The 3% Accelerator: Bernadette Rivero
The 3% Accelerator is a business and wellness initiative for women entrepreneurs of color. The program supports creative visionaries who are building the agencies and companies that they want to work for during the critical early years of entrepreneurship. The Accelerator addresses key business challenges, profession- al and business development, leadership, as well as personal support for the unique challenges that women of color in the creative industry experience.
Meet one of the nine women, Bernadette Rivero.
President The Cortez Brothers, Inc., CortezBrothers.com / @CortezBrothers
Tell us about your background. Where are you from? What makes you you?
I’m a former international broadcast journalist; I worked for CNN and NPR, The Marketplace Morning Report, and was a one-woman-band chasing hurricanes, mudslides, and earthquakes for The Weather Channel with a camera in one hand and a mic in the other before wrangling content productions from slightly firmer ground here in Los Angeles. I like chasing stories and producing them and traded in my run-and-gun style of work for bigger, more cinematic, more collaborative productions based on my experience learning about story and character development at ABC, Disney, and FOX Studios. I love the variety and flexibility of producing branded content; my first job as a 14-year-old was working at an in-house advertising agency, and ALL content production is exciting to me, regardless of format. I’m Mexican-American, and grew up about an hour from the border – the Canadian border, that is.
Tell us about your company. What do you do? What prompted you to start it?
The Cortez Brothers, Inc. is a creative production company based in Los Angeles that specializes in creating original content, even during the pandemic -- we’re specialists in both overseas filming and remote shooting. Our clients are mostly Fortune 500 brands, their ad agencies, and film and TV studios in Hollywood and abroad. It’s the result of a lot of late nights lying in bed, being kept awake by the same question: “How long do we have to wait until Latinos get to tell their own stories?” So that’s what we do… in addition to telling our clients’ stories (regardless of their cultural background), too. Collaborating to get content created (with directors, producers, cinematographers, art directors, wardrobe, etc.) is addictive.
What are some challenges you’ve faced in getting your business off the ground?
The minute you say you’re culturally fluent, or an expert in multicultural content, the budget you get to work with is slashed to about 33 cents on the dollar, and you get about a quarter of the time and resources as a “General Market” shoot – so being seen as capable of doing BOTH General Market AND multicultural shoots is a constant struggle… We’re trained, capable, and primed, but fighting for every opportunity.
There’s also the bias of having an ethnic name, and representing multicultural directors: you can maybe get away with one or the other, but both is a double-whammy of expectations where ad agencies always want to confirm if we speak English (I feel pretty solid on that one with my family having lived on US soil for a few hundred years), or if our Puerto Rican directors have a visa so they can work in the US (this question may be why rum exists in the first place), etc. So we have to work harder for people to see us and get to know us – but once they do, we have a lot of repeat customers who rely on us (and even better, trust us) long-term.
As a woman of color who are your biggest inspirations?
Maria from Sesame Street was the first (and for what seemed like decades, the only) Latina I saw on TV; as an adult, I appreciate that Sonia Manzano, who played her, was also a writer on the show, and who contributed to that content being created in the first place. Ava DuVernay was a director I tried signing to my company ages ago before she hit the big time and when I was looking for directors who cared deeply about multicultural content, and while I couldn’t sign her – she had signed with another production company a few days prior – she sent other promising Black directors my way, and I’ll never forget the graciousness and enthusiasm she had for making sure other underrepresented talent got some much-deserved attention… and that was both an inspiration and a business practice I strive for even now, every single day.
What can our community do to support you?
I’d love to find a long-term agency and/or brand partnership who we can produce content for routinely; we have a deep, varied roster of directors, each specializing in a different genre and style of shooting, and we are primed and ready to shoot across the US as well as internationally. Put us in the game, Coach!
Single-bid opportunities are also deeply appreciated; we get a few of those a year and they make such a positive impact on our business. Everyone keeps asking, “Where are all the minority directors? Where are the women directors?” and the answer is, on the roster or the back pocket of diverse production companies like mine – and single bids help give us, and them, staying power AND opportunities to prove what we can do.
Triple bids where we get the same specs and turnaround time as other bidders would be helpful, too – when brands and agencies ask for multicultural directors or vendors it’s almost always as an afterthought… We’re called in last and might only get 24-48 hours to put together a bid and director’s treatment when other bidders have a week’s head start. Talking about who gets invited to bid, and WHEN, is important.
Finally, I’d love to see minority-owned production companies invited in to bid – we see a lot of requests for diverse directors, for diverse crews, but that can feel like putting the cart before the horse: on our last remote shoot, half of our team were women; it was helmed by a pair of Latina directors; our US crews will sometimes be 40%-70% POC, and that’s what we naturally bring to the table in terms of cultural fluency and diversity when we get invited in from the start. Something as simple as seeing a job lead that starts out with, “We’d love to see some options from minority-owned production companies” would make a night and day difference in my everyday business life.