Nonprofit Free the Bid Is Working to Increase the Number of Female Directors in Advertising

Only 9% of commercials are currently directed by women

Less than 7% of all directors are women, and Free the Bid wants to change that. - Credit by Twitter: @FreeTheBid
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While white men still dominate the advertising industry, brands and agencies are leading the charge to close the gender gap.

Today, less than 7 percent of all directors are women and only a scant 9 percent of commercials are directed by women, according to nonprofit Free the Bid, which has been working to boost these numbers for the past year.

“Women are so talented. We want to see more well-known women’s names coming directly out of people’s mouths, just like men’s are,” Emma Reeves, Free the Bid executive director who heads global expansion, told Adweek today.

Free the Bid was created last year by Pereira & O’Dell’s PJ Pereira and film director Alma Har’el to get agencies to pledge, when hiring production companies, to present at least one female director, among a list of top three, to brands. The once-nationwide initiative has since expanded to Brazil, Mexico, the U.K., South Africa and Australia, while 40-plus agencies and 10 brands, including HP and early adopter HP CMO Antonio Lucio, have taken its pledge.

“I consider Alma a true pioneer and innovator. We share a goal with Free the Bid which is to see more women sitting in the director’s chair,” Lucio said in a statement today. Lucio, in tandem with Free the Bid’s cause, tasked HP’s agencies, BBDO Worldwide, Fred & Farid, gyro, PHD and Edelman, with hiring more women and minorities, primarily in leadership roles.

Alma Har’el

Since BBDO took the pledge last September, it’s seen bidding of female directors spike 400 percent, while women actually hired doubled. Fred & Farid said since it took its pledge, female directors have been included in seven out of its eight film production projects.

“Free the Bid shows that it takes actual commitment to change the ratio,” Har’el said in a statement. “The roots of gender inequality run deep and we are making it easier for people to discover women directors. The drastic change in numbers is a result of many women AND men working together to insure that women directors are given a seat at the table.”

The nonprofit’s list of supporters is growing rapidly, too, with brands like Twitter, Levi’s and LinkedIn taking the Free the Bid pledge this week.

Even so, there is much work to be done. “We will continue to evolve as the industry evolves,” Reeves said, acknowledging to Adweek that there is still a misperception that female directors are used best when the discussion is on beauty products and apparel, for example. “You can’t say women bring a specific thing to the table because they are all unique,” she added.

Plus, Reeves said women directors of color are still vastly underrepresented in the industry—an issue Free the Bid will focus on improving in its second year.

Reeves said 85 percent of all consumer decisions are made by women and when brands take them out of the creative process, not only is 50 percent of the population left out, advertisers could miss their target. Still, it’s not all about the numbers. Free the Bid has sparked a conversation in the U.S. and abroad about gender disparity and led others to follow in its footsteps of breaking the gap down.

On Monday, producer Micki Poklar launched Empress Studios in Los Angeles, a production company that represents female directors only.

“Free the Bid was a huge influence surrounding my decision to launch Empress Studios, because they were taking a bold step toward championing female directors and getting agencies and brands to sign on,” Poklar told Adweek today.

Empress, working “hand-in-hand” with Free the Bid, according to Poklar, serves as a hub for brands and agencies to find and hire female directors, such as Alissa Torvinen, Charlotte Rabate and Montana Mann, who Empress has paired with major brands like Audi, Johnson & Johnson, HP, AT&T and Calvin Klein. “After my 15-plus years in the industry and seeing the inequality female faced first-hand, I felt that it was high time to join our movements together,” Poklar said.

To be sure, Free the Bid says it does not “expect a woman to win the pitch each time” but rather it wants to open the bidding process, controlled by male-dominated agencies who in turn choose male directors, up to deserving women, who have gone unnoticed in the industry. The nonprofit, acting as a resource to these professional women, constantly updates its directory of more than 400 female directors’ reels to be promoted to agencies and brands.

@kitten_mouse Lindsay Rittenhouse is a staff writer at Adweek, where she specializes in covering the world of agencies and their clients.