“In truly important issues, leaders aren’t planned or raised or bred.
They are the stunned ones who look at the mayhem, the bodies all around, and notice the flag lying on the floor.
The ones with no heroic intention other than the feeling there is no one closer to it.
So they pick it, grab it and raise it.
In important issues, leaders happen.
They selflessly step up to the occasion and their following just… follows.
Thank you Alma, for picking and raising this flag.
Keep going. We are right behind you.”
This was the message PJ Pereira, Chief Creative Officer & Co-Founder of Pereira & O’Dell, sent to honor Free The Bid’s Alma Harel, who was awarded the Female Three Cheers Award at the 3% Conference in New York City this week.
Free The Bid is an initiative that guarantees women directors an equal opportunity to bid on commercial jobs in the advertising world.
The mission is to have agencies pledge that they will have at least one female director option every time you triple-bid a production for a client. For brands, they pledge to ask their agencies for one female bid on every commercial they produce and to free the bid to more diversity when ever it’s possible. Production companies can also take the vow to support women directors by signing more women and helping unsigned women bid on jobs if they are approached by agencies.
Pereira & O’Dell, FCB, Mother London, DDBO, and McCann are just a few of the major agencies that have taken the pledge.
Brands like Coca Cola, Nestle, and HP have also vowed their support.
This all began when Harel was directing a commercial for Stella Artois.
“I remember the moment: I realized it was 25 men, and me” said Alma Harel. “I wrote a message to my boyfriend saying, ‘I am the only woman here but at least I am the boss.’”
After the shoot, Harel went home and decided to do something about it.
“If you are the only woman, spread the word, do something about it and be part of the change,” Harel told the crowd when she accepted the award.
She explained that this was important because women are half of the world and they need to have a voice in advertising, especially when they make close to 85% of product purchasing decisions.
After an interview by Mashable, the concept for Free the Bid went viral. PJ Pereira read the article and called his production teams.
“I said how about we do this: from now on every time we do a project, we are going to promise to ourselves that, we are always going to consider a woman,” he told DIVERGE. “It’s a no-brainer; it will make things more intricate but it’s totally worth it.”
A couple of days later, he was in LA for the Ignite campaign and met Harel for dinner to share how her story had inspired him.
“He asked to meet for dinner and let me know that after reading the interview he decided to have a mandatory female bid on every job at his agency,” Harel explained. “I knew right away I had to take it to everyone and could almost hear the theme song of Mission Impossible in my head.”
The conversations began and everyone was talking about it.
“The reason we kept pushing was because there was always someone really big, someone really important, someone really respected in the industry that wanted to do more,” Pereira said. “Even before it was launched, people were tweeting about it.”
“I think almost agency that we talked to felt it was a no brainer and every single advertiser I talked to either pledged full support and or pledged that they would make their agency do that,” he added.
Susan Credle, Global Chief Creative Officer at FCB Global at FCB was one of the early supporters.
“When PJ Pereira told me about Alma’s idea, I thought it was a very powerful step,” she explained. “We talk a lot about the need for equality in our industry, but what we really need is action: #FreeTheBid is about immediate action.”
“If agencies and clients can’t sign on for something as simple as that (committing one bid coming from a female director), I’m afraid this push for equal gender representation will end up as a set of empty words,” Credle added.
She also shared the mission with her contacts and mostly people responded with “we are in.”
But there were others who had questions and observations.
“I like it, but what about other underrepresented people? People of color? People who are physically challenged? What if we just can’t find that ‘right’ female? Then isn’t the bid just a gesture, a token?”
Credle shared their conclusion:
“We’ve talked a lot about those questions, among ourselves, across the industry and with our clients. I think it is important for people to know that, while #FreeTheBid is focused on gender representation today, the ambition in the future is to use this mission for any underrepresented talent out there. Alma was advised that to achieve success quickly, #FreeTheBid must have a strong focus. That’s why she started with women.”
Harel added that she would continue to work on this as long as it has an impact as well as expanding it to working with brands on how they portray women in their advertisements.