By Ryan Deluchi
Mofilm and Free The Bid recently hosted a roundtable discussion in London made up of entirely female commercial directors from a range of backgrounds and experiences. Being neither a woman or a commercial director myself, it was a hugely eye opening experience.
Listening to their stories of what it’s like to be a woman director (an unwanted but completely necessary label as I discovered), it hit me that equality in our industry is still a long way off.
One director talked of the frequent occurrence of arriving on set and immediately being ushered to an area where she could set-up the make-up station – an experience that nearly all the directors related to.
Another talked of the time she presented her reel to a male creative director in an agency, whose opening gambit was ‘we used a female director before and she was shit, so you’ll have to impress me’.
I found it hard to imagine male directors walking on set and being mistaken for gaffers or camera ops. Or a creative refusing to hire a male director again because the last bloke they hired didn’t do too well. It left me feeling a bit naive.
Hasn’t this all been fixed?
I work in a company with an entirely female c-suite, where both my current and previous ECDs have been women. My LinkedIn feed is constantly filled with hugely inspirational women and their successes – from friends to colleagues to connections. On the surface it feels like we’ve already reached a pivotal moment for gender equality.
And yet it’s the everyday experiences of women, like the directors we interviewed, that hit home how far we still have to go.
I suspect that the film and advertising production industry has been slower than many to react. Whilst we’re certainly seeing far more women of all backgrounds and cultures on screen now, I wonder how few are behind the camera. Actually, I know how few.
Free The Bid announced that just 7% of commercial directors are women, despite estimates that between 70-80% of consumer purchasing is driven by women.
I challenge any marketer to be ok with those stats. Even if you don’t agree that it’s the right thing to do (it is), it seems obvious that any brand trying to sell to women (so all brands then) should be obsessed with having a creative process that allows women to have an equal voice. It’s just sound business sense.
The good news is that this is entirely possible. Having spent the last five years developing a company that’s built on the concept of creative democracy, I’ve seen it in practise. Many times.
The purpose of our roundtable was to dig into the issues that women directors face today and find out what brands can do about it. Below are 3 key themes that emerged that I’d encourage any marketer to take heed of.
The buck stops with you. You may think it’s the responsibility of your agencies and production partners to hire female talent and expose you to talented women directors. And to a degree that’s true. But think about what’s incentivising them. As Emma Reeves, director of Free The Bid, pointed out during the roundtable, there is a lot of fear in agencies at the moment. When people are scared, they play it safe. They hire the people with the most experience and directors they’ve worked with before. And more often than not, that means white middle-class men.
If you want more female talent working on your brand, demand it. Make rules and enforce them. When Antonio Lucio was CMO at HP, he demanded that every triple bid brought to him contained at least one female filmmaker. At first it meant sending agencies back to start the search again, but eventually they got the message; within a year HP went from having zero commercials directed by women filmmakers to 59%.
If you want your agency to be fearful of anything, it should be turning up to present director reels without at least one woman director in their presentation.
Don’t stereotype your briefs
One of the trademarks of good content is the accurate portrayal of the target audience. When it comes to connecting with women, female creatives and directors bring experiences that their male counterparts simply can’t tap into. For example I’m not sure a male director would have captured the authenticity seen in last year’s ‘This Girl Can’ film directed by Georgi Banks-Davies. Whilst that’s not to say men can’t direct ads for women, the perspective a woman director brings to a script is not insignificant.
But women directors shouldn’t just be hired to work on female-focused campaigns.
Fun fact – did you know that women drive cars? Did you know they drink beer? They also do DIY and play sports and buy houses and take out life insurance. I know these women, I’m sure you do too.
As one of the directors in the roundtable pointed out, you wouldn’t demand a male director for a car commercial. As a brand, you need to think beyond male and female briefs and find a way of embracing the influences of both genders in your campaign.
Audit your creative process
How balanced are those influences on your brand right now? Think about your entire creative pipeline – all the way from CMO through to editors in the studio outputting your final content.
I’ve worked with some amazingly diverse brand teams with a mix of gender, culture and experience. But the influence of diversity is capped when those teams brief their majority male agency, who book their favourite male director, who hires a predominantly male crew, and so on.
As well as getting your own house in order, force your agencies and production partners to do the same. Challenge them when they don’t give you female creative teams. Push back when they bring you three white males in their triple bid. Ask them about the crew working on the production and take a look around next time you’re on set. Because as soon as it’s made clear that this lack of diversity is unacceptable to brands, unsurprisingly, agencies will follow suit.
And if they don’t, then give MOFILM or Free The Bid a call and let us show you the incredible female talent that exists in our industry.
— You can see the highlights of the roundtable here —