Vaccinated or not? How talent and brands are adapting to new protocols

On 19 November, Tennis Australia CEO Craig Tiley told media that unvaccinated tennis players were to be ruled out of the 2022 Australian Open.

Nine-time champion and reigning Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic has refused to say if he’s vaccinated – or if he intends to get vaccinated.

“We’ll see. We’ll have to wait and see,” Djokovic said of attending the Australian Open after losing to Alexander Zverev in the semi-finals of the ATP Finals in Turin at the time.

“We’re expecting Novak to come,” Tiley explained last month. “The good news is that most of the tennis players, both on the men ‘s and women’s side, are fully vaccinated. Novak, as he’s previously said, that’s a private issue for him.”

According to M&C Saatchi, Sport and Entertainment managing director, Krystyna Frassetto, his situation highlights the importance of establishing long-term partnerships based on shared values, rather than simply choosing the “biggest names, with the biggest reach”.

“For us, the north star of ambassador deals is to partner with talent that embodies your organisational beliefs and purpose and to enjoy an open dialogue on what mutual success looks like.

She added: “Without that, the hard truth is that most sponsors will find themselves quite powerless in this situation.

“In the short term, the right thing to do would be to explore a make-good, either deferring in-person appearances or substituting them for digital or virtual rights that can support upcoming marketing initiatives. Longer-term, one might consider deferring any partnership activity until the situation resolves itself, or a parting of ways if the talent’s position becomes so entrenched that the brand can no longer endorse them.”

Talent Corp managing director, Mark Noakes explained that the agency has made the decision to write a new clause regarding COVID-19 in all contracts for talent moving forward.

“I would imagine there are a lot of lawyers running around and working out what’s been delivered and what’s not, with a lot of pre-existing contracts,” he said. “All the talent deals, brand investor deals, and sports star deals, they all have deliverables. So, I think there would be discussions and negotiations around what’s been impacted By COVID-19.

“If things aren’t being delivered you don’t get paid. I can tell you with great authority that moving forward, there are clauses specific to performance of duties around COVID-19, that’s been written into all of our new contracts. I think that will just be quite standard moving forward with a lot of companies. It hasn’t been in our previous agreements, but it’s definitely in all of our new agreements we’re working on.”

He added: “No one thought about a pandemic when signing new talent on. I do think there are a lot of lawyers working behind the scenes to work out what’s been delivered and what hasn’t. In a case where it hasn’t been delivered, then it’s down to renegotiating the contracts, or just not paying the full fee.”

Founder of The Right Fit tells Mumbrella that most clients/brands are requesting the talent be fully vaccinated and not affiliated with any anti-vaxxer movement

PRISM managing director, Shannan Quinn, commented: “Lockdowns and restrictions have certainly added another layer of complexity when it comes to our clients being able to ensure talent fulfil their contractual obligations within major partnerships. Whilst we haven’t yet experienced major disruption as far as talent being unvaccinated or unwilling to fill their roles, we have certainly had to adapt to the changing restrictions.

“Talent we work with who are experiencing rapid changes to scheduling or restrictions in travel have been more than flexible in working around these hurdles to ensure they can continue to fulfil their obligations. On numerous occasions, we have had to change locations and key dates to align with new restrictions and regulatory requirements. In fact, we have even gone as far as remotely producing a lot of content from other states and countries to ensure we are able meet our clients’ needs.”

She added: “As we continue to move forward in this new world of unpredictable change, we are adding various clauses into new partnership agreements to ensure we can overcome any unexpected changes in the future. Whilst this constant movement and uncertainty is difficult to predict and manage logistically, we are finding most rights holders, clubs and talent themselves are pivoting with us to ensure clients are happy and the talent’s own brand is still present and importantly, remains relevant.”

CEO & founder of Wink models, The Right Fit, The Influencers Agency and #Gifted, Taryn Williams told Mumbrella, on the influencer front, and on platform, The Right Fit, most clients/brands are requesting the talent be fully vaccinated and not affiliated with any anti-vaxxer movement.

“There are brands that, when they list a job listing, the majority of them have said in the description that the talent must be fully-vaccinated to apply for this campaign, and that can be for models, actors, influencers, and even photographers.

“With influencer campaigns, in particular, brands are very clear in the brief that they do not want to be aligned with influencers/potential ambassadors who are anti-vaxxers. This is similar to back in the day where with older alcohol ad campaigns, brands would not want to be associated with talent who has had a drink driving offense, or is posting an excessive alcohol consumption on their feed. It’s very much about brand alignment.”

She added that brands are much more concerned about public backlash, and aligning themselves with someone who has controversial opinions.

“I have seen that anyone who is aligned with the anti-vax movement, and what we hear from brands, is an absolute no, no. It’s definitely something that we see coming through on the majority of briefs. Brands are very much wanting to avoid any connection with anti-vaxxers,” she said.

Williams admits that most brands/clients put out a vetting piece prior to selecting talent, which is the process of performing a background check on someone before offering them employment, conferring an award, or doing fact-checking prior to making any decision.

“Brands will look at previous content from that talent, whether they have made any public comments and been quoted about anything to do with vaccine hesitancy. or whether they have been affiliated with any groups within that space,” she said.

Looking ahead, Williams is confident the industry will see a lot more in-depth changes to contracts, especially with brand ambassador work, and brands adding extra contractual obligations.

“I do think a lot more brands will add one clause to the contracts which states that the talent can’t be associated with anything to do with the anti-vaxxer movement, or make any public comments on the topic, too,” she stated. “I think that now that Australia is open and lockdowns have eased, from a brand perspective, they now require that the talent/ambassador attends face-to-face events, and obligations.”

Williams added: “I think in the creative space, unlike some people just going into the same office with the same people everyday, if you’re a freelance creative, whether you’re a photographer or event producer, you’re coming into contact with so many different people on a day-to-day basis. The risk and liability for the brand to have someone not vaccinated, either at an event or on set of a production, the negative publicity of having an exposure case, as a brand, the commercial risk far outweighs having someone there who is unvaccinated.

While there is currently no legal obligation in this space from government, Williams expects this to change, and in the meantime, The Right Fit, are rolling out a feature on the platform that will allow people to showcase their vaccine status. “It’s a feature that we will ask everyone to complete, either a yes, no or that they’d rather not say,” said Williams.

“This is something we saw on Hipages and Airtasker, and this we believe will help make those commercial decisions to book talent for the client more easily. The feature will launch in February next year.”


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