Filmmaker Alma Har’el, the director behind award-winning documentaries “Bombay Beach” and “LoveTrue,” has long also worked in the commercial space, and now she’s setting out to enact change on a side of the industry that is plagued by sexism. With her new initiative, Free the Bid, Har’el is asking ad agencies, production companies and brands to take a simple pledge: For a woman director bid on every commercial. Yes, that’s every commercial.
Prior to its official launch, several of the world’s leading advertising agencies already pledged to #FreeTheBid, including FCB Global, DBB North America, BBDO Global, McCann NY, J. Walter Thompson, Leo Burnett, Pereira&O’Dell, Mother, Joan, Phenomenon and 180LA, all of whom have formally committed to get a woman bid on every job.
Of the new initiative, Har’el said, “I’m starting #FreeTheBid so the ad industry can come together after years of gender bias 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 women be heard.”
Har’el was reportedly inspired to start Free the Bid after a new report on female-helmed commercials revealed some startling inequalities. Per Mashable, where Valentina Valentini reported on the subject earlier this year: “Less than 7% of directors are women, and less than 3% of creative directors at ad agencies are women.”
PJ Pereira, CCO and co-founder of Pereira & O’Dell, previously worked with Har’el when she directed a pair of national campaigns for Airbnb, became a very early supporter of Free the Bid. He commented, “It’s a simple idea that will help the entire advertising ecosystem be more open to women directors. Because it’s right but also because it’s smart. A more diverse industry means a more creative one and a better representation of their customers and of society itself.”
Har’el was moved by the gesture and decided to use the idea to inspire ad agencies, production companies and brands to take the pledge for a woman director bid on every commercial.
Free the Bid now includes an extensive website which, per the project’s kickoff press release, “will feature over 130 signed women directors from all leading production companies including links to their reels and producers. It will curate new unsigned directors on a monthly basis and will keep track of the work that’s being done by women as a result of the initiative. Organized screenings for ad agencies who want to discover female directors and a system that will allow to track some of the numbers are also in the works, as well as events to showcase the work created from Free The Bid’s success stories.”
The Free the Bid team views the database as “a critical resource because it will help the pledged agencies keep their commitment.” As they note, “a few years ago, a similar initiative was launched at the Swedish advertising market called ‘One Out Of Three.’ It was a recommendation in a regulatory document and although it launched an important conversation, it didn’t manage to create a profound impact because agencies were struggling to find women directors. This resource is just a facilitator, however. The real change will happen inside of the agencies.”
In short, Free the Bid is not just another list or compendium of names, it’s a true call to action that will only succeed when real change is initiated.
“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,” Har’el said.