LIVE ISSUE/THE EQUITY DISPUTE: Has the Equity voicover row reached a deadlock? The boycott is having little effect on ads, a new study claims. Emma Hall reports

At last, after months in dispute with Equity, the agency and advertiser trade bodies have got their PR acts together. Sympathy for the actors’ union reached its height three weeks ago when Harry Enfield lampooned advertising folk in the Sunday Telegraph. He characterised them as lazy and overpaid with an inflated idea of their own talents.

At last, after months in dispute with Equity, the agency and

advertiser trade bodies have got their PR acts together. Sympathy for

the actors’ union reached its height three weeks ago when Harry Enfield

lampooned advertising folk in the Sunday Telegraph. He characterised

them as lazy and overpaid with an inflated idea of their own

talents.



The Institute of Practitioners in Advertising and the Incorporated

Society of British Advertisers last week published the results of a

survey conducted among 24 agencies responsible, they claim, for up to 80

per cent of UK commercials production. It reported that, of 249 ads

scheduled to be made during October and November, only one had to be

postponed and three shot abroad as a result of the dispute (Campaign, 6

February).



Equity’s four-month boycott of commercials work is having little effect

on the advertising industry, the research claims. But Adam Baxter, the

research and parliamentary officer at Equity, is ’mystified’ by these

findings. ’This is not the message we are getting back from our

members,’ he says.



Since Equity’s general secretary, Ian McGarry, suggested members could

accept advertising work under the 1991 agreement, Equity claims that

more than 30 agencies and advertisers have signed up with the union.

’Agencies and advertisers see it as a creative way of getting people

back to work,’ Baxter says.



Both sides in the dispute are playing their cards very close to their

chests. The IPA and ISBA maintain plenty of commercials are being made

using Equity members without agreement with the union. But neither side

is releasing names, so we just have to take their word for it.



As a combined force, the IPA and ISBA can hold out indefinitely, and

after nine months of dispute it looks unlikely that they will back down

now. On the other hand, if Equity members are finding ways of securing

commercials work without being labelled ’scabs’, then they can retain an

income without losing face.



Everyone wants to see an end to the dispute. Baxter is convinced that

negotiation is the only way forward. ’Commissioning research is not

helpful in the long run. Coming back to the talks - now that would be

helpful,’ he says. ’They have dug their heels in and ignored natural

justice.’



Graham Hinton, the IPA president, agrees that negotiation is the only

solution, but there is no sign of either party coming to the table.

Agencies and clients are committed to ending the parity between fees for

voiceover artists and visual artists. Equity refuses to talk unless this

stipulation is withdrawn.



Equity has persuaded its members that if they allow the agencies this

one concession, they will open the floodgates to fee reductions across

the board. The agencies deny this, but neither party will believe the

other.



Perhaps the row will never come to an end. Instead, everyone may find a

way around the limitations, bypassing Equity to negotiate individual

contracts with artists until the dispute becomes irrelevant and agencies

have achieved the savings they want. If this did happen, Equity would

lose status and become an anachronism for actors in the commercials

world.



Agencies claim to be getting clever at finding other ways of doing

things.



’It is getting easier for us - casting directors have found agents who

will work directly with them, and creative directors are refusing to buy

the idea that only true thespians can produce the goods,’ one source

says.



’Why do we need an agreement?’ Hinton asks. ’Fees should be decided by

individuals’ negotiating skills - we don’t have a union in the

advertising industry.’



The IPA and ISBA are prepared to sit it out, convinced that Equity will

eventually have to capitulate. Meanwhile, agency bosses admit (on the

quiet) that the strike is having a negative effect on business.



The dispute doesn’t necessarily hamper the implementation of short-term

casting solutions for short-term advertising tasks, but brands are built

and sustained only in the long term.



’We have frequent council meetings to see that everyone is managing,’

Hinton explains. ’It is most difficult for the creative directors, whose

primary responsibility is to maintain quality output. But short-term

solutions can carry us through.’



An article in the Stage last week reported bad feeling among actors

because Equity was spending tens of thousands of pounds on a party

aboard HMS Belfast while asking impoverished members to keep to the

strike. If agencies are to be believed, the actors’ solidarity is

crumbling.



Equity’s opponents argue that high-profile actors have called out the

rank and file on their behalf. The successful few are getting lucrative

work in other areas, leaving the struggling actors to suffer the

consequences of the strike.



Last week, the IPA wrote to its members asking: ’Do you support the

objective to secure a significant reduction in voiceover earnings?’ and

’Do you intend to sign any Equity contracts?’. Hinton has been pleased

with the ’overwhelming support’ he has received from the answers.



But there is still no sign of a return to negotiations. ’It is

ridiculous to be using old-fashioned arguments about balloting your

members,’ Hinton adds. ’And it’s pathetic to be disagreeing over

semantics. This is an important issue and it shouldn’t be conducted like

a playground battle.’



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