Free The Bid is a movement that aims to give women directors and filmmakers a chance, writes Clare Macdonald

The advertising industry is famous for changing the world with bold, innovative, creative ideas that shape people’s lives, shift perspectives and define the future. But it has maintained a blind spot when it comes to diversity, and in particular to women.

Only 7 per cent of advertising directors are women and only 9 per cent of commercials are directed by women. This, despite the fact that women are the number one consumer group worldwide, and make 85 per cent of product purchase decisions globally. The figures are worse in the Middle East. And this has created a cycle that has seen the regional industry lag behind the progressive steps being taken across the advertising world elsewhere. Free the Bid is a great advocate for changing the ratio and bringing equal opportunity to the industry globally.

Why the bid? At the bidding stage, advertising agencies typically present three directors per commercial. Most women, after years of gender bias, don’t get a chance to build up competitive reels. Ad agencies therefore end up with three male bids and production companies don’t have any incentive to sign more women. LA-based nonprofit Free the Bid seeks to change this with a disruptive proposal: #FreetheBid and break the cycle. This technique helped introduce diversity into the management of the NFL, for example.

Danielle Arden, who always assumed being female was an advantage, speaks about building a successful directing career in the UAE: “If you feel you’re a good fit for a job you’d usually be overlooked on, go above and beyond in your pitch, break rules… If you’re a woman desperate to shoot a car commercial, show why your take on the script is so unique and exciting; shoot a demo of your friend’s amateur precision driving and explain why you’d shoot a car commercial like nobody else in the country.”

The advertising industry perpetuates this circle of exclusion, yet it is more and more aware of market fragmentation and the impact of digital reaching new and more diverse consumers. Creative diversity will meet these challenges. The recent ‘Grow Up’ campaign for Mercedes, epitome of a traditional male car brand, yielded astonishingly fresh results in the hands of photographer Alice Moitié.

“It’s an exciting time for the industry in the region. It’s in a state of redefinition and we want to be part of shaping its new form, one that celebrates diversity and empowers difference alongside creativity and innovation,” says Hattie Bowering, creative director of Wild Media.

Free the Bid is tackling the issue of equality of opportunity at its roots. There is no one female voice. Women in the industry bring diverse perspectives and their experiences vary widely.

“Regional production companies don’t put female directors forward for jobs spontaneously. The industry doesn’t just need to give equal opportunity to women, it needs to open itself to more diverse voices, different energies, different points of view. I don’t wish to be regarded as a female director. I don’t make female-only films,” says Lara Saba, a freelance director.

“Free the Bid is an important step and part of a journey we should all be working towards globally,” says Nez Gebreel, CEO of Milleworld. “This is in our DNA. Enabling talent from the region is key, as they are our legacy.”

First movers will find benefits from their forward-thinking approach, not least scooping up top talent, and being part of a dynamic momentum for change in an industry where creativity and taking leadership is key.

“The industry needs diversity. Diversity is the key, not just women,” says Dalia Penzik, executive producer at Wild Media. “Wild Media is the first and only Middle East production company to pledge to Free the Bid. As part of this we are starting an internship programme for young female creatives to get production experience and will be hosting masterclasses and workshops later this year. We have also launched Wild Talent, our talent agency representing directors, directors of photography and photographers. We are looking for female regional talent to represent and are putting a call out for this too.”

Wild Media, in partnership with Free the Bid, is the first and only production house in the Middle East to take the #FreetheBid pledge, launching a boutique talent agency to find and mentor female talent. Wild Media finds itself in great company with forward-looking brands including Visa, Twitter, Airbnb, Hewlett Packard, eBay, film director and Viceland co-president Spike Jonze, and top global agencies such as BBDO, JWT and M&C Saatchi joining the march.

Clare Macdonald is a writer and creative consultant for Wild Media

If you’d like pledge your brand or find out more about Free The Bid then please get in touch at www.wildmedia.com