Fujifilm’s community.

Too Much, Not Enough, Should Have Happened Sooner

No doubt some will see these moves as unnecessary and creating their own versions of bias. Ha is not convinced that this is a valid criticism. “Personally, I don’t believe that there’s such a thing as reverse discrimination,” he explains. “When systems are structurally biased, we have to go as far as we can to be inclusive of the most disenfranchised groups. For years, image-makers from communities of color have delivered and created incredible work. We just haven’t had a system to bring them out into the light. We’re trying to give to people, who have long deserved it, a seat at the table.”

Others will ask why it didn’t happen sooner. “I think people are absolutely right in saying that it shouldn’t have required the Black Lives Matter movement for us to take steps,” Ha responds when challenged. “We’re making these changes because we believe that being diverse and inclusive and standing against racism allows us to leave the world better than when we found it.”

Regional Strategies, Global Audience

Ha mentioned that while teams from countries around the world talk regularly with one another, each country manages its own marketing that is specific to the culture of its region. My understanding is that values and priorities are vastly different from one country to another, and while teams might sometimes have contradictory strategies geared towards particular tastes and attitudes, the audience is always global. This probably accounts for why the U.S.A. team working with Ha is moving towards a culture which rejects the language of “shooting” and “taking” in favor of “making” and “creating,” while it’s only been a few months since Japan’s marketing strategy was under scrutiny for promoting the aggressive street photography of Tatsuo Suzuki.

Elsewhere, Fujifilm India has just one female ambassador while Canada, Chile, Poland, Norway, Switzerland, and Portugal cannot muster a single woman between them. In response to this observation, Fujifilm stated that: “Each X-Photographer program is unique to its own region in response to its fans in-market. While our regions are planning an update to their current X-Photographer program, timelines and program details will vary country-by-country.”

Fujifilm X-Photographers, Canada and Portugal

The contrast between regions can be stark and as a global entity, Fujifilm still has some work to do if it wants to align with the values of its North American audience — or at the very least, to prevent one regional strategy from undermining that of another.

What Ha can be sure of, however, is that the Fujifilm community will respond to the company’s decisions, and for Ha, this audience is unique and gives the brand a lot of its value. No doubt, this is challenging, as while there’s a large customer base, the fervor of the brand’s fans means being constantly held to account. They love the products and they love the company’s values, and when Fujifilm falls short, management can be sure that customers will respond. Ha is philosophical. “I can guarantee that we’re going to fail,” he says, reflecting on the company’s strategy in response to Black Lives Matter. “That’s the nature of life. You will fail along the way. But I can guarantee you that when we fail, we will admit our failure, we’ll admit mistakes and we’ll work to improve it.”

For Ha, this failure and the brutal scrutiny that results is part of the process, and despite this certainty, he’s confident that the fans are along for the ride. “What I love about the Fujifilm community is that it understands that things take time. We’re going to make a few mistakes and our community will be right there to help us come back.”

Fujifilm was approached to give this interview. Quotes have been edited for clarity and flow.

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30 Comments

David Pavlich's picture

If I have someone working on my plumbing, I want the best that the company has to offer fixing my plumbing problem. It doesn't matter what they look like, as long as the work is done properly. Ability to perform a task well is #1 on my priority list.

Fuji and the rest of the camera companies need to find the photographers that best represent their companies. This is one of the tragedies of the modern era. Looking for the best fit for a company isn't good enough anymore. It has to fit other's agenda and as long as that agenda is filled, the talent is an after thought.

Alex Reiff's picture

I think the main problem with this analogy is that the ambassadors are basically there for marketing. If customers care about diverse representation in the medium, it's a good business move. It's also hard to argue whether one photographer is better than another when art is inherently subjective.

David Pavlich's picture

I guess I shouldn't use talent as the #1 factor. I'm not sure about others, but if I had a company ambassador, he/she would be very good at what they do, first and foremost. But that's just me. When I was in the corporate world, I had to hire people. I thought surrounding myself with the best that I could find was good for business, not who others thought I should hire.

Dale Karnegie's picture

No offense, but this is why you aren't the head of marketing for a corporation that ships products internationally.

When you choose brand ambassadors, you want to choose a variety of individuals that photographers of all walks of life can relate to. They will all need to meet a minimum threshold of skill, but their primary goal should be to inspire other photographers to shoot with your product.

This means you might hire a charismatic portrait photographer with a youtube channel, a 70 year old landscape photographer with a lifetime of epic shots, a female photojournalist with war stories -- each one is unique and will inspire a different segment of the target market.

