Advertising creatives should care about the WGA strike

(January 16, 2008 Members of the Writers Guild of America East picket outside ABC headquarters, CREDIT: Shuttstock)

Let me just begin by stating the obvious – advertising is an at-will industry. Agencies can hire you for any reason based on any random set of criteria; likewise, they can fire you for any reason at any time.

Hire at will, fire at will.

They can also pay you whatever they want at will. If Goodby wants to pay secretaries $275,000 plus 6 weeks of PTO? Fine, they’re at-will. If Wieden & Kennedy wants to pay senior writers on their new $60 Million fintech account $13.50 an hour there’s no stopping them. Beyond public side-eyes or being outbid by competing agencies, at-will joints can do what they want.

A bazillion years ago a few of us tried forming a union for Advertising creatives. (The ACG aka “Advertising Creatives Guild” we were calling it.) We got as far as a handful of meetings in Chicago and NYC. We did logos, mission statements… structural stuff. But when push came to shove there just
wasn’t much traction beyond a hundred or peeps across a few mid-sized
shops to do it.

Small fries didn’t wanna get fired or in trouble. But the biggest hurdle was pay.

People liked knowing you could make as much as an agency was willing to pay you for any arbitrary reason. Back then, that dynamic favored White creatives. Lack of protection hurt Black ad pros—we were barely getting hired at all. (The industry was over 90% White by its own account back then.) Plus, we were being paid less, had hostile work environments, etc. We needed a union.


But an advertising creative union wasn’t happening without allies. And you know what I still say about allies… Most are all lies, even to this day.

Anyway, the WGA union is on strike. They’re looking out for theirs. From what a few WGA members have told me, the studios and networks want to go de facto at will. They want to do away with writer salaries and go strictly “day rate”. Basically, treat writers as freelancers, even the staffed ones since shows don’t work on a 12-month calendar but more like a 6–8-month calendar. So that’s “freelance” to them.

A lot of studios, networks and streaming platforms are having record profits and revenue years, but writer salaries are stagnating with many making less than before the pandemic. And all but a few writers got screwed out of streaming. (Think of Big Oil: huge profits, but the little guy gets nothing but $4 gas.)

In advertising, creatives give up their intellectual property for a flat salary, a low day rate or a cheap buyout. We get no equity or residuals. That’s the game. Advertising creative isn’t valued enough to be repurposed beyond one client, so ad creatives have no leverage.

Scripts and books are a bit different, tho.

There’s an appetite for good scripts, and most any book is IP that can be flipped if you freak it right. So, writers gon’ fight.

Advertising will never have a union. No stomach for one. But watch this #WGA strike because the race to the bottom is in full swing and it man pull us all down. #WritersGuildofAmerica


Hadji Williams is an award-winning copy and content writer with Nigerian blood and Chicago roots. He’s pushed everything under the sun from AT&T to Gillette, Bayer AG to Mercedes Benz, and  Spectrum to Wrigley’s Gum, plus a few NDA-unmentionables. He’s currently chasing big screens and streams in SoCal.

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