Portal A, the content company best known for churning out YouTube Rewind every year, has promoted four of its leaders to partner status and given them equity in the business.
It marks the first time its three founders have expanded ownership of the company, barring a minority investment from Wheelhouse Entertainment two years ago. Head of business operations Robyn Buensuceso, head of talent Brittani Kagan, head of production Elyse Preiss and vice president Emma White will become associate partners of Portal A in addition to their current titles.
The 35-person company did not disclose how much equity each is receiving. Zach Blume, who co-founded Portal A alongside Kai Hasson and Nate Houghteling in 2008, said it’s a “meaningful portion of the company.”
Collectively, the four women have spent more than 20 years at Portal A in various positions. According to Blume, the move recognizes that they’ve “earned a seat at the table,” as “they are Portal A as much as we are at this point. We knew that we couldn’t achieve our goals without them.”
Sending a message
Blume said he hopes Portal A’s decision to bring more people—specifically women—into its ownership fold inspires others in the industry to follow suit.
“I hope this sends a little bit of a message out to the industry that women need to have a seat at the table in a meaningful way—on a level of ownership, not just as employees,” he said. “The social movements of the last few years have underscored the urgency of reexamining how companies like ours are led. And the real test is putting it into action.”
In general, women hold far less equity than their male counterparts. A 2019 study published by Carta, an ownership and equity management platform, found that women employees own 49 cents in equity for every dollar men own.
“More agencies and holding companies don’t give women and people of color equity because it dilutes ownership from those currently in power (historically white men),” Kat Gordon, founder and CEO of the 3% Movement, said in an email.
Cindy Gallop, an industry advocate for diversity and founder of MakeLoveNotPorn, said it’s still “extremely rare” for women and other underrepresented groups to hold equity at agencies. She described Portal’s A decision as “one very small step toward equality of opportunity that I would like to see many more agencies taking.”
Gordon said that while leadership roles can bring in job offers and garner a level of respect within the industry, equity “changes the game,” as decisions made about hiring, programs, policies and the like “carry more weight” when an individual has equity.
“Truly transformative culture shifts are more likely to happen when equity is shared among a racially diverse and gender-equal group,” Gordon explained.
She pointed to Time’s Up Advertising, the organization that launched via an open letter in 2018 to address sexual harassment and gender inequality in the industry, as an example of what can happen when women and minorities hold leadership roles but not equity.
“The women who signed that letter had leadership titles but many of them were dismayed at how little impact they had on shifting culture inside agencies they led because they didn’t have the ultimate lever of change: stake in the company,” she said.
Portal A considers itself to be a hybrid of sorts: half entertainment company, half ad agency.
Blume said he and the other co-founders started it as an “original content company” that specialized in creating shows and series for the web. It initially worked with brands to “pay the bills,” but now half of its business is dedicated to creating digital content for marketers.
“We’ve really carved out a pretty unique path,” Blume said. “The next few years we’re focused on building our business with brands and building our original content division.”
Recent output from Portal A includes Action Royale, a scripted show it created for Snapchat last year, and State of Pride, a documentary it produced for YouTube Originals.
On the brand side, Portal A has created work for brands including Ketel One, Lenovo and Target. In recent years, it created a series of videos for Clorox starring influencers that aim to illustrate the durability of the brand’s Press’n Seal food wrap. It also recently worked on a social media campaign for President Joe Biden to help him win the election.
Kagan said she and her fellow associate partners, along with Portal A’s founders, have been “in the trenches together for the last half decade building this company into what it is today.”
“We’ve all been incredibly hands on, collaborating every day to take big swings and ensure a high bar of quality across every facet of what we do,” she said.
White said that the company “has to move quickly to stay relevant” because it’s constantly evolving.
“Expanding the partnership team is an acknowledgment of our contributions to that ongoing evolution and a mandate to keep pushing,” White said. “This is not a performative step; this is very much reflective of the way that we work and the way that we’d like to see the industry move forward as well.”