During these uncertain times, it’s always refreshing to hear that someone has something positive to celebrate. Keith Sherman, founder and president of Keith Sherman & Associates Public Relations firm has passed the milestone of operating 30 years, something that he accomplished in Dec. 2019. Sherman started the Times Square based company in 1989, with a staff consisting of himself and three other people. He has represented over 300 shows, which recently included “Be More Chill,” “We Will Rock You” and “Mike Birbiglia: The New One.” He also handled the Tony Awards for 18 amazing years. His clientele include film, TV, music, major global events, organizations, award shows including the Chita Rivera Awards and the Drama Desk Awards, individuals, fine art, brands and Olympic sports. Sherman, during this pandemic has personally experienced the coronavirus, having not only gotten it, but also had his husband fall ill with it. Despite this upsetting situation he has managed to stay positive and grateful for every day. Sherman recently took the time to speak to the AmNews about what’s going on with his business, his life and share his positive attitude towards the future, a Q&A follows.
AmNews: Dec. 2019 marked 30 years for your business, what does it feel like to have reached such a milestone?
KS: It feels like the blink of an eye. We go through life one day at a time, but when we look back time somehow becomes compressed. It doesn’t feel like three decades, especially since I’m still a millennial at heart.
AmNews: What are the challenges you have faced over the years?
KS: We all face many challenges in life on several levels. In my PR business, I face daily challenges to stay on top of constantly changing trends in the media, to deliver excellent results for our clients, to keep my staff, and myself, happy, engaged and thriving. We all face the challenge to stay healthy, to do the right thing, to be kind and to take the high road.
AmNews; I personally know that you have covered very high profile clients, such as the Tony Awards, you cover the Chita Rivera Awards and various other awards and you do it with a grace, dignity, fairness and consideration that I as a journalist have always been able to appreciate, how do you manage to handle your business in this way?
KS: We’ve known each other for lots of years Linda. You know how to make a fella blush. This question makes my heart smile. We make choices in life with our behaviors. How do we want to treat others? How do we wish to be treated? Years ago I worked for a monster of a boss. He was mean spirited and many didn’t like him. Still, I learned valuable lessons from that experience in how not to treat others. At some point we become our true authentic self and that resonates.
AmNews: Over the 30 years, who are some of the high profile clients your agency has dealt with and was dealing with just before the coronavirus outbreak?
KS: We have been blessed with a number of wonderful projects: the Tony Awards for 18 years, The New York Times for a decade, more than 15 years working with Vy Higginsen and “Mama, I Want to Sing;” Montreal Jazz Festival, more than 300 shows on Broadway, Off-Broadway and national tours; hundreds of films, television broadcasts and music projects; and decades representing Brian Boitano, who won the Olympic Gold Medal for America in figure skating. It’s a long wonderful list of clients who have trusted me to help manage their public profiles.
AmNews: Keith, it is so hard to believe that your amazing company is comprised for 4 people, yourself and two associates, one who has been with you for 19 years, another with you for 18 years and an assistant who has been with you for 11 years. What are these people names and to what do you attribute their longevity?
KS: Isn’t that a wonderful thing. Brett Oberman, Scott Klein and Logan Metzler. I feel lucky to have them as my business family. At the end of the day it’s about treating people right, with respect and dignity. Too, when that call comes in from an unhappy journalist or a client who is breathing fire, I take that call and handle it. I like to think that my colleagues appreciate that.
AmNews: With Broadway being shutdown and the city, and country being shutdown due to the coronavirus and you experiencing a portion of this pandemic with yourself and your husband contracting the illness and trying to get through it, how do you keep positive?
KS: Seeing the glass half full is my nature. I am an optimist. Maybe I’m insane. I like myself and have the strength to share that confidence with people in my life. There is light ahead. Today, it may look rather dim, but it’s there. I think 20 and 30 somethings are having an especially hard time now because this pandemic is the first truly horrible time in their lives and they don’t have the broad vision to see that it will get better, maybe not for some months, but it will get better.
AmNews: As New Yorkers we have been through a lot of tragedies, what do you recall as the most difficult moments and how did you get through them?
KS: The coronavirus is unprecedented in our lives. Some of us have lived through 9/11, the AIDS crisis, hurricanes, blackouts and other horrible atrocities. As a child I have memories of my grandparents telling me about polio. Our society will emerge from this. For me, it’s one day at a time. We create stress in our lives when we try to plan thing out into the future in the midst of uncertainty. Live in the moment. I believe it was Oprah who said, “They call the moment the present because it’s a gift.”
AmNews: What has happen to your company due to the coronavirus?
KS: Oh boy. It helps knowing it’s not about me. It’s about everyone. All of our projects are closed, cancelled or postponed. I’ve had to take money from my personal savings in order to cover bills to keep my PR firm afloat until things turn around. The saddest part was having to furlough my staff. That really broke my heart. But I did it in the name of survival. We are going to emerge.
AmNews: You have spent money from your savings to try and keep your business afloat and recently furloughed your longtime staff, what can you say to other small businesspeople who are experiencing what you are right now?
KS: There is no easy or singular solution. I’m a fighter. I love my work and I want to keep at it. Others may not feel that way and it’s ok. For some, it may be prudent to stop while others can’t imagine that possibilities. Everyone is different. Follow your instinct, and your checkbook.
