Movie and TV studios aren’t the only ones gearing up for Hollywood’s big comeback, after the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers (AMPTP) agreed to a new three-year contract with the Writers Guild of America (WGA), ending an almost four-month strike of 11,000 screenwriters.
PR agencies, boutiques and publicists in the entertainment sector are also optimistic following a trying few months.
“Hollywood, as we know it, should be back in full form by Q1 2024,” predicts Jarrod Moses, founder and CEO of United Entertainment Group, which is owned by Edelman parent company DJE Holdings.
There is the matter, of course, that tens of thousands of actors remain on the picket lines—with two months having passed since the last meeting between the AMPTP and the actors’ union, SAG-AFTRA. Actors have been on strike since July 17.
But Moses believes a deal is now likely to be hammered out sooner rather than later.
“The WGA process and learnings, I believe, will help the SAG-AFTRA process,” he says, noting a desire on both sides “to get back to work.”
The writers’ strike, at 148 days, was just six days from eclipsing the WGA’s longest strike ever in 1988. But the fact that it wasn’t unexpected helped comms firms in the industry prepare and pivot for the Hollywood shutdown.
“We prepared for the reduction in entertainment product for a significant amount of time and developed alternative opportunities for our clients,” says Moses, referencing music partnerships, concert tours, celebrity and influencer programs, live events and festivals, and sports partnerships. “Our ability to redirect some of our work and team members to other areas of our business allowed us to continue our trajectory no matter how long the strike would last.”
Still, he acknowledges “opportunities were missed from both a brand and entertainment side,” owing to the shutdown’s long duration.
“However, technology is moving incredibly fast, and the current model doesn’t reflect our current reality,” says Moses. “It was important that the industry and the people who work within it created a forward-looking plan that responds to the changing times and built a path forward that reflects their ambition and trade.”
Also feeling optimistic? Phil Lobel, founder and chairman of Lobeline Communications, an entertainment-based firm with offices in Los Angeles, Chicago, San Francisco, New York and Toronto.
“We’re going to see SAG-AFTRA move quickly to get back to work and start creating some spectacular entertainment,” he says. “I think you’re going to see a new golden age of Hollywood after all this, especially when people feel fairly compensated.”
Lobel added that there will be a lot of robust PR campaigns for both film and TV.
Still, Lobel never imagined either strike to drag on.
“It’s kind of like COVID, in that at first you think this will be over in a month or two,” he tells PRWeek. “After the box office success of Barbie and Oppenheimer, I thought for sure that the powers that be would want to keep that money train rolling with new movies.”
Lobeline has a diversified roster of talent—clients have ranged from late singer George Michael, illusionist David Copperfield and Real Housewives TV star Lisa Vanderpump to former pro boxer Oscar De La Hoya, motivational speaker Tony Robbins and actor Brad Pitt.
“We have obviously paused most traditional PR efforts for our actors,” says Lobel. “But some still want to be out there supporting SAG-AFTRA in news stories or with social media efforts. Any PR effort at this time has to be done with a deep understanding of the entertainment industry.”
The agency also had to think beyond the usual channels for talent like athletes and musicians.
“TV talk shows, both late night and daytime, being off-air posed a real problem for publicists who were working with musicians, sports figures and the like who wanted to talk about current projects on the Tonight Show, Kimmel, Kelly Clarkson, Drew,” says Lobel. “Our entire Lobeline team is delighted to have these outlets back.”
Lobeline was also able to keep busy having branched out in recent years to hospitality, including restaurants like Wagyu House in Los Angeles and Vanderpump’s Pump Restaurant in West Hollywood, as well as tech, like Ryse Aero Technologies and anti-piracy company Web Sheriff.
“During the strikes, this has proven to be a real godsend,” says Lobel. “I feel for any publicist who only handles actors right now.”
Berk Communications had to veer off the usual playbook for its mostly sports-focused clientele, who include NFL legend Robert Kraft, MLB all-star Alex Rodiguez and New York Yankees player Aaron Judge, as well as tennis star Simona Halep, who recently hired the firm amid a doping ban. Berk has also worked with music mogul Jay-Z.
“From SNL to game shows and talk shows, anything scripted was taken off the table for our clients,” says the firm’s president Ron Berkowitz. “We had to figure out other opportunities and pathways, and ended up doing a lot of print and especially podcasts. Podcasts became really big, and I think that will continue to be a great opportunity for our clients moving forward.”
Many boutiques even diversified their client base during the Hollywood shutdown.
“The impact of the Hollywood writers and actors strike is pretty devastating across the board for PR firms that predominantly work with entertainment clients,” says Kelila Shapiro, CEO of ShapiroPR, in Los Angeles. “We anticipated that the strike could last for several months because some of the issues raised in the strike by writers and actors are unprecedented, such as the use of AI.”
ShapiroPR pursued and landed new clients outside the entertainment sector. It had also scaled back to a mostly four-day work week and had some of its roughly seven-person team alternate shifts to get through the disruption.
“We also took some great long lunches to discuss our business and client goals for 2024,” Shapiro says.
Also anticipating the actors’ strike to be resolved soon because of the symbiotic relationship between writers and actors, Shapiro says “we are prepping for the return with new hires and long hours to jump in and be part of the big return. Hollywood has a knack for always coming back.”