The best brand ambassadors are the types of people who audiences can _relate_ to, and because the audience for camera gear is diverse -- you need a variety of different people to create that connection.

Is the youtuber going to be "the best portrait photographer in the world" -- no. but will he sell cameras? yes. Business 101

David Pavlich's picture

Well, that's a sad statement. I guess Fuji should look for young men and women of color that look good, have bright white teeth, dress to the nines, and can hold a camera without dropping it. Sure will sell a ton of cameras, which in itself, is pathetic.

I come from a different generation where results garnered positions within a company. I hired results oriented people, not pretty people. Thankfully, I'm retired. I wouldn't fit well in this agenda driven world.

Dale Karnegie's picture

You can hate it; but, again, that's why you don't work for Fuji.

> I come from a different generation where results garnered positions within a company.

also stop with all the "good old days" garbage. Racial segregation existed until 1964. The pregnancy discrimination act wasn't passed until 1978. An additional civil rights act was passed in 1991 because employers continued to discriminate on the basis of race, gender, etc. I hate it when people glorify the past as if it was problem free

In your generation, people def didn't get jobs on merit alone and marketing worked the same way then as it does now

David Pavlich's picture

We'll just have to disagree with each other. I speak of the past from MY experience and how I handled hiring and promotions. That meant that talent and drive wins, nothing else.

Phill Holland's picture

I do wonder if the overall problem isn't just a race issue, but one of being able to find the talent, promoting yourself to be famous enough to get known, or already be working in those circles.

There are lots of excellent photographers out there from every background struggling to get know for their work, it's not just a race problem, there's a class problem and an overall problem with society, the best photographers are rarely the ones at the top that you've heard of, but the ones you haven't heard of, the ones with terrible marketing skills.

I want a world where we are all on equal footing and competition at the same level, I do worry where all this is going, we really don't want to tokenize people, or make them feel they got a job because they were part of a minority.

Mike Ditz's picture

The agenda of Fuji is to sell cameras...

LA M's picture

This.

And people of color don't sell cameras unless they are the subject...zoomed into the texture of their faces, hands and dire living conditions.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

David, if everyone thought like you, the world would be a much better place.

The problem is when a person is the best, but they are not allowed to participate because they have the wrong skin color or gender. That's what this action from Fuji is about.

In too many institutions in society, white males are over-represented not because they are the best person for the job, but because the selection process directly or indirectly favors white males to the exclusion of everyone else.

Any system or selection process that does not give the entire talent pool equal consideration is a system that does not deliver the most qualified talent available. So you don't get the best person fixing your plumbing. In too many instances, "the most qualified talent" is actually the most qualified talent within a subset based on race and gender.

Nobody should be accepted into the ambassador program because they're Black or a woman. But nobody should be excluded for those reasons, either, and that's exactly what's been happening by Fuji's own admission.

A fair system means that everybody has an equal shot. That's not how their ambassador program has been working and now they're trying to fix it. This shouldn't bother anyone who respects fair and open competition where the best talent wins.

Mike Ditz's picture

I hope that the women or POC are not intentionally excluded, I think they are not even on the radar in many cases.
I think the ambassador gigs are looking for influencers who have an appeal to certain demographics with money to spend. And who give good FB and IG. Speaking as a middle age plus white guy I think the middle age, middle of the road white guy demographic is pretty well covered by enough ambassador spokespeoples...

I went to see a retouching demo with a very high end retoucher, very talented but not a great presenter. Another retoucher demo giver was equally talented but interacted with the attendees.
If I was going to hire one to plug my products, it would be the one who checked both boxes.

David Pavlich's picture

Lenzy...I get that. Maybe I'm a bit jaded, but I hired people from their resume first and the interview second. I worked around heavy equipment as a site manager and I needed good mechanics, welders, and operators. If a person could do what I needed, he/she was hired. Maybe just a bit selfish on my part, but I didn't want to have to hover over my people to ensure things were being done properly. Why have an office job and have to be in the thick of the dust, dirt, and grease? :-)

I know that there are people out there that would rather chew glass than hire someone that doesn't fit their 'look'. That is pathetic in the extreme. I'm not sure what to do about that. Heck, if I knew, I'd be the world's first benevolent dictator. :-) I doubt that this ongoing struggle will end before I assume room temperature. I wish it would so that I could see it. Maybe my son will get to experience it. We can only hope.

Cool Cat's picture

Pretty soon you will be called racist if you don't like black beans. It's so sad it's funny.

