We’ve covered quite extensively the movement within the advertising industry that seeks to dismantle the culture of sexual objectification of women and girls in commercials and the media in general. Whether it is the ‘Miss Representation’ documentary outlining the damaging effects overly-sexualized messages have on youth, the viral ‘LikeAGirl videos aiming to flip the script on a traditionally demeaning phrase, or the #WomenNotObjects campaign started by an advertising executive using her power to change the status quo, it’s clear there is change happening.
But with all movements that are trying to completely upend a system rather than merely focus on one symptom, it needs to focus its efforts on the problem from all angles. For advertising, campaigns are a great way to raise awareness, however there are key positions behind the scenes that can help made a difference. It’s not just advertising executives either. People who direct the commercials are vital to the creative voice and vision of a campaign, and the disparity when it comes to the gender breakdown of directors being hired shows just how much this is part of the problem.
A new non-profit organization has been launched to ensure more women and minorities, specifically women of color, are being seen and hired in order for their perspectives to be included in how characters and messages are shaped on screen. Free The Bid was started by Alma Har’el, director of the award-winning documentaries ‘Bombay Beach’ and ‘LoveTrue’, who wants to ensure more female talent are being considered for major advertising jobs.
The way the process generally works in the industry starts with the client (or brand) who will bring on an advertising agency to help them create a campaign. The Agency then books a production company who will be responsible for filming the actual commercial. It is the production company that hires the director, who will work with the agency in order to confirm the final creative materials before filming. As in Hollywood, the advertising industry is working with a lot of big dollar clients which means they only want to hire the best directors and those with good credits on their resume.
For women and minorities, this can be a catch 22 – there is no shortage of especially female talent available, but because they don’t get booked on commercial jobs at the same rate as men, it becomes harder for them to be seen and considered for opportunities. Free The Bid wants to democratize the process by allowing more underrepresented directors have the ability to bid on big advertising jobs. As outlined on the website, this is not just about gender parity, but smart business.
“Less than 7% of directors are women, and less than 3% of creative directors at ad agencies are women. These numbers are hard to swallow for 50% of the world’s population, especially when the Harvard business review and many publications suggest that women are and the NUMBER 1 consumer group that makes for 85% of product purchase decisions,” the organization explains.
At the bidding stage, ad agencies typically present the client/brand with 3 directors, and because not a lot of women have the same kind of reels to show at the same rate as men, 3 male directors end up bidding for a job. Therefore, production companies don’t necessarily have an incentive to hire more women. Alma’s idea was to get a whole group of ad agencies and production companies on board to ensure every bid has at least one woman director included.
“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. 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,” she said.
Along with its core mission, Free The Bid also plans to feature numerous female directors on its site with links to their work, and find new talent on a monthly basis to add to the list. With so many women in the industry sick of hearing excuses that claim executives can’t find talent and don’t know if it exists, Free The Bid is creatively and actively offering a solution to an embarrassing problem that shouldn’t exist in 2018.
PJ Pereira, CCO and co-founder of Pereira & O’Dell (who Alma has worked with previously on campaigns for AirBnB) reached out to her to let her know he is committing to including one woman on every bid from his company after reading an interview with Alma on Mashable where she explained the industry problem.
“It’s a simple idea that would force the entire ecosystem to consider women directors. The whole corporate world needs to fix its diversity issue. Because it’s the right thing to do but also because it’s a good idea. Creativity is usually explained as ‘thinking outside the box’. It is easier to achieve creativity through diversity. Embracing multiple genders, different races and sexual orientations are all important because they help make companies and brands more creative, empathetic and representative of their customers,” he said.
Iconic director Spike Jonze has become a supporter of this initiative after Alma reached out to him to get his advice and take on how Free The Bid can effectively create change.
“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!” he said about the initiative.
Cindy Gallop, an advertising industry powerhouse who founded advertising firm Bartle Bogle Hegarty, is also in support of Free The Bid and what it is aiming to do.
“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,” she said.
A quick scroll through the website shows how many major brands are already on board with the idea of diversifying the types of directors being hired for jobs – Visa, Toys R Us, and HP are just a few mentioned, alongside a the advertising agencies and production companies who have taken the #freethebid pledge.
In an interview with Forbes, Alma outlines how key partnerships with the Ghetto Film School and Love Malone’s The Group will ensure more women of color specifically are being represented more in these bids.
“We recognize that the pathway to success in the advertising world is not the same for every woman, and that women of color can experience the hardest obstacles in pursuit of a directorial career. With that in mind, we are focusing this year on seeking out and providing special emphasis on work created by women of color…We’re conscious of practicing what we preach, and have made it a point to include team members who represent a wide variety of communities and identities,” she said.
Alma also pointed out in the same interview that some of the high profile commercial controversies such as Pepsi’s faux activism video spot featuring Kendall Jenner might’ve been avoided altogether had there been more diverse voices at the decision-making table in the first place.
“When the team responsible for creating the work reflects the community being represented onscreen, portrayals have a much higher likelihood of feeling authentic and respectful. Let women show you how to look at women, let people of color show you how they see themselves…It’s important that the people telling those stories genuinely reflect the consumers they’re attempting to reach,” she said.
You can learn more about Free The Bid on their website, and if you are a member of the advertising industry we highly encourage you to share this initiative with your peers and support an organization seeking to open up more opportunities for female directors and help continue the empowering shift already happening in advertising.