The Hollywood Writers Strike

Well, even Tina Fey got on the picket line in New York City yesterday, so you know it’s serious.
A few years ago, with a looming baseball strike, I wondered what would happen if advertising creatives had a union.
Advertising is a commercial art–just like TV is. But copywriters and art directors don’t have a union, generally don’t get paid on the level of TV writers, don’t have the slightest bit of recourse for job grievances, or get any kind of residuals pertaining to what they do. Hell, there are things I wrote 6 years ago that are still in use, long after I got shitcanned.
So I’d like to know what you think: Do you have any sympathy for Hollywood writers? Are you jealous and wish advertising creatives could unionize?

About Dan Goldgeier

Blogging on AdPulp since 2005, Dan Goldgeier is a Seattle-based freelance copywriter with experience at advertising agencies across the U.S. He is a graduate of the Creative Circus ad school, and currently teaches at Seattle's School of Visual Concepts. In addition, he is a regular columnist for Dan published the best of his columns in a book entitled View From The Cheap Seats: A Broader Look at Advertising, Marketing, Branding, Global Politics, Office Politics, Sexual Politics, and Getting Drunk During a Job Interview. Look for it on Amazon in paperback and e-book editions.


  1. re: pay –
    I was on the set of a popular TV show about a decade ago and asked some pertinent questions (of my friend on the crew who invited me there). She said I could get close to $150K if I could sell them one episode or make about $500k as a staff writer on the show.
    So you’re right, copywriters get nowhere near the insane pile of cash Hollywood writers make.

  2. Money writes says:

    In my opinion, creatives get paid low in advertising because agencies are compensated primarily for their time, not the quality of their ideas.
    The way the structure is right now, a hack who bangs shit out fast without thinking or questioning is the most profitable kind of “creative.” Hence the crazy profitability of places like Zimmerman in ft lauderdale.
    If idea-based compensation catches on, the best creatives will command higher salaries, because agency CFO’s will have a concrete reason to loosen the purse strings for talent.

  3. Money, you’re spot on.
    I posted about this a little while back and my main reason for not wanting a union was not wanting to get paid the same as creatives at bad agencies who turn out lame work (not that I am any great shakes, but you get the point).
    If we could get paid for ideas and not for hours, we could solve that problem and still get rich (and the small agencies could still, if they wanted to, compete on price and other differentiating factors which would ensure that the Death Star agencies didn’t take over completely).

  4. The unfortunate part of the business is that you have to sell something to a studio or network before you make any money. You can be a mediocre copywriter and still find work, but you can’t have a show on ABC if you’re not up-to-par. I say that while Cavemen will air later today…

  5. When I read about things like the Steve Beigel lawsuit, and in particular, the sleazy way he got canned (par for the course for our industry though) – the idea of a union starts to make more sense.

  6. Hmmm. I don’t know. Think of all the people you know in advertising. Is this a group you want to tie your fortunes to?

  7. TT:
    Which part of the Beigel thing is sleazy, specifically? (The whole thing is sleazy to me, but the lawsuit seems opportunistic, frivolous, and strategically timed.)
    Just curious, as it seems to me that Beigel is no saint himself.

  8. Money writes says:

    okay. says-
    “Hmmm. I don’t know. Think of all the people you know in advertising. Is this a group you want to tie your fortunes to?”
    I agree. In most cases unions end up being a roadblock to innovation and evolution, not a help. (writer’s guild might be different, i don’t know.)
    Let’s focus on getting compensated for our ideas, and not for keeping the beancounters happy. Then the money shall come forth.

  9. John Reid says:

    Money- You couldn’t be more right. Ad people being paid for time makes no sense. If we come up with huge, business-altering ideas, why would the client care if it took 100 hours or ten seconds? Clearly, the typical fee structure at agencies is broken. But it seems to be getting better, with incentives for success and such.
    Unions crush innovation and incent workers to be mediocre. Hardly the influence we need in advertising right now. Plus, creatives have tons of power; if you don’t like the deal you’re getting, go find a new job.

  10. Agree that unions in, say, the auto industry, can contribute to mediocrity, but getting back to writing for film and television, isn’t every screenwriter of every movie (including your personal favorites) already a member of The Writer’s Guild? I wonder if Quentin Tarantino or the Cohen Brothers feel being a member of the Guild hurts them creatively? If there weren’t a Guild would those guys be even MORE creative? Not sure the logic holds that an Ad Creatives Guild would automatically = mediocrity.
    And as far as the hacks being paid the same as the geniuses, I think you’re oversimplifying things a bit there. Is there a Guild rule about this? I doubt it. Please let me know if it’s true, though. I’ve got a really lame idea for a movie and was hoping to just breeze into town and command a Joe Esterhauz-ian price for it after slapping together a screenplay.
    No system is perfect, but my guess is that the Guild helps more than it hurts. Like everything, it’s not black and white, it’s more complicated than hacks vs. geniuses.
    I do know one thing, though. No one benefiting from the current system will willingly grant ownership rights to ad creatives. That issue will have to be forced: Guild, Union or otherwise. So yeah, keep on arguing amongst yourselves about “hacks” making peanuts and creative rock stars making a few more peanuts. That’s just the way the Montgomery Burns’s of the ad world like it.

  11. americans have been conditioned (by, oh let me guess, the republican party perhaps) to assume unions in general are a negative force. just plain bad. never good. couldn’t be.
    but remember why they came into being. the man was being an asshole and workers weren’t getting a fair shake. and the workers had no power individually. they didn’t come out of nowhere.
    i predict a revival in trade unions real soon in this country.

  12. Money writes says:

    Believe me, i’m not speaking against unions as a republican mouthpiece. I understand the importance that unions had back in the day, and that some of them work well now. But I also have observed plenty of unions acting in a way that butters the bread of the top brass and their political friends but ends up hurting their rank and file. like when the manufacturers union came out in support of the law that prevents us from importing cheaper prescriptions from canada.
    I also happen to work for a guy right now who is very socialist-minded who left his home country partially because every job (including creative) was unionized, and his earning potential is much higher in america.
    The ad industry’s compensation is fucked up in all kinds of crazy ways, mostly because it protects agencies that don’t have confidence in their own ideas. I’m not sure that a union is the best way to solve it.

  13. FWIW, I don’t think Tarantino, Kevin Smith, George Lucas or Robert Rodriquez are members of the Directors Guild. I think mainly because the rules of the Guild did hamper, in some way, the creativity of each.
    The big question is why form a union when you can form a company? Each of the guys above did and seemed to make out alright.

  14. Good point, Bear. Wasn’t aware of that. Though I’m not sure if the Director’s Guild and Writer’s Guild share the same good and bad points. I do believe the Writer’s Guild will allow non-members to register scripts, showing how some union protections even extend to non-members.
    And sure, starting your own company is always an option. I suppose every Pilot could theoretically start their own airline. But since most choose not to, I also understand their desire for a union.

  15. Burro Hall has a great post on the WGA.
    Here’s how it starts >>
    Even given the sorry state of the labor movement in US, you’d be hard pressed to come up with a more clownish or ineffective union than the Writers Guild of America.