Wednesday, October 26, 2016
  • Friday, Sep. 16, 2016
Free The Bid Looks To Open Up Ad Opportunities For Women Directors
Alma Har'el
A number of agencies and clients support initiative to bid a female filmmaker on every project
  • --

Director Alma Har’el--whose credits include the feature documentaries LoveTrue (which debuted at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival) and Bombay Beach (a Jury Award winner at the 2011 Tribeca Film Fest) as well as notable ad work for Airbnb and Stella Artois--has launched Free The Bid, an initiative designed to put female directors more consistently in the running for commercials and branded content projects.

A Free The Bid website (click here) has been activated with information on the program which calls for agencies to bid a woman director on every ad assignment. Several agencies have already pledged to do just that, including FCB Global, DDB North America, BBDO North America, McCann New York, JWT, Leo Burnett, Pereira & O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA.

Free The Bid is also reaching out to clients and production companies. Clients that have committed to the initiative thus far include Microsoft, eBay, Nestle Water North America and Coca-Cola. Suzy Deering, eBay’s chief marketing officer of North America, said, “The pledge to extend to women meaningful opportunities in our business is a simple and powerful idea. In the advertising industry, addressing diversity is critical to continued growth and success, and at eBay we’re committed to aligning all aspects of our work with our inclusion initiatives.

Rodolfo Echeverria, Coca-Cola’s VP of global creative, connections and digital, affirmed, “Loved the idea and hope every agency in the world makes the pledge so we can sole this problem quickly.”

Free The Bid has also targeted production companies so that an increasing number of female directors are on shop rosters for agencies and clients to tap into. The Free The Bid website features a roster of some 130 women directors, their production house affiliations, links to their reels and producers. Plans are to curate new unsigned directors on a monthly basis and to keep track of the work being done by women as a result of this initiative. 

“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,” said Har’el. “My wish is that the agencies will be able to report positive results and see a real change in numbers a year from now.”

Susan Credle, global chief creative officer of FCB, who was one of the first to join the initiative and helped Har’el reach some of the more prominent agencies, related. “To find great female directors, first you have to look for them. It’s that simple.”

PJ Pereira, chief creative officer and co-founder of Pereira & O’Dell, said the catalyst for him to get proactively involved in this issue was a press interview he read in which Har’el discussed the woefully low number of female-helmed commercials, and the small percentage of female directors and creative directors in the business. Pereira then contacted Har’el--whom he had worked with earlier on a pair of Airbnb campaigns--to tell her that he was so inspired by her words that he instituted a policy calling for a mandatory bid from a woman director on every pitch at his agency. Har’el loved the idea and sought to expand upon it, thus spawning what has become Free The Bid.

Pereira said, “It’s a simple idea that would force the entire advertising ecosystem to be more welcoming to women directors. The whole corporate world needs to fix its diversity issue--because it’s right but also because it’s smart. 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 society itself.”

Har’el, who’s represented for commercials and branded content by Epoch Films (and just joined B-Reel Films as her U.K. ad roost), said, “I’m starting Free The Bid so the ad industry can come together and take an affirmative step towards addressing what stops advertisers from working with women directors. 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 the women be heard.”

On the Free The Bid site, several high-profile industry players expressed support for the initiative. David Lubars, chief creative officer, BBDO Worldwide, noted, “BBDO and I fully support anything that opens opportunity up to people who would otherwise be overlooked. This initiative will undoubtedly allow the industry to discover new talent so it’ll be a win for everyone.”

Cindy Gallop, founder and CEO, IfWeRanTheWorld/MakeLoveNotPorn, and president of the inaugural Glass Lions competition at Cannes in 2015 (the Glass category was launched to recognize work that breaks through gender bias, shattering stereotypical depictions of men and women), said of Free The Bid, “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.”

And filmmaker Spike Jonze, whose work spans features, TV, commercials and branded content (MJZ being his ad roost), observed on the Free The Bid site, “I find Free The Bid so inspiring. It seems like a no brainer. 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.”