Coping With COVID-19 Crisis: Broadway Publicist Keith Sherman Talks Employee Furloughs, Dipping Into Savings And Staying Positive After Testing Positive
Keith Sherman operates Keith Sherman & Associates, a Times Square public relations firm founded in 1989. With a background in theatre (300 plus shows including, recently, Be More Chill, We Will Rock You and Mike Birbiglia: The New One, and the Tony Awards for 18 years) his clientele expanded to include film, TV, music, major global events, organizations, award shows, individuals, fine art, brands and Olympic sports. He represented the New York Times for a decade. Keith has maintained a staff of four. One associate has been with the company for 19 years, another for 18 and another for 11. He has written this guest column for Deadline.
Like so many others, most of my firm’s projects either closed, are postponed, or are canceled. On top of that, I’ve got COVID-19. Fortunately, my symptoms are mild. This too shall pass. I’m optimistic for a better tomorrow.
There’s one thing we know with certainty: we know nothing. Our lives will be changed for sure. Still, we don’t know how or when our new normal will emerge. It’s not just that films, shows and restaurants are closed, people’s lives are canceled.
In 1609 Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre had to shut down due to the Bubonic Plague. Performances of King Lear were canceled. History repeats.
I’ve run my PR firm for 30 years, through robust times and difficult. I’ve lived through the AIDS crisis, the recession of 2008, blackouts, hurricanes and 9/11. I have childhood memories hearing about the polio epidemic. A bountiful human spirit emerges when we are faced with these extreme challenges. Somehow, society comes through. We will emerge stronger once again. The two Ps — persistence and patience — have allowed me to thrive over decades.
One moment keeps resonating for me. It was a few days after 9/11 when a spectacular lineup of New Yorkers and Broadway stars in Times Square encouraged people to see a show. The message was that NYC was open for business. What will the 2020 equivalent look like and when will it be? On one hand it can’t happen soon enough, and yet realistically we know it is still months away.
Some of the wisdom I’ve gleaned with experience is the ability to adapt, to be flexible and to be present. Working is like walking on sand. With every step we take the ground shifts a bit. When we look back our footprints are washed away and ahead we see the open sky of opportunity.
One of my challenges has been to stay current, on top of fast-moving changes in the media and our popular culture. I’m a chameleon, shifting strategies to embrace the news cycle and media trends on behalf of our clients. I find that a robust mix of traditional press, social media, advertising and promotions are essential for success. After all, how many Facebook likes is equivalent to a Good Morning America appearance? Taken together, they bring gravitas to projects.
I am dipping into my personal savings in order to keep my company afloat during this unprecedented moment in our world’s history.
This week I had to furlough my business family in order for the company to survive. It was tough, but I had no choice. I plan to rehire my colleagues ASAP. #survival
This pandemic teaches us that we are all equal, all connected to each other. It shifts our priorities to put health first. It reminds us the importance of family, including family by choice. It shows us to lend a hand to others in need. Since so many of us are sequestered at home, now is a great time to reconnect with people in our lives we haven’t spoken with in some time. It’s a time for reflection. It’s a time for us to scale back to a greater sense of humanity. The virus is reshifting our priorities.
It is in a very real way, the reset button being hit around the world. We will emerge changed, and stronger for the future. Having skin of steel helps. That happens when one has run hundreds of PR campaigns.
Whatever happens with our business, in whatever shape we come back we’re going to be ready to give our clients the best possible strategic advice and pro-active effort to thrive in the new world. In adversity there is opportunity.
Stress comes from attempting to plan too far out into the future when nothing but uncertainty looms. It’s vital to live in the moment. The future will take care of itself if we stay strong and smart.
While positivity is clearly in my DNA my feet are planted firmly on the ground. After all, I’ve run a business for three decades. I choose to lead with an open heart seeing the glass half full. I am not feeling an affinity for snark right now.
We are all scrambling to keep our businesses, large and entrepreneurial, as well as our lives, afloat as we adapt to the ever-changing new reality. We will thrive again.
Remember to breathe. It’s a wild roller coaster ride.