'Free the Bid' Initiative Calls for Ad Industry to Support Female Directors

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The Free the Bid initiative launched Thursday.
The Free the Bid initiative launched Thursday. Credit: Alma Har'el

We all know Hollywood has been facing intense scrutiny for its lack of diversity and pay gaps with respect to female talent, including directors -- who were behind the camera for only about 7% of the top 250 films last year.

The ad industry is no less guilty of such inequalities. Now, one female director, backed by several high-profile advertising and marketing names, is looking to change the landscape with "Free the Bid," an initiative calling for all agencies to include at least one female director every time it triple-bids a production for a client.

Alma Har'el -- who has helmed spots for Airbnb and Stella Artois, and directed documentary films "Bombay Beach" and "LoveTrue" as well as music video "Fjogur Piano" for Sigur Ros, featuring a balletic Shia LeBeouf -- is behind the new program. It calls for brands to encourage their agencies to include female directors in the bidding process and asks production companies to add more women to their rosters.

Alma Har'el is behind the new program.
Alma Har'el is behind the new program.  Credit: Alma Har'el

The Free the Bid website will host the reels of 130 female directors -- those already signed to production companies and those without representation. It will track the work women do as a result of the initiative. Free the Bid will also organize agency screenings featuring female talent and put on events to showcase work done by those who are part of the platform.

"There's so much talking about women empowerment and the low percentage of women directors but when you see the numbers year after year there's not much change," Ms. Har'el said. "I know how many women can't get a break and I wanted to do something practical and inclusive. I hope that the ad agencies that pledged are going to make a true effort to get more familiar with women directors."

The idea came about after Pereira & O'Dell co-founder PJ Pereira, whom she had worked with on projects for Airbnb, had reached out to her after seeing her quoted in a Mashable piece about gender inequities with commercial directors. The article had examined the rosters of the production companies that made Ad Age and Creativity's Production Company A-List and found that women comprised only 9.7% of the rostered directors at those shops.

Mr. Pereira had seen Ms. Har'el quoted in the article and "the same day I got back at the agency and told people I wanted to have a woman in every triple bid," he said. "It was a no brainer. Everyone agreed."

Ms. Har'el discussed the idea with him over dinner, and it was then that she saw a bigger opportunity that could include other agencies. That led to some brainstorming and "a couple of intense weeks inviting agencies big and small" into the process, Mr. Pereira said.

"I just knew I had to bring that kind of thinking to everyone else," Ms. Har'el said. "The next people to join were 180 ... then Mother pledged. It was right after I directed a Stella Artois commercial for Mother with an incredible creative director named Sasha Markova and we really started talking about it -- how there's never any women. Mark [Waites] from Mother was one of the first people that joined in and I remember his email. I was just sending around this little PDF with the idea and he wrote me 'We're in!'"

That led to intense momentum for the idea, with others signing on. At the time of its launch Thursday, Free the Bid was already backed by top execs including Make LoveNotPorn/IfWeRantheWorld founder Cindy Gallop, Kat Gordon of the 3% Conference, BBDO's Global CCO David Lubars, Joan founders Lisa Clunie and Jaime Robinson, director Spike Jonze and Coca-Cola VP Rodolfo Echeverria.

FCB's Global CCO Susan Credle and CEO Carter Murray, McCann Global Creative Chairman Rob Reilly, Nestle Waters North America Chairman Tim Brown, Ebay CMO Suzy Deering, JWT Global CCO Matt Eastwood, DDB Chief Production Officer Diane Jackson, Leo Burnett CCO Britt Nolan and 180 L.A.'s head of integrated production, Natasha Wellesley, are supporters.

Also on board are Mother's Mr. Waites and Ms. Markova, Phenomenon CEO Krish Menon, Nikki Weiss & Co. founder Nikki Weiss and production companies B-Reel, M ss ng p eces, Epoch Films, Little Minx, Great Guns and Tool, which reps Ms. Har'el in the U.S.

"I hope this stays alive and people who took the pledge are going to use the website to introduce themselves to the good work so many women are doing but also think about how to bring more diversity in general," said Ms. Har'el. "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. "

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