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If you’re curious why we’ve seen an uptick in non-union commercials in recent years, read this post.

To help shed light on things SAG-AFTRA held a series of “virtual town halls” the week of February 7th leading up to their February 15th #ADSGOUNION social media blitz and negotiation.

As a member of SAG-AFTRA who primarily works as a Casting Director casting Non-Union projects (Reality), I’ve paid close attention to the increase in Non-Union commercial work over the past 10 years. Adding commercial casting to my resume was always a goal, but how would this increase in Non-Union commercial work impact the availability of Union commercial auditions for SAG-AFTRA talent? Also, how were these billion-dollar brands getting away with doing Non-Union advertising?

I joined a town hall led by Katie Von Till, a SAG-AFTRA committee member, and had the opportunity to ask questions and get some answers and perspective that I’ll share below.

The #1 reason brands can do Non-Union and Union marketing is that there’s no longer an “Agency of Record.” Historically, we had a system in place where brands hired agencies to take care of ad buys for print and media. Now, with the change in landscape and addition of digital, you have sub-specialties like email marketing, social media marketing, digital ads and eCommerce. This non-traditional advertising meant agencies farmed out work to subcontractors who specialized in those areas. We moved from an AOR model to a project-based model, and that blew the doors open and allowed big brands to produce Union and Non-Union advertisements depending on which companies they worked with on each specific ad. For more on this, please Google Agency of Record.

Talent agents seem to have been aware of this trend because they deal directly with breakdowns – they see what’s out there and available for their talent. As a result, even top tier talent agencies changed their own models to include Non-Union divisions – something not discussed on the SAG-AFTRA town hall.

Non-Union Ads are having an impact, but it’s still unclear if the long-term impact will be a positive or negative one for talent. In recent days I saw a Non-Union Starbucks commercial casting with a decent day rate of over $800 with a buyout plus 20% agency fee, and a Union TV series calling for a featured background talent to work for $125/8hour. From a financial perspective, that Non-Union commercial seems more desirable. I can see why self-submitting talent who don’t understand residuals would see Non-Union commercial work as desirable.

Ultimately, the SAG-AFTRA town hall provided an opportunity for committee members to share their position with members heading into negotiations. The Union representatives asked members to respect Global Rule One, to turn in anyone who crosses the line, to report Non-Union projects to, and to essentially be the eyes and ears of the Union.

In my experience talent are too busy advancing their own careers to bother policing other members. Still, having the direct email provides a direct line of communication with the Union and that could have a positive impact. This SAG-AFTRA talk shed light on why there’s been such an uptick in Non-Union ads, but it also shed some light on why members say the Union is out of touch.  Town halls like this could be a much needed game changer! If the Union continues to have town halls like this, I hope they open the talks to include agents, managers and casting directors for real transparency.

In a short-term perspective, more ads should mean more jobs. I can absolutely see why the Union wants all ads to go Union. I can also see why Non-Union commercial opportunities would be desirable for both up and coming Non-Union talent and more seasoned Union talent who may or may not be booking and want to go FICORE. Less experienced talent should keep in mind though, a Non-Union commercial buy out may put $1,000 to $3,000 in your pocket, but that same spot as a Union spot could put $10,000+ in your account once residuals pay out. Food for thought!

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