Tone-Deaf Commercials: How Free The Bid Is Disrupting The Cycle Of Exclusion For Women Directors Of Color

Lauren Wesley Wilson
Written by Lauren Wesley Wilson

Free the Bid
Alma Har’el, creator of Free the Bid. Image: Forbes

When you’re watching TV commercials, do you know if the commercial is directed by a man or a woman? Chances are they are directed by a man as there are so few opportunities for women directors of color in TV and film.
Alma Har’el created Free the Bid to provide opportunities for women and women of color directors in advertising.

The goal is to have more women included in the commercial bidding process, which ultimately can lead to being booked to direct commercials. When an advertising agency brings on a production company, Free the Bid advocates that at least one female director should be presented to a brand for consideration in directing. If you’re not in the room or part of the bidding process, then you’re exempt from the opportunity. Alma Har’el wants women to have a seat at the table and equal opportunity in the commercial bidding process.

When Free The Bid started, women were directing only 8 percent of jobs, according to Har’el.

I sat down with Har’el to get insight on how she started Free The Bid and how she is providing opportunities for women of color.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: Why did you decide to create Free the Bid?

Alma Har’el: Free The Bid was founded in 2016, after an interview I gave to Mashable about the lack of women directors in advertising, which led to a conversation with ad agency founder PJ Pereira of Pereira & O’Dell about how to open up opportunities for women directors in advertising.

As an independent documentary films director and advertising director, I found that time after time, I was the first and often only woman brought in to work on commercials for any brand.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: How does the commercial bidding process work?

Alma Har’el: A commercial is usually triple bid between three directors. That means that the ad agency comes up with a creative idea and they need to find a director for it. They get three directors, and the production companies that work with them, to compete for directing it. The directors that get chosen to bid and compete on the commercial are chosen based on their reels.

It all ties in with the lack of opportunity for women in filmmaking. The filmmaking and the ad world both feed into each other.

Now, take into account that in 2016, women directors made up just 7 percent of all directors on the top 250 films, a 2 percent decline from 2015. It’s an endless cycle of lack of opportunity. What we’re doing with Free The bid is disrupting this cycle that is keeping women out of directing commercials.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: How has Free the Bid grown over the last year?

Alma Har’el: Currently, 11 major brands including HP, Visa, Twitter, eBay and more and nearly 50 of the world’s largest advertising agencies are pledged to Free The Bid. This means that one of every three directors that triple bid will be a woman. They don’t have to hire a woman, just give her a seat at the table.

This is a principle and not a rule, and it is also meant to inspire the practice of discovering women’s talent, which we support with our database of over 400 women directors reels, searchable by category.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: How have advertising agencies benefited from the partnership?

Alma Har’el: Michael Fassnacht, CEO & President of FCB Chicago, reported that they’ve included a woman director for consideration in 95 percent of their production bids, as opposed to only 40 percent prior to taking the pledge. A woman director was awarded the job on 30 percent of the projects.

The numbers have proven the efficacy of our approach, with pledged agencies such as BBDO and CP+B reporting increases of up to 400 percent in their hiring of women directors since taking the pledge. When women are included in the conversation, the strength of their work speaks for itself.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: How does Free the Bid provide opportunities for women of color?

Alma Har’el: 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 constantly taking an active role in finding new directors of color to bring industry attention to, through consulting with a wide community of people of color working within advertising.

With alignments with organizations like the Ghetto Film School and Love Malone’s The Group, we further hope to amplify the voices of women of color, at all stages of their careers.

Even within our tiny staff, we’re committed to diversity and inclusion. 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.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: With some of the commercials this year that have lacked tonality particularly with women of color, how do you feel Free the Bid has been able to shine light on this issue both in front and behind the camera?

Alma Har’el: One of the core tenets of Free The Bid perspective is that 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.

When you look at the controversies of the past year in advertising (Pepsi, Dove, etc.), it’s difficult to try to understand what could have led to those spots being approved. It’s hard to imagine that these gaffes would have happened in situations where employees of diverse populations were included, consulted, or given the opportunity to give honest feedback.

Creating a behind-the-scenes environment where all employees feel empowered to voice their perspectives is equally as important as hiring a diverse staff in the first place. It’s important that the people telling those stories genuinely reflect the consumers they’re attempting to reach.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: How should women of color get involved in Free the Bid?

Alma Har’el: We’re working hard to ensure that Free The Bid, as a movement, is as inclusive as possible of the experiences of all people who identify as women. Is there a woman of color director that’s not yet on our database? Let us know – we’d love to add her to the Free The Bid family.

Heard about a competition or film opportunity for women of color? Tell us and we’ll broadcast it to our entire network on social media. Are you a young director of color looking for mentorship opportunities? Check the site and get in touch, we’ll try to find a way to foster your creative work. There are many great ways to get involved and join the movement.

Lauren Wesley Wilson: What would you like Free the Bid to become in the future?

Alma Har’el: I’d love for Free The Bid to continue to expand as a community of outspoken women, so that the next generation doesn’t experience the same systemic lack of access to opportunity that women have faced up until now. I hope that Free The Bid encourages women in advertising to advocate for one another, to support and hire one another, to always look for ways to amplify the voice of anyone else who is not being heard. I want women directors’ names to roll off the tongue of creatives and producers.

Lauren Wesley Wilson is the founder of ColorComm which holds its annual ColorComm Conference for women of color in communications, marketing, and advertising. Follow her on Instagram and Twitter.

 Posted with permission of Forbes Media LLC

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About Lauren Wesley Wilson
I worked in the corporate communications sector for many years and did not see one person of color in leadership. I founded ColorComm in 2011 to advance women of color in communications, marketing, advertising and digital because women dominate this industry as managers and men lead as executives. Today, ColorComm is a community of women and men with more than 40,000 professionals throughout the ColorComm Network (a national professional membership organization), an annual conference (C2), ColorComm Circle Awards, Jobs Board, and ColorComm Fellows Program. I recently served on the Glass Lions Jury (founded by Sheryl Sandberg) at the 64th Annual Cannes Lions Festival in Cannes, France. I’ve been recognized by PR Week as one of the 50 Most Powerful in PR.

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