HP and Visa 'walk the talk,' donate funds to #FreeTheBid

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Both brands back their promise to support female directors with funds to help the initiative grow globally.

When director Alma Har'el announced her #FreeTheBid initiative, challenging both agencies and brands to include at least one female director on triple bids, several agencies, brands and production companies signed on—but no one donated money. Today, HP and Visa become the first corporate sponsors of #FreeTheBid, pledging more than $100,000 to help the program grow globally.

HP CMO Antonio Lucio and Visa SVP of North American Marketing Lara Balazs made the financial support public today at the Women's Entrepreneurship Day event at the United Nations. HP is donating $100,000 to the initiative. And Balazs declined to detail the amount of Visa's contribution.

The financial support comes on the heels of both companies making public pledges to advance their diversity and inclusion efforts. In September, Lucio challenged HP's ad and PR agencies to diversity their workplaces, and last month Visa Global CMO Lynne Biggar declared diversity and inclusion in the workplace a "strategic business imperative" in a blog post.

"We're excited to implement this pledge globally, giving women a voice in advertising to the benefit of everyone, everywhere," said Lucio. "Diversity is a business imperative, not just a moral one. We hope to inspire more brands and agencies to join us in this pledge and #FreeTheBid."

Others putting money where their mouths are include agencies BBDO, Gyro, and Fred & Farid. Airbnb is also expected to make a monetary pledge next week, said a source. Although only a handful of companies have committed financially, the movement is growing. Nineteen agencies (including 72andSunny and Joan), five brands (HP, Visa, eBay, Coca-Cola and Nestle) and 13 production companies (such as Great Guns and Wondros) have taken the pledge to include more female directors in their bidding processes.

"Visa's 'Everywhere You Want to Be' stands not only for acceptance of our product physically and digitally, but also acceptance of diversity and inclusion," Visa's Balazs said. Participating in #FreeTheBid "is a way to not just talk about it, but walk the talk."

Alma Ha'rel

Until today, #FreeTheBid was solely financed by Har'el, with donations funneled through the nonprofit Women Make Movies. The funds provided by HP and Visa will be used to hire someone to run the #FreeTheBid website, which is currently maintained by Har'el and a friend. The two admit they can’t keep up with the "hundreds" of daily emails, so adding a full-time staffer is the first step in taking the initiative global. Har'el, whose work includes ads for Airbnb and Stella Artois, also wants to start a board of directors selected from #FreeTheBid-friendly ad agencies and brands to examine case studies that will back their actions with proven methodologies.

"We intend to continue growing as the No. 1 source for ad agencies and brands to discover female directors," she said. "The more women are given a voice and an opportunity in advertising, the faster we can change how women are represented and turn them from an object to a subject."

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