Free the Bid, a non-profit initiative that asks agencies to include a female director on every triple-bid project, is celebrating its first year with an expansion of its efforts and renewed funding by HP.
The initiative, which also asks production companies to sign more female directors and marketers to seek one woman’s bid on each of their commercial productions, is making a dramatic change in the ad industry’s hiring of female directors, contributing to an increase in hires and bidding of female directors of as much as 400% (in cases of agencies CP+B and BBDO).
This contrasts to the numbers of female directors in Hollywood, which despite success stories of films like Patty Jenkins' Wonder Woman, have been reducing. Women comprised just 7% of all directors working on the 250 highest-grossing domestic releases in 2016, indicating a decline of two percentage points, according to a new report from the Center for the Study of Women in Television and Film.
Born out of a conversation between PJ Pereira, chief creative officer of Pereira & O’Dell, and director Alma Har’el, Free the Bid quickly gained momentum after its launch in September 2016. The initiative encourages gender parity in the advertising industry, where less than 7% of directors are women and only 9% of commercials are directed by women.
More than 40 agencies are supporting the initiative, including: BBDO Global, FCB Global, J. Walter Thompson Global, Y&R Global, McCann Global, Pereira & O’Dell, Saatchi & Saatchi LA, Campbell Ewald and DDB.
Antonio Lucio, chief marketing and communications officer at HP, was an early supporter of Free the Bid.
“HP was the first sponsor for Free The Bid, and I consider Alma a true pioneer and innovator. We are thrilled to continue to support this essential organization as we work collectively to drive systemic change in our industry. We share a goal with Free the Bid, which is to see more women sitting in the director’s chair. Diversity is a business imperative and leads to more authentic and creative outcomes reflective of the communities we serve.”
Lucio’s words were supported by his actions, as HP presented a ‘Business Powered by Diversity’ event during Advertising Week New York. Emma Reeves, Free the Bid executive director, joined Lucio as he announced that HP would be renewing fiscal support for Free the Bid for a second consecutive year with a donation.
“Free The Bid shows that it takes actual commitment to change the ratio. The roots of gender inequality run deep and we are making it easier for people to discover women directors by working together with the whole industry. The drastic change in numbers is a result of many women and men working together to insure that women directors are given a seat at the table. The support of HP and Antonio Lucio has made it possible for me to take this initiative, which started on my laptop, and expand it from a conversation about Ad land’s gender imbalance into a global movement. Now that we’re about to venture into our second year, our focus is going to be on increasing the number of women directors of color, and creating opportunities for more brands and ad agencies to implement Free the Bid around the world,” said Har’el.
"Since committing to Free the Bid in November 2016, half of our competitive triple bids in film and photography were awarded to women who clearly had the best approach and merit. Free the Bid works,” added Glenn Cole, creative co-chair, founder of 72andSunny.
Cindy Gallop, founder and chief executive of IfWeRanTheWorld/MakeLoveNotPorn, and former chair BBH New York, said: "I am blown away by everything that Alma Har’el has achieved with Free the Bid in the space of just one year. Now I want to see Free the Bid scale to the point where the moment directors begin being discussed for a project, the very first names on the agency team's lips are as much female as male.”
The Free the Bid website holds a constantly updated directory of over 400 women directors’ reels and is rapidly becoming the number one resource for women directors from around the globe, with editorial content, interviews, and a filterable database, which enables companies to source directors by location and a wide variety of skill sets, soon to include VR and tags for multi-lingual directors.
For its one year anniversary, Free the Bid is releasing two videos that celebrate a handful of the countless success stories of directors being discovered through the Free the Bid site.
New York-based director Crystal Moselle, winner of the Sundance Grand Jury Prize for documentary ‘The Wolfpack’, was an early ally and direct beneficiary of the initiative. As Moselle said during a panel hosted by HP during this year's Cannes Festival: “The week Free the Bid debuted, I'd gotten more calls than I've ever gotten, and it's continued," Recently, her association with Free the Bid helped her land work for big brands such as eBay.
A second video captures Lauren Palmigiano (LP), who was discovered by The New Yorker through the Free the Bid site and invited to direct some of TV’s brightest creators, such as Issa Rae and Broad City duo Abbi Jacobsen and Ilana Glazer.