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
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
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
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
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
Agencies claim to be getting clever at finding other ways of doing
’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
’Why do we need an agreement?’ Hinton asks. ’Fees should be decided by
individuals’ negotiating skills - we don’t have a union in the
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
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.’