Much like creative leaders in the industry, female directors are grossly under-represented. Free The Bid, launched today by Alma Har’el, looks to change that number — and is an initiative guaranteeing women directors an equal opportunity to bid on commercial jobs in advertising.
The director of the award-winning documentaries Bombay Beach and LoveTrue, Har’el was inspired to action after a Mashable article noted that less than 7 per cent of commercial directors are women. The effort has substantial pre-launch backing from the likes of FCB Global, DBB North America, BBDO North America, McCann NY, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett, Pereira & O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA — all of whom have committed to getting women bids on every job. Additionally, brands like Nestle Water North America and Coca-Cola support the initiative.
“It’s a simple idea that would force the entire advertising ecosystem be more welcoming to women directors. The whole corporate world needs to fix its diversity issue,” said PJ Pereira, CCO and co-founder of Pereira & O’Dell, who worked with Har’el when she directed two national Airbnb campaigns.
“Because it's right but also because it's smart,” added Pereira. “Creativity is usually explained as ‘thinking outside the box’. It is easier to achieve creativity through diversity. Embracing multiple genders, races, sexual orientations, nationalities… are all important because they help make companies and brands more creative, empathetic and representative of their customers and of society itself.”
The 3% Conference, founded by Kat Gordon (The Drum are partners in this year’s conference) has helped press the conversation and growth of women in senior creative leadership roles. Though it is improving, there is substantial progress to be made. Similarly, Har’el sees ample opportunity in an oft-ignored part of the industry — and one that directors rely upon for their livelihoods.
“I’m starting #FreeTheBid so the ad industry can come together and take an affirmative step towards addressing what stops advertisers from working with women directors,” said Har’el. “I couldn’t have been an independent filmmaker and make the films I love if I didn’t make a living directing commercials. I want to make sure other women filmmakers have the same chance to sustain themselves while being creative and shaping the way women are represented in advertising. We have to start the change right now in the only practical and effective way – let women be heard.”
Not only have agencies and brands stepped up to the plate, directors and other stakeholders have voiced their strong support of the initiative, including Cindy Gallop and famed director Spike Jonze.
“I find #FreeTheBid so inspiring. It seems like a no brainer,” said Jonze. “Of course we should be getting more women filmmakers to bid on jobs. As with all great ideas, it’s such a simple one and the end result is going to be getting more diverse voices into the conversation and therefore more diverse voices into the work which makes the work better.”
Jonze proved a great inspiration to Har’el in his ability to keep his own voice as a filmmaker while directing legendary commercials. His feedback, along with conversations with women directors and top agencies, helped form the foundation for the effort.
One other key piece of the puzzle is ensuring that a robust database of women directors gets significant exposure. The site will feature 130 signed women directors from leading production companies, will curate new, unsigned directors, and will keep track of the work being done by women as a result of the initiative. Additionally, there will be organized screenings for agencies and events to further showcase the work from Free The Bid’s success stories.
“There are incredibly capable and talented women on the site, but we all know that without the commitment from ad agencies and brands, this would have been just another database of women who deserve a chance. My wish is that the agencies will be able to report positive results and see a real change in numbers a year from now,” said Har’el.
Added Susan Credle, global CCO of FCB, “To find great female directors, first, you have to look for them. It's that simple. #FreeTheBid reminds us all to open our eyes to the less obvious but perhaps even more brilliant choice.”
For her part, Gallop, often among the chorus of industry voices for women, said, “I am absolutely thrilled with this initiative and could not support it more. It appalls me how much our industry, clients and brands are missing out on a huge, untapped, completely wasted pool of female directorial talent, not to mention female talent across all stages of production. A huge amount of money (from creating more brand success for our predominantly female-targeting clients) and awards (for truly innovative, disruptive work) are being left on the table.”