Perry Valton's picture

What if I don’t like white beans?

Christian Fiore's picture

The navy beans will hate you.

Rogério Peccioli's picture

An ambassador must be chosen for his work, not for his color.

Mike Ditz's picture

or her color ;-)

Nope, it's not a sports team where to top scorer is the "best", camera ambassador-mastersoflight-dreamcatchers are there for marketing. To sell Fuji to different people.

The "best' photographer may be a total a-hole who smells bad and kicks puppies. While Fuji is fine with selling him or her cameras they don;t want that person shilling for them. They want people who are very capable photographers, communicators, influencers, youtoob makers and instrgammers.

Timothy Turner's picture

black lives matter
black beans matter
black eyed peas matter
black widows matter
blackened chicken matters
black eyes matter
if it's not black it doesn't matter

Cool Cat's picture

I'm giving you a "thumbs-up" because you are naturally funny. And your photography isn't too bad either. Have a nice day Tim.

Austin Drawhorn's picture

I don't see how Fuji wanting to be more inclusive with its ambassadors is anything but good news.

X-Photographers (and all other ambassadors) are skilled photographers brought in to sell camera gear in one way or another. And the vast majority of them are currently (white) dudes.

The kind of people quickest to throw their hands up and claim "it should be merit, not race" are probably already represented in these ambassador lists; already having their work seen, already being marketed to.

Ed C's picture

Was the black power logo you are showing your idea or theirs? Black power is NOT the same thing as diversity.

LA M's picture

They haven't had a single X-Photographer (of color) who attended any of their high profile events.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Thanks for doing this interview, Fstoppers. I'm a Fuji shooter and I'm going to take a shot at applying for the ambassador program because of this.

I think it's important to point out that no one is suggesting that Black people or women should be accepted into the program because they are Black or are a woman. Too many people get confused on this point.

The point of this action by Fuji is that no one should be automatically excluded from the program because they are Black or are a woman, which is exactly what has been happening by Fuji's own admission.

Whether it was done deliberately or it was just a consistent outcome from their undefined selection process, their ambassador program has excluded Black people and women because of race and gender.

That's something that should be fixed. And anyone who believes in fair and open competition shouldn't have a problem with that.

LA M's picture

Please don't. Don't be a Token.

If they were genuinely interested in non-asian/non-caucasian representatives of their brand, they would have made more of an effort before now.

The only people that matter to this company are white/Japanese.

Reward brands that see your value, not your "black card" for entry into our markets.

Cool Cat's picture

Don't sell yourself short. And let me give you a good example why not too. "I once had a black girlfriend. She was beautiful, sweet, very charming, caring of others and I melted ever time she kissed me. But I didn't go out with her because she was black". If a company gives you a chance to be their ambassador because you're black.. it's totally the wrong reason.

Timothy Linn's picture

You should apply, Lenzy. You are an effective communicator who is able to express an opinion on this rather polarizing topic without being harsh or offputting, something that can be a challenge regardless of which side of the issue one falls on. I'll bet you would be an asset to Fujifilm.

Lenzy Ruffin's picture

Thank you, Timothy. I applied right after I saw this article. I believe in controlling what I can control and always doing what I can do to be part of the solution. This issue is way too important for me to do otherwise.

There are lots of important stories that Fuji could amplify with a more diverse pool of ambassadors.

Here's an interview I did with a chef who saved her own life by learning how to treat her Crohn's disease by cooking with cannabis:https://vimeo.com/306697099

She'd gone down to 84 pounds on traditional medication before researching holistic alternatives and now she runs a catering / cannabis education business where she teaches people how to heal themselves through diet.

Last year, we recorded a few episodes of a cooking show for her. Here's one of the episodes: https://vimeo.com/334551152

Tomorrow, we're going to start recording to produce five episodes per week, every week.

Here's another story of a concerned parent turned school muralist who went on to paint a mural for the Superbowl in Atlanta a couple of years ago: https://vimeo.com/322267199

I have dozens of interviews like these, all shot with Fuji gear. These stories are everywhere and the world can't see them without a diverse pool of ambassadors.

I'm going to give Fuji a chance to demonstrate they mean what they're saying.

anthony marsh's picture

Yet another company led by cowards bowing in obeisance to a terrorist group BLM .I had considered beginning to try FUJI film having used almost exclusively KODAK and ILFORD,however I will NEVER buy any product offered by this company. Those who believe in true social justice please join me in a boycott of FUJI unless and until it ceases to be a pawn of a terrorist group.