EXCLUSIVE: The ad industry is gearing up for a possible actors strike. Its chief negotiator is urging advertisers and ad agencies to finish all commercial shoots that employ union actors before the March 31 expiration of SAG-AFTRA’s current contract, lest they be caught in a work stoppage in the middle of production if upcoming negotiations fail to produce a new agreement.
The ad industry has made similar strike preparations in advance of negotiations in years past, but they appear more portentous this time around as the union ramps up its ongoing campaign to organize non-union commercials, and its members have been coming out in droves to support of those efforts. Negotiations are expected to begin early next year. The last time the union struck the ad industry was in 2000 — a walkout that lasted six months. “We are under a mutually agreed-upon news blackout and have no comment,” said a SAG-AFTRA spokesperson.
SAG-AFTRA members earn more than $1 billion a year under its commercials contracts, but in recent years, more and more commercial work has been shooting non-union. SAG-AFTRA has launched an “Ads Go Union” campaign to crack down on non-union ads through mass rallies, picketing, NLRB complaints, shaming and celebrity endorsements. But that tough new approach is giving signatory companies the strike jitters. Strike concerns, an industry source said, are expected to produce “a big uptick of getting a lot of deals done and productions in the can” prior to the spring deadline.
“The industry remains optimistic that we will have a successful conclusion to these negotiations without disruption,” the ad industry’s bargaining arm, the Joint Policy Committee, says on its website. “However, in order to provide for prudent production planning prior to the expiration of these contracts, signatory employers, both agencies and advertisers, are advised to review and consider” various options and recommendations to mitigate the impact of a strike.
Stacy Marcus, the JPC’s chief negotiator, has urged new productions to “consider re-scheduling production planned for April 1, 2019, through June 2019 to a date well prior to March 31, 2019. This is of particular concern if you are planning production for the rollout of a new campaign or are planning a celebrity production.”
Celebrities are the key to many ad campaigns, and Marcus has told employers that in advance of a possible strike, they should take special precautions when signing them to new contracts or renewing or amending existing ones. These recommendations include making sure that celebrities have “no right to withdraw permission to use a commercial in the event of a work stoppage.”
In an October 18 memo to members of the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies (read it here), Marcus noted that standard employment contracts don’t usually give performers that right – which would knock an ad campaign off the air for the duration of a strike – but advised employers to review all celebrity contracts just to be sure. “No affirmative contract language is necessary; just make sure that the performer has not affirmatively reserved such right in his/her term agreement.”
Other precautionary steps recommended by Marcus include locking stars into new individual contracts that would give employers greater leeway in the event of a strike. “Provide for quarterly payments throughout the term of the agreement,” she advised, “with suspension of quarterly payments in the event of a work stoppage and/or other disaster which interferes with production.”
She also advised employers to “provide for the ability to extend the term of the agreement by the same period of time as any work stoppage.”
“If you do not require the celebrity’s services during a strike but continue to run the commercials previously produced,” she wrote, “a suspension or extension may be difficult to obtain since the celebrity will argue that you have suffered no delay or damages.”
As for current commercials with 21-month maximum periods of use (MPU) that are due to expire within six or fewer months after next March 31, Marcus recommended that employers “Consider initiating negotiations for new MPUs for these commercials prior to March 31, 2019, in order to ensure that broadcast rights are maintained in the event of a work stoppage (i.e., a strike).”
“The last strike in 2000,” she warned, “lasted for six months.” Prior to that, and before their merger in 2012, SAG and AFTRA together stuck commercial productions three other times: in 1988 (26 days); in 1968-79 (51 days), and in 1952-53 (80 days).
In another memo (read it here), Marcus told companies about the steps they must take if they wish to terminate their signatory status with SAG-AFTRA but noted that to do so in advance of a possible strike, they must “provide SAG-AFTRA with 60 days advance written notice of your desire to terminate. … Such notice must be sent to SAG-AFTRA, with a copy to the JPC, no later than January 29, 2019. We can provide you sample notice letters upon written request.”
Contacted by Deadline, Marcus declined comment, saying, “We have a media blackout.”