Agencies, Production Companies Promise to Let Female Directors Bid on Every Pitch

By Patrick Coffee 

We are all well aware that creative leadership teams at ad agencies are now, and have long been, dominated by white guys. But what about the directors behind the ads? You know, the ones whose names often appear near the bottom third of the footlong credits list??

Back in July, Mashable reported on a project in which an unnamed commercial director sought to compile a list of all the active female directors in the industry. This list does not specify the portion of the work assigned to any of these directors, so one can’t be sure whether it directly reflects the amount of available gigs landed by women. But it concluded that less than 7 percent of directors are female, which is less than the same measure based on Creativity/AdAge’s official Production Company A-List.

At the time, Israeli-American director Alma Har’el told Mashable: “There is nothing covert about the discrimination of women when you see the numbers.” And today she launched a related project inspired by the original post called Free the Bid that seeks to counter the gender imbalance in that field with the (tacit) support of several major creative agencies including Pereira & O’Dell, FCB, DDB, BBDO, McCann…etc.


For context, this is the Stella Artois/Mother New York campaign Har’el directed earlier this year.

Free the Bid describes itself as “an Initiative guaranteeing women directors an equal opportunity to bid oncommercial jobs in the advertising world.”

How does it work?

From what we can tell, it’s essentially a word-of-mouth or virtual pledge to treat female directors and male directors equally when making ads, specifically by including at least one female director on the bid for every upcoming pitch. The parties involved will thereby join a group with access to a database of “over 130 signed women directors from all leading production companies including links to their reels and producers.”

The digital incarnation of Free the Bid will proceed to showcase the work of the directors in its database, to keep track of gigs scored by those who are involved in the project, and eventually to have “Organized screenings for ad agencies who want to discover female directors and a system that will allow to track some of the numbers.”

So while it’s not a precise science, it will allow for some degree of checking up on the agencies, production companies and clients that promised to put more women in the director’s seat.

The group includes quite a few major shops and prod cos so far, along with some clients like Nestle Waters, Coca-Cola and eBay (at which former Moxie CEO Suzy Deering now serves as CMO). Director Spike Jonze is also onboard after Har’el reached out to him directly.

Since we’re just rewriting the press release, here are some quotes.

From PJ Pereira:

“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. 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 of society itself.”

From Susan Credle:

“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.”

Jonze said:

“I find #FreeTheBid 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.”

Coca-Cola VP of creative connections Rodolfo Echeverria said: “Loved the idea and every agency in the world makes the pledge so we can solve this problem quickly.”

The problem will definitely not be solved quickly, and the group’s strategy resembles peer pressure rather than a purely market-driven force, but then that market has proven over and over again that it will not change unless absolutely forced to do so by powers beyond its control.

“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.

Will it work? We are genuinely curious, especially since it will require a good bit of collaboration between the brands, agencies and production companies that have signed on. And they all have their own PR teams.