Strike impact far from over

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You could practically hear the sigh of relief throughout the U.S. ad world when advertisers and actors last week declared a tentative settlement had been reached in the great strike of 2000. There was a rush of optimism about getting things back to normal after nearly six months of increasing turmoil -- but it won't be that simple. Like a big earthquake, this strike will have aftershocks.

In the near-term, it's hard to imagine strike-weary actors rejecting the three-year contract that's been presented to them (though the clearer-eyed among union members might be excused for asking if the same deal might have been struck months earlier). As union chiefs noisily proclaimed a great victory, ad industry negotiators kept a discreet silence to avoid disturbing the unions' "both-sides-win" positioning for the new contract.

The next issue for labor is how to settle scores with those actors and celebrities who worked in non-union commercials in defiance of the strike (as did some directors, often union members themselves). Retribution, in the form of union disciplinary action against strike-breakers, could keep the strike's wounds open for weeks and months to come.

For the longer term, and most importantly for the U.S. admaking business, the real task facing the unions -- and the ad agency producers and commercials directors eager to use union talent -- is to re-establish the value of union talent to advertisers. Many corporations have now learned that marketing programs can go on, imperfectly perhaps, with replacements. More corporate marketing executives have discovered, through necessity, that talent and facilities exist outside the U.S.; that the strong U.S. dollar goes a long way in places like South Africa; and that they need not passively swallow higher and higher costs for producing a quality 30-second TV commercial.

Many advertising people may be reluctant to appear this cold-blooded in their public utterances (See Forum, P. 40). But the owners of U.S. production houses and support facilities -- businesses trapped in the middle of the actors vs. advertisers battle -- have been worrying from the strike's start about how much of their old business will come back. They are right to do so.

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