Actors Union and NYPD Visit Droga5’s Manhattan Headquarters

By Patrick Coffee 

Actors unions are not too enthusiastic about the ad agency world.

SAG-AFTRA, formerly known as the Screen Actors Guild, is America’s biggest union for performers–and its organizers have chosen to single out Droga5 as an agency that uses non-union actors in its ads. (Many other agencies do the same thing, but you already knew that.)

They’ve been at it for a while, posting this note back in October.

Again last week:

They even bought a paid ad(!) on a certain trade publication today.

These promos were all in preparation for this morning’s stunt in which SAG members showed up at Droga5’s office in downtown Manhattan demanding, essentially, that the agency work with the organization on future campaigns.

From their press release:

“Members of SAG-AFTRA, the union representing approximately 160,000 actors, announcers, singers and other performers, will deliver a petition that calls on leading digital ad agency Droga5 to stop undermining the industry standards that ensure commercial performers can earn a middle-class living.

…the union will demand that Droga5 live up to its self-professed commitment to being ‘humanity obsessed’ by paying fair market wages for performers in all of their productions. Droga5’s current practice of paying actors substandard wages without benefits is unfair and exploits the often struggling performers who take the jobs.

The petition delivery action is part of a larger initiative launched in late 2015 that calls out Droga5—and other digital ad agencies—for unfair hiring practices and substandard working conditions that harm performers.”

It’s not quite clear why they picked Droga* beyond the fact that the agency happens to be popular at the moment, but that’s where they started with some assistance from the hashtag #adsgounion. Here they are on the bus going to Droga’s headquarters.

Here they are walking and chanting, chanting and walking.

Here they are hanging in the lobby.

The owners of the building in which Droga and many other businesses operate (all of which is technically private property) were so far from amused that they called the friendly officers of the NYPD to help. SAG then claimed that Droga claimed that they were throwing some sort of object(s) somewhere?

We hear that the building’s owners called the cops when approximately 30 members of the group refused to leave, but we weren’t there so we don’t know exactly how it went down.

How did this all come about? For the record, here’s SAG’s original statement:

“Some agencies have a double standard. They pay market rates for union directors, actors and crews — when they need to. Other times, they’re hiring nonprofessional actors and paying substandard wages without benefits to them, while working with union crews.”

…and here’s Droga5’s updated response:

“Droga5 remains a non-signatory to the SAG commercials contract, enabling us to engage in non-union shoots when it is deemed appropriate. However, when managing SAG productions, we always use SAG performers, which include any commercials for SAG-signatory clients or featuring any SAG celebrity talent. In those instances, we abide by SAG rules and pay SAG wages across the board. We do not engage SAG performers in non-union productions.”

In short, they play by the rules whenever those rules apply but chose to opt out of the union-only contract for some completely unknown reason. Some in the ad industry feel like SAG might need to rethink its messaging efforts.

That’s valid, given how vague the press statement was. Here’s another sort-of hot take.

…and one more.

We have a number of questions. Is there any agency to which SAG’s initial claim doesn’t apply? And are they demanding that all actors in all ads be union members? Is that what “humanity obsessed” really means?

We’re agnostic on this issue, though we do get why SAG feels defensive given that the Supreme Court is almost certainly prepared to collectively bust some public employee unions’ balls.

We also wonder whether they asked any agency creatives about work/life balance and fair pay. Maybe next time they could look for a more receptive audience.

UPDATE: The very insistent SAG-AFTRA also sent a follow-up press release around 4:30 today, in case you ever doubted that this event was a media stunt. In it, local president Mike Hodge writes:

“SAG-AFTRA members simply went to drop off 8,000 petition names and talk with Droga5 today. Instead of coming downstairs and looking us in the eye, Droga5 wouldn’t accept the petition and the police were called. Today’s action shows Droga5 we’re not going away quietly and reminds them that treating hard-working performers in an equitable fashion and allowing them to earn a middle-class living is the right thing to do.”

The group even sent out this photo of “SAG-AFTRA NY President Mike Hodge with staff being greeted by NYPD,” to be credited to the union.

sag cops

Regarding today’s digital placements in AdAge, Adweek, The Hollywood Reporter and Variety:

“The digital takeover will be followed by full-page color print ads in several industry trade publications.”

They’re pushing the message on Instagram, too.

SAG ad

For the record, we’re still not convinced this constitutes a successful stunt.

*A contact also noted that Droga5 is partly owned by talent agency William Morris Endeavor. SAG never mentions this fact, but it almost certainly has at least something to do with the org’s decision to focus on Droga5 as its enemy of the day.