When planning for influencer programs, there are usually five standard questions we have to rattle off before locking down a partner:

  1. Do they reach our target audience?
  2. What kind of content do they create, and does it fit within the brand/campaign?
  3. Do they have a credible voice?
  4. How many followers do they have?
  5. Do they fit into the budget?

Sound familiar? It should. But now we need to add a sixth question: “Are they a member of SAG-AFTRA?”

The Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Arts, or “SAG-AFTRA,” or even better, “The Union,” is traditionally the domain of actors, actresses and other broadcast and film talent. But today, members now include many digital-first influencers of all levels of fame. The union regulates fees, oversees working conditions, and administers a union-wide Pension & Health (“P&H”) fund. If a Union talent participates in what is considered a “Union covered service,” then the entity that has hired/paid the talent is responsible for making union contributions on the talent’s behalf. That last bit is especially relevant for agencies, brands, and influencer campaigns to consider.

So what is a Union covered service? In regard to influencer work, it’s video content created specifically for a brand and used on social channels like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, and YouTube. The union contributions don’t apply to static images. 

Here’s how to navigate the nitty-gritty.

If you’re working with Union talent and the content ask includes video, include a line item in the budget for Pension & Health (“P&H”) based on the fees paid to the influencer talent. As of 2019, the P&H contribution is 19% of gross wages paid to talent. However, if the talent is executing services that do not fall into Union jurisdiction along with those that do, then we recommend carving out the compensation as a “Multi-Use Agreement” and only pay P&H on a portion of the fees to talent.

For example, if an influencer partner is being paid $20,000 for executing a digital-only campaign including video content, then the P&H contribution required to be paid on their behalf would be $3800 ($20,000 x 19%) plus the processing fee. If the influencer is being paid $20,000 for executing a campaign that includes digital elements and other servicessuch as media interviews, personal appearances, etc.then the P&H would be reduced. Generally, 50% is the “Safe Harbor” minimum to pay against to help avoid a Union audit. If paying against 50% of the compensation, the P&H would be $1900 ($20,000 x 50% = $10,000 x 19%) plus the processing fee.

It’s important to keep in mind that the P&H is in addition to any fees paid to the influencer and must be paid by the hiring party or their signatory. It’s not taken out of the compensation, nor is it to be paid by the talent.

All this info may seem like a lot to digest. But having a firm grasp on the SAG-AFTRA payment process ensures you’re getting the best value from your talent—and ultimately, the best campaign possible. Read more about digital-first influencers and their rise to celebrity here.

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