Hundreds of actors and supporters picketed outside ad agency BBH Los Angeles’s West Hollywood offices yesterday, bringing the strike the union has held since September 20 to the agency’s Melrose Avenue front door. At issue is the agency’s withdrawal from the union agreement after two decades, citing cost and an evolving media landscape.
Among the protesters on Thursday was legendary actor Elliott Gould, who started his career as a child acting in commercials. “I support my brothers and sisters of SAG-AFTRA, and organized labor in the United States,” Gould told The Hollywood Reporter.
On September 4, the agency posted a letter to its website announcing that it would no longer be a signatory to the SAG-AFTRA Commercials Contract, which requires ad agencies and brands to cast only union actors in ad campaigns. In its letter, the agency cited shifting market realities that make being a signatory a competitive disadvantage:
In short, we are hired to operate in the best interests of our clients, and part of that is being able to deliver the greatest level of flexibility and value for the work we do. We are simply looking to level the playing field for all of us. The current contract was put in place nearly 20 years ago, when the internet was in its infancy and the advertising world was a vastly different place, with vastly different economics. The cutting-edge work we do at BBH US across all mediums is not well-served by a contract that was designed for a traditional media landscape. The need for speed, agility, and greater efficiencies in how we produce work has become increasingly important in today’s market. Many of our peer agencies are not signatories, making it hard to compete sustainably in a way that benefits our clients.
— SAG-AFTRA MOVE LA (@SAGAFTRAMOVEla) September 27, 2018
The union counters that it has made allowances for more digital work with its Low Budget Digital Waiver that excuses agencies from paying minimum union rates on productions under $50,000. BBH has called it “an unrealistically low budget threshold, which severely limits when it can be used.”
The agency also competes with plenty of agencies who have never signed a contract with the union, such as Anomaly, 360i, 72andSunny, R/GA, and Droga5.