An internal email to WME-IMG staffers from the Century City talent agency’s co-chief executives, Ari Emanuel and Patrick Whitesell, had nothing to do with a Hollywood star or the latest megadeal. The subject line on the Feb. 7 missive was just one word: influence.
Informally signed with the executives’ initials, the memo read: “No matter what side of the aisle you sit on or where you live in the world, the call for meaningful and sustained civic engagement is louder than ever.”
The missive promised continuing updates on opportunities to engage in political and public policy activism as well as more information on how to connect agency clients with elected officials. WME-IMG also confirmed that it is planning to launch a political action committee, though specifics have not yet been announced.
While political activism is nothing new in the entertainment industry, some in Hollywood said they are observing heightened political awareness, as well as an increased hunger for social engagement, in the months since Donald Trump took office. Observers noted a rise in informational and education seminars and meetings as well as dinners or in-home gatherings arranged around discussing social issues – both before and after the election.
The enthusiasm around people attending events and writing checks has doubled since Trump came to the White House, said Hannah Linkenhoker, 30, a political strategist who joined ICM Partners in March to offer advisory services to clients interested in issue-oriented political engagement.
“I’m super excited about it,” added Linkenhoker, formerly managing director of NMA Consulting Partners, which has offices in Los Angeles and San Francisco and deals with political and philanthropic initiatives. “It used to be a little like pushing a rock up a hill, but now it’s all happening organically.”
One high-profile entertainment attorney who asked not to be named said there are so many events going on he finds it less necessary to set up business lunches and meetings because he knows he will encounter a good number of clients and colleagues at political or issue-oriented gatherings.
While talent agencies – and their leadership – have long been frontrunners in championing social causes and charitable efforts, they are also stepping up their involvement in connecting clients with opportunities for political and social activism.
Along with WME-IMG and ICM, Creative Artists Agency has also ramped up its efforts. CAA’s recent issue-oriented activities include a roundtable discussion with the American Civil Liberties Union and a partnership with L.A. nonprofit Rock the Vote. The agency is also bolstering its roster of political clients, a list that includes former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill; former presidential adviser Valerie Jarrett; and Barbara Boxer, the recently retired California senator.
ICM’s Linkenhoker said many of the agency’s clients, including outspoken TV producer Shonda Rhimes, are seeking advice from the agency on how best to use their high profile to influence social change. Linkenhoker was involved in Rhimes’ decision to join the national board of Planned Parenthood, a development announced earlier this month. Rhimes has served on the board of the group’s L.A. chapter.
“Everything has become political these days, and the waters are complicated and hard to navigate sometimes,” said Linkenhoker. “ICM looked at this as an opportunity to add an extra resource, an extra value” for clients the agency is already serving.”
She said this work entails a lot of research and “matchmaking.”
“I’m spending a lot of time digging into what issues are really relevant right now, and where there are opportunities,” she added. “I’m talking to clients and agents, and understanding which, if any, clients care about an issue and pairing them up.”
The effort is social issue-oriented rather than an attempt to support political party affiliations, she said.
Michelle Kydd Lee, CAA’s veteran chief innovation officer, said the Hollywood community is evidencing “a need to stay woke.”
From her perspective, heightened political awareness is cyclical in Hollywood, noting she observed a similar phenomenon surrounding the election of George W. Bush.
“There was the same feeling that the change of administration was cataclysmic,” she said. “There was a lot of activism taking place in substantive ways.”
She added that social media might keep the drumbeat going longer in 2017, particularly with Hollywood celebrities taking advantage of online avenues to make their opinions heard.
“With Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, the stories are able to stay alive, the artist is able to tell the story in real time,” Lee said. “It’s a great motivation (for) the policy side. People are keeping their foot on the gas.”
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