On Thursday morning, hundreds of SAG/AFTRA actors rallied outside BBH's office on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles.
The actors union was protesting the agency's recent withdrawal from its SAG/AFTRA contract, with which it had been a signatory for two decades.
SAG/AFTRA members arrived by the busloads to the agency's office. Event organizers expected a turnout of about 200 people, but by the start of the rally, they said headcount surpassed that and ultimately, nearly 1,000 members participated. The protestors, accompanied by a giant blow-up rat, wrapped around the building, holding up signs.
Most were straightforward, reading: "Unfair. SAG AFTRA on strike against BBH Ad Agency." Others got personal, with one placard showing an actor in a hospital bed. "This is me nearly dying of septic shock. SAG AFTRA healthcare was there when I needed it. Come back to the table, BBH! Lives and livelihoods are at stake!" it read.
As cars drove past, horns honked, some likely reacting to the traffic, but others seeming in solidarity with the protestors.
The rally follows SAG-AFTRA's announcement last Friday that it would be holding a strike against the agency, calling for its members to refrain from working for the Publicis-owned shop.
BBH has created award-winning campaigns for brands like Sony Playstation, Netflix, Google and Netflix and had been signatory to a SAG/AFTRA contract for 20 years before it decided not to renew in early September.
At the time, the agency issued an open letter to the community of performance talents, thanking them for their partnership and explaining its decision to withdraw from the SAG-AFTRA agreement:
"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 takes issue with the agency's position, noting that it has made amendments to its contract addressing the changing landscape. Those include the Low Budget Digital Waiver that excuses agencies from paying minimum union rates on productions under $50,000. "That is a perfect example of how the union is trying to work with the advertisers," said SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles president Jane Austin, SAG-AFTRA Los Angeles president and national secretary treasurer during the rally.
According to a BBH spokesperson, "The Low-Budget Digital Waiver is set at an unrealistically low budget threshold, which severely limits when it can be used. But the most important thing is that we are merely trying to restore competitive balance between signatory and non-signatory agencies, who are free to produce commercials on both a union and non-union basis. SAG-AFTRA has failed to address this issue in a meaningful way."
"We engaged in an ongoing dialogue with BBH before we started, but they weren't willing to engage in any meaningful dialogue, from our perspective," said SAG-AFTRA communications representative Sean Miller.
"BBH acknowledges SAG-AFTRA's right to demonstrate," the agency said of today's rally in a statement. "We continue to affirm our legal right to not renew our participation as a signatory to the SAG-AFTRA contract. We immensely value the creative talent we work with, and this decision does not change our commitment to fair wages and working conditions."
Austin says the strike will continue as long as BBH refrains from participating in the contract.