What happens to the Hollywood PR machine when actors and writers strike?

Written by Amy Ta, produced by Brian Hardzinski

SAG-AFTRA actors and Writers Guild of America (WGA) writers walk the picket line in front of Paramount Studios in Los Angeles, California, U.S., July 17, 2023. Photo by REUTERS/Mike Blake.

A big part of an actor’s job is promoting their finished work — but SAG-AFTRA members aren’t allowed to do so while the union is striking. So what happens to the Hollywood public relations machine when actors and writers can’t appear on talk shows or podcasts, or talk to journalists?

“The celebrity factory has shut down,” says Janice Min, CEO and editor-in-chief of The Ankler. “And this is what makes Hollywood special. They have something that no other industry has. This is why LA is a destination of dreams and where people want to come and make it big. It's because you have talent. And without actors … without people out there to make your product — and the product here happens to be movies and television — come alive and interact with your fans, it ceases to be.”

She recalls last weekend, before actors went on strike, Tom Cruise was surprising fans at screenings and shaking their hands. She says these stars are like politicians who keep Hollywood in business. “And now that's gone. And so the machinery of press … who also are a secondary business that feed off the talent … to help their own businesses, they are taking a big hit.”

Then this Thursday is the opening of Comic-Con, which was supposed to be the kickoff for many movies, particularly those with superheroes. “You can't underestimate how meaningful that event was for people who have made those movies and franchises,” she says. 

In September, the Emmy Awards are supposed to be handed out, but that may be postponed. The ceremony is preceded with “For Your Consideration” campaigns — but on a quieter level than before, Min explains. 

“This is putting the studios and streamers in a tough place. They want to support these shows, they want the awards. … It's a way to market your streaming platform. So it's muted. And what has become a big part of the FYC business are these events, where you have your talent come out and they're interviewed on stage, and they talk about their role in ‘The Bear’ and say smart and brilliant things that get picked up by other media. … And now that's gone.” 

Russell Schwartz, professor at Chapman University’s film school and former president of theatrical marketing at New Line Cinema, says FYC campaigns can be done with directors, editors, production designers, and camera workers, “but it becomes a technical panel, not necessarily a glossy one.” Thus, he isn’t sure how much of that will be done as a substitute. 

Still, the lack of ad campaigns likely will not affect who wins Emmys. Schwartz says Emmy voters are familiar with every show and pride themselves on being able to make a decision regardless of ad presence. 

As for press relations firms, they may be cutting back or going out of business. Agents have little business too. But the bigger impacts fall on caterers, drivers, takeout restaurants, grips, and set workers, according to Min. “It's catastrophic to have this many people dependent on one industry — out of work. And that's why you're seeing so much anger at these CEOs who are collecting their checks, no matter what, throughout all of this.”

She adds, “That's why you saw so much anger in [SAG-AFTRA President] Fran Drescher … at her press conference … seeing how this has become such a larger labor issue. This is not about Hollywood, but how it's emblematic of the entire labor force in America that feels like they're getting disrupted.” 

Disclaimer: Many KCRW staff are members of SAG-AFTRA, though we are under a separate contract from the agreement at issue between actors and studios.



  • Janice Min - CEO and editor-in-chief of The Ankler
  • Russell Schwartz - professor at Chapman University’s film school and former president of theatrical marketing at New Line Cinema