The Hollywood union repping influencers

Talking with SAG-AFTRA execs about their groundbreaking Influencer Agreement.

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Until recently, pitching coverage of influencers to mainstream publications was an uphill battle. I was once asked in a job interview why people “would care” when I mentioned that I thought they should start including content creators in their coverage. Even at jobs like Refinery29, where I was lucky enough to write about it more and more frequently, I’d have to come armed with statistics about audience and search terms before pitching something about Charli D’Amelio—and further coverage was contingent on how well the first piece performed. Now, of course, we're saturated with digital culture content spurred in part by pandemic internet habits. 

But if influencers have been normalized in media as entertainers, they’ve yet to be recognized and treated as workers in the industry they have built. That's where the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, Hollywood’s biggest union, has come in. Early this year, it approved an “Influencer Agreement” that covers anyone, whether they identify as an influencer or a more traditional entertainer, who is paid to advertise products on social media platforms.

Despite the rise of subscription services, creator funds, merch, and other revenue streams, the largest portion of influencers’ income still comes from brand deals and other partnerships with advertisers. They don't work for one company, and don't get employer-sponsored healthcare or even a consistent paycheck. Not only are they the writers, producers, and editors of their own work, they’re also people who have to pay rent and medical fees and build a retirement fund. And they've largely had to do it all alone. 

The SAG-AFTRA Influencer-Generated Sponsored Content Agreement provides influencers with a system for contributing their income into a health insurance and pension plan, plus the power of union behind them if they face contract issues. It has also helped tear down the boundaries between online creators and traditional entertainers, allowing Hollywood stars to engage in social media work that’s now covered by the union and online creators to more seamlessly transition into TV, film, or radio. 

Wanting to hear more about what a union can do for influencers, and how the agreement has worked in practice over the past eight months, I spoke with Tracy Hyman, SAG-AFTRA’s National Director, Commercial Contracts, and Sue-Anne Morrow, Director, Strategic Initiatives, over Zoom. Paid subscribers can read the interview to find out what influencers need to do to join up and how the union is already changing the industry.

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