SAG-AFTRA Makes BBH Strike Personal With Campaign Targeting Chairman Sarah Watson

By Patrick Coffee 

As we’re all well aware, actors union SAG-AFTRA has a long-running feud with the agency world—especially the new school of agencies that have opened in the digital age and never signed on to the contracts requiring them to use only union talent for productions.

Most recently, the group has turned on BBH for ending its relationship after more than 20 years last November, when the most recent iteration of that contract expired.

They have boycotted BBH, held faux bake sales in front of the agency’s offices to help pay actors’ salaries and, in the most recent iteration of the battle, targeted agency chairman and chief strategy officer Sarah Watson in a multimedia campaign labeling her a “hypocrite.”


Specifically, the ad, which appears on all of the group’s social media channels, uses her work with Time’s Up Advertising to claim that she is applying a double standard by not agreeing to the union’s own rules regarding her employer’s work with its clients and the actors employed in their various projects (who are ultimately paid by the client, not the agency).

This marks a considerable escalation of the conflict. To our knowledge, SAG-AFTRA has not singled out individual executives in past protests, at least those regarding creative agencies.

The organization is also promoting its effort to all relevant publications like Adweek after holding public events.

Bryan Cranston appeared in a recent video supporting the effort.

“‘You don’t get to tell the world that you are an ethical company doing business in an ethical way and then walk out on your contractual obligations to your longtime partners,” president Gabrielle Carteris said in a statement, claiming that “BBH is illegally attempting to withdraw from our contract, claiming that it hinders their ability to ‘deliver the greatest level of flexibility and value for their work.’”

We should note that this matter hinges on an interpretation of that contract.

The contract BBH agreed to expired in November 2017. The agency argues that it simply chose not to renew, while SAG-AFTRA believes that signees do not have the right to legally do so. By implication, if one has ever signed a contract with the organization, it must by default be renewed in perpetuity unless renegotiated to SAG-AFTRA’s liking.

Further along in the union press statement, Carteris said, “As BBH well knows, SAG-AFTRA offers tailored agreements that provide flexibility and give producers the tools they need to hire the best union talent within competitive budgets. BBH is simply trying to walk out on their commitment to provide working actors with fair pay, benefits and a safe workplace.”

Last August, the organization told us that they successfully negotiated with Grey after launching a similar protest against that agency. In 2017, it also granted a waiver to signatories for digital productions with budgets under $50,000, but that total applies to few projects undertaken by large or even midsize agencies.

In its own statement, BBH characterized the new campaign as taking things too far.

“SAG-AFTRA has chosen to resort to launching a personal attack on a BBH employee,” said an agency spokesperson. “We believe these bullying tactics [are uncalled for and] distract from the real issue at hand. We unequivocally stand behind all of our employees and will remain focused on delivering high quality work to our clients.”

In September, BBH said the strike would not affect its business. But its status as a “struck agency” does prevent it from working with SAG signatories while agencies like Anomaly or Droga5, which never signed the contract, can still negotiate projects with those parties.

According to a source, a hearing in the legal dispute between the two parties will take place early next year. Until then, expect more of the same.