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SAG-AFTRA launches strike against advertising agency BBH

SAG-AFTRA launches strike against advertising agency BBH
Gabrielle Carteris, president of SAG-AFTRA, speaks in 2015 at the Pacific Design Center in West Hollywood. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

In a warning shot to the advertising industry, Hollywood’s actors union announced Thursday a strike against the agency Bartle Bogle Hegarty over its recent decision to withdraw from the guild’s contract and to shoot commercials using nonunion performers.

The SAG-AFTRA strike, which takes effect immediately, means that guild actors will no longer be allowed to audition for commercials created by BBH, a division of the French advertising and public relations giant Publicis Groupe. SAG-AFTRA said its members may continue to work for other Publicis ad agencies, such as Saatchi & Saatchi and Leo Burnett, so long as they are signatories to the guild’s contract.

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“As SAG-AFTRA members, we must stand together in defense of our contracts, our rights and our ability to build a sustainable career,” the guild said in its announcement to members on Thursday.

BBH said the strike would have only a minimal effect on its operations.

“We do not expect the strike to have any noticeable impact on our company or any ongoing client work,” said a company spokesperson in a statement. BBH said it has been a non-signatory to the SAG-AFTRA contract since November 2017.

“BBH remains focused on delivering high quality and innovative work to our clients. We also continue to value highly the creative talent we work with and remain committed to fair wages and working conditions."

The strike is part of a larger SAG-AFTRA effort to raise awareness of the growing number of nonunion commercial shoots. The guild has seen a rise in nonunion shoots as the production of online commercials destined for YouTube and other sites flourishes and advertisers and agencies look for ways to save money on tighter budgets.

The industry shift comes as more consumers embrace digital streaming options such as Netflix and Amazon Prime Video, which don’t have commercials, over traditional broadcast and cable TV.

BBH announced its decision to withdraw from the guild’s contract in a message posted to its official U.S. site this month. The agency said that many of its competitors are not SAG-AFTRA signatories, which makes it harder to compete and meet client needs. The agency also said that the union contract was out of date for the digital age.

SAG-AFTRA has argued that it introduced a low-budget digital waiver last year that is intended to help ad agencies compete with digital agencies that are not signed to the guild’s agreement and that are luring advertiser clients away on low-budget work.

“BBH is unwilling to engage in meaningful conversations and we are left with no choice,” SAG-AFTRA President Gabrielle Carteris said in a recently posted online video.

10:15 a.m.: This article was updated with a statement from BBH.

This article was originally published at 4:30 p.m.

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