What will come of Free the Bid? Ask Sweden

October 31, 2016 / Features

By Alex Reeves

The Swedish advertising industry introduced the same initiative two years ago. So has it worked?

Free the Bid is the latest move towards gender diversity for the advertising industry. The initiative, founded by B-Reel Films director Alma Har’el, encourages advertising agencies to include one female director in every three-way pitch on their scripts.

It’s a bold gauntlet to throw down – a chance for agencies to put their money where their mouth is on gender diversity and pledge to at least consider a woman’s vision to bring their ideas to life. Some have taken the pledge very publicly, others have quietly slipped their names into the hat, but the majority of agencies seem to have either ignored or not noticed the scheme so far.

It’s caused a lot of conversation, not least Alma’s discussion today with David Reviews Editor Jason Stone and the APA. But one point not everyone is aware of is that it’s already been tried elsewhere.

Sweden introduced the One of Three initiative in October 2014 to try to address the shocking gender imbalance in directors making commercials.

Devised jointly by the Swedish agency and producers associations, it set out the same guidelines for the pitching process – that at least one director on a three-way bid should be female.

To find out how the Swedish market has changed after two years with this guideline in place, we called Henrik Eriksson, a producer who was Chairman of Commercial Producers for the Swedish Film & TV Producers Association at the time of One of Three’s introduction.

The Beak Street Bugle: Has it worked? Do you feel there are more women directing stuff?
Henrik Eriksson:
Absolutely. The amount of female directors is better than what it used to be. There are more female directors active, there are more female directors available and there are more female directors pitching. So it has changed a lot. I think companies here feel that the rest of the world is contacting them now to use their directors. There is something moving.

The attitude has absolutely changed. The demand is out there. Representing female directors can lead to scripts on the table or more pitch possibilities. It doesn’t mean they always win, but at least they get a chance.

And I don’t think it’s just Sweden. The demand is increasing everywhere. We made a change with this concept and it’s continuing elsewhere. It’s great to see this happening in the US and the UK.

BSB: Did the Swedish agencies all commit to One of Three two years ago?
HE:
It’s a recommendation, not a hard rule. We launched it together with the Swedish advertising agency association [Komm], saying this is our recommendation. We were pointing the way to a better industry.

It hasn’t failed, despite what some said at the beginning. People did have their reservations. I know that in the beginning the female directors felt they didn’t want the spotlight on them because of their gender. They didn’t want to be seen from that perspective. They wanted to just be directors and judged as such.

It was a feeling that we had to challenge internally. We had to convince people to use this chance. From my perspective the only failure was that people did not understand how much work we did to change people’s minds to think differently. And it’s different today.

BSB: There was a concern when we first covered the initiative that female directors would get signed and would get to pitch on scripts, but would never win those jobs. Has that been the case at all?
HE:
If you feel you will lose, you will not win. If you think you will do the best film, you have a better chance to win. From the beginning we should always invest in talent and if you don’t believe you are investing in talent – no matter what gender – then you shouldn’t do it. Good production companies wouldn’t sign a director without talent, just because of her gender. But if you think you can get work done as well as make the industry more diverse, this is one way to do it

It actually put the spotlight on producers to show that we care and we want to be leading, creating great films. Companies also got attention for caring, thinking and being creative.

It’s natural but people got very defensive when we launched it. I was quite surprised: ‘It’s not going to work.’ ‘We can’t do it over here.’ ‘It’s not Sweden.’ It was a change and people are following it now. Unfortunately the move is still very slow. We could have done better, but we still made a change which we are proud of. We are happy that other countries are following.

The female talent has always been there. But we needed to create a demand for it. And it worked to push it. You need to work hard as a production company to get scripts for new talent and this was one way to get new talent working. That’s the producer’s job – developing new talent.

BSB: Will the guideline still be necessary in the future?
HE:
I think it has to be there to remind people until we all are satisfied. We have to remind ourselves when making films that we are showcasing what the world looks like. We need to do that in front of the camera and behind the camera. We have to have that proper mindset every day in all divisions. This is one subject and then there’s ethnicity, class, disability – all these other ways we need to improve.
 
When you talk or write about it, it feels so big. I don’t see it as big. We made an impact and it changed the industry slightly for the better and we still work with the subject. And of course UK as a leading creative center has a big responsibility to care in all levels, and this is a great opportunity for any company to do so. If you don’t care and don’t like women, don’t forget, it´s just a recommendation.

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