How Hollywood Agencies Are Finding Their Political Footing in Trump World

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Wilmer Valderrama

UTA, WME-IMG, CAA and ICM Partners are choosing different paths to challenge the new White House administration's moves, from forming PACs to activist summits: "The election has changed everything."

Politics may be the latest battleground in the agency wars, but to hear insiders tell it, it's a matter of differing approaches to a shared goal.

UTA has gotten in front of much of the conversation, most notably with its Oscar weekend rally, which drew more than 2,000 attendees outside its Beverly Hills headquarters and raised more than $325,000 for the ACLU and International Rescue Committee. "UTA has looked at this as a particularly extraordinary moment in time and feels driven to have a voice that reflects our agency's culture," says global corporate communications head Seth Oster. "But not only that, a voice that supports artists and our clients." Meanwhile, news surfaced of WME-IMG's plans to form a political action committee, while CAA held a daylong summit on activism Feb. 23 and ICM Partners hired an in-house political strategist.

Even as rivals privately accuse one another of flash over substance, each maintains that its own agency's recent actions are a natural outgrowth of long-standing involvement in the public sphere, albeit hastened and intensified by the new Donald Trump administration's moves. "The election has changed everything," says Hannah Linkenhoker, ICM's new political strategist.

WME, which has employed a government relations executive for more than a year, intends to file to form a federal nonconnected PAC (one that's able to solicit contributions from individuals unaffiliated with the company) by March 17, according to a source, who adds that WME's strategy is to effect the most practical and sustainable change.

CAA favors "a holistic approach to activism," says the agency's chief innovation officer Michelle Kydd Lee, who was hired to launch the CAA Foundation when the Young Turks took over in 1995. "It's all interwoven. We don't see [politics] as a silo." As election season intensified in 2016, the agency formed CAA Civics as an official employee affinity group, run by agents and executives from across the company.

Participation in prosocial causes is gaining increasing cachet among agencies. Although not a partisan exercise, both UTA and Paradigm announced offsite activities to mark A Day Without a Woman on March 8. In addition to featured speakers in Los Angeles and New York, UTA organized clothing and fundraising drives to benefit Toronto Dress for Success and Women's Habitat. Meanwhile, women at Paradigm assembled 101 hygiene bags — in honor of the 101 female employees in their office — for L.A. Family Housing.

More than other types of Hollywood businesses, agencies are well-positioned for political engagement at a companywide level. "We can be a lot more nimble and take risks and positions in a way that large conglomerates can't," says one agency source, referring to the competing interests at studio parent companies.

As such, social action is the rare issue that has agencies reaching across the aisle. "I couldn't be more thrilled," Kydd Lee tells THR. "We're so active all the time that having more company for the work is just fantastic."

A version of this story first appeared in the March 31 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.