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SAG-AFTRA Goes After Influencers

The union is expanding their contracts to cover social media influencers

Kris LaGrange's picture
Feb 16, 2021

SAG-AFTRA represents roughly 160,000 workers in the entertainment industry. Their members are on most major TV shows, movies, and commercials. Their members can also be heard on the radio nationwide. On Saturday, the union brought in a new set of workers, social media influencers.

At the national board meeting on Saturday, the union ratified an agreement that will allow these influencers to earn a union income, qualify for health and pension benefits, and gain other union protections. According to Tubefilter, the agreement will cover influencer-generated branded content for distribution on the person or brand’s social media channels; influencer brand deals that cover on-camera or voiceover performances; and content where an influencer is responsible for the creative, production, performance, and distribution of the branded content. The deal will only cover video or audio work and would not cover influencers posting still-shot branded content.

“Making it easier to cover this type of work has been a top priority for our organization,” said SAG-AFTRA President, Gabrielle Carteris, in the official announcement. “I want to commend the efforts of our staff in creating an agreement that will benefit SAG-AFTRA’s current members as well as allowing all creators an opportunity to join the union. As new ways of storytelling emerge, it’s imperative that we embrace and lift up these artists.”

Since the explosion of social media platforms like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok, influencers have played a larger role in the marketing world, especially when brands are targeting millennials and Gen Z’s. Unlike a brand hiring an actor to do a commercial under a SAG-AFTRA contract, these brand deals are negotiated by the influencer and can range in price and exposure for the brand. This new agreement would formalize the procedure, create more standard agreements for influencer deals, and allow the union to protect these workers. This is especially helpful for new influencers or small-mid-level influencers who are trying to negotiate new or better deals.

In some cases, top-end influencers have a larger reach than brands could ever hope to reach through traditional advertising. Some with large followings like PewDiePie or Mr. Beast have tens of millions of followers, routinely rack up tens of millions of views a week on their videos, and make millions of dollars a year in brand deals on YouTube. Other influencers like Kylie Jenner boast over 200 million followers on Instagram and have used that following to make millions. Reportedly one post from Jenner hawking a brand is worth $1 million in advertising.

By allowing these influencers to get a “SAG card,” it will also make it easier for them to make a transition into more traditional forms of media such as working on a TV show. Traditionally, performers would toil away for months or years before getting enough credits to qualify to get their card, which allowed them to work on bigger budgets and higher-paying projects.

The agreement could also be a big boost for the union. Due to COVID-19 many of their members struggled to find work in 2020. However, the amount spent on advertising through influencers increased. Since a video could be made at home or with minimal help, these videos continued to be produced. Many entertainment industry professionals even began turning to social media to build new revenue streams by advertising products to their followers.

The union spent over three years researching the growing influencer market to find out how they could best help these creators. They also worked with some creators to determine what issues were important to them, with many saying that they wanted the legitimacy of having a SAG card and the stability of a union health care and pension system.

“From everything I read so far it seems like something myself and a lot of other creators will do,” said Lindsay Silberman, 34, a lifestyle influencer in New York City. “I think this just legitimizes and lends a lot of credibility to an industry many have not taken seriously,” she said, referring to the work influencers do.


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