TALES FROM TINSELTOWN: SAG's multi-faceted campaign ends commercial actors' strike

The actors and the advertisers finally resolved their lengthy stalemate, each side calling it a win. But both sides lost money. October advertising shoots in LA were at a record low, down 70% from the same month last year.

The actors and the advertisers finally resolved their lengthy stalemate, each side calling it a win. But both sides lost money. October advertising shoots in LA were at a record low, down 70% from the same month last year.

The actors and the advertisers finally resolved their lengthy stalemate, each side calling it a win. But both sides lost money. October advertising shoots in LA were at a record low, down 70% from the same month last year.

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG) and the American Federation of TV and Radio Artists (AFTRA) waged an aggressive publicity campaign to force a resolution to the long-running strike over appearing in commercials.

Greg Krizman, SAG's acting director of national communications, says the key was getting to the press first.'We prepped all appropriate major media in the months preceding the strike, and they responded with a great amount of coverage at the start,' he says.

Krizman anticipated scant awareness and sympathy from a public that would continue to be exposed to commercials anyway. Furthermore, the strike issues were complex and industry-specific. To compensate, SAG, a long-time member of the AFL-CIO, sided with the public for the first time in a strike situation.

Krizman states: 'Our union is primarily concerned with establishing and enforcing minimum wages and working conditions, so we emphasized that the key issue was assuring the future of middle-class actors. We therefore had to mention consistently that Hollywood stars are the tiniest fraction of our total membership.'

However, SAG did call out its big guns (Newman and Spacey to name a few) to generate press coverage by picketing and writing generous checks. Knowing negotiations were scheduled three days after the Emmys, Krizman performed a PR masterstroke by asking nominees to wear gold ribbons during interviews and at the show.

'The ribbon campaign was the talk of the town that weekend,' he says. 'Photos went out worldwide with Emmy winners wearing their gold ribbons.'

Krizman orchestrated press tours with SAG President Bill Daniels, Tom Selleck and David Hyde-Pierce. And when negotiations stalled at the end of September, SAG boycotted three Procter & Gamble products. The company is a huge advertiser and influences two key groups in the negotiations: the Association of National Advertisers and the American Association of Advertising Agencies. An SAG PR team was dispatched to the P&G shareholder meeting in Cincinnati and full-page ads appeared in the local papers.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney, Tim Robbins, Susan Sarandon and Richard Dreyfuss attended a New York press conference announcing the boycott.

Meanwhile, members distributed leaflets at Kmart and Wal-Mart stores nationwide, and Internet ads featured celebrities asking that the designated P&G products be avoided.

It was a tough act to follow. But relieved commercial actors now can, once again.



Lawrence Mitchell Garrison is an LA-based freelance publicist and writer.



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