AmNews: There’s got to be a morning after, what do you want it to hold for you, your family, staff family and our great city?
KS: That’s a great bigger picture question about life. I want to continue living with joy in my heart. Business is important, but people are vital. There is so much in life that interests me, especially about art and culture, I am endlessly curious about so much, but close relationships with people are the key to a happy life. One’s family, both blood and chosen, come first. Everything else falls in behind that.
To listen to the podcast visit: https://megaphone.link/BPNET6724325725
The Theatre Podcast with Alan Seales presents Keith Sherman! His favorite four-letter word, in response to both success and failure, is “next”. After recovering from COVID-19, and with his career on pause, this Broadway publicist talks about the future of Broadway.
Keith Sherman operates Keith Sherman and Associates, a Times Square Public Relations firm which he founded in 1989. He has an extensive background in theatre – 300 plus shows including, recently, Be More Chill, We Will Rock You and Mike Birbiglia: The New One, as well as the Tony Awards for 18 years. Keith previously represented the New York Times for a decade, and over the years his clientele has expanded to film, TV, music, major global events, organizations, award shows, individuals, fine art, brands and Olympic sports.
When asked how he became interested in publicity, Keith recalls Christmas when he was 8 years old, a Jewish boy in New Jersey living next to a Christian family. He received two LP records that year by The Supremes, and fell in love. By age 12 he was reading Variety magazine every Thursday to see what nightclubs The Supremes were playing in around the country. Keith later became an intern at the new Roundabout Theatre Company while in college, eventually accepting a job offer as their Marketing Director. He spent years bouncing around jobs in various press offices, when he finally decided “he could build a better mousetrap”, and founded his own company in 1989. He had found his calling.
Keith opens up about his new reality amid the COVID-19 pandemic as the head of a PR firm for the entertainment industry. What will Broadway look like when it reopens? Keith believes the theater will survive, it will come back, but thinks it “will come back in a different form.” Not only is his career on pause, having had to furlough his employees as well, Keith and his husband have also both recently recovered from the coronavirus. And in light of it all, he remains an optimist.
In this episode, they talk about:
- How he is spending his new free time amid the COVID-19 quarantine
- Similarities to theater surviving the bubonic plague in London in 1665
- How social distancing protocols might affect attending a Broadway show in the future
- How he decides what stories to tell as a publicist
- Which habit of the late Hal Prince has served him well throughout his career
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.
With this week’s government-ordered closure of all theaters and performance venues in NYC, we’ve all become aware of the impact the safety precautions implemented to deal with the coronavirus has had on artists, house staffs, and audiences. But another group of theater professionals that has felt the effect of the pandemic is the pool of press agents that handles publicity, coordinates coverage, and provides a point of contact for the shows and stars.
Keith Sherman has been in the business for over 40 years, beginning in the 1970s. He has handled more than 300 Broadway, Off-Broadway, and touring productions, along with awards, organizations, cabarets, dance, music, fine arts, films, television broadcasts, and Olympic sports, as well as such major corporate initiatives as The New York Times. When he first founded Keith Sherman & Associates Public Relations in December 1989, he had just four clients; a month later the count jumped to five, with his representation of the Tony Awards.
Since then his numbers have increased dramatically, representing such acclaimed recent hits as Be More Chill, Desperate Measures, Colin Quinn: Red State Blue State, and Harry Townsend’s Last Stand. And over the past two decades he put together a long-time team of respected associates – Brett Oberman, Scott Klein, and Logan Metzler, who have been with his agency for nineteen, eighteen, and eleven years respectively.
During this slow time, in what would have been the busy Broadway opening season before the annual announcements of award nominations (including the Chita Rivera Awards, which he represents), I had a chance to talk to Keith about the business he loves and how he’s coping with the present shutdown.
Have you ever experienced anything even remotely like this current crisis in all your years in PR?
Keith: Even in life – no, no one has. The most recent catastrophe was 9/11, but that was a very different thing. Broadway closed for two performances, but boy did it bounce back! But this is a pandemic, it’s global, so it’s affecting everyone on the planet. It extends beyond the footlights. This is a time when we need to be kind to each other; lashing out won’t be productive. You have to find pockets of joy for yourself. We need to remember that it’s good to be alive. That’s hard, but it’s vital.
What has been the immediate concern in your office and with your clients as far as the disruption of the daily routine and finances?
Survival. A lot of our projects are closed and never coming back. Some are postponing and looking ahead, but we can’t plan. Now’s not the time to reach out about things like that; we don’t want to set it up and have to cancel again. It will be interesting to see which shows go on to open and which ones never will. This is going to be weeks, or months – we have no way of knowing; nobody does. And for so many people, that means no income or the loss of a big investment. After 9/11, I remember the mayor and many Broadway stars held an event in Duffy Square by the TKTS booth, telling people to “Come back and see a show!” We just don’t know when we’ll be able to say that.
Looking back on your career, what is the fondest memory you have that brightens your day and gives you the incentive to persevere in such a difficult period?
That question made me smile! On Boxing Day (the day after Christmas) in 1989, I was driving from upstate and stopped at Staples to buy a filing cabinet to start my new business. I went to a friend’s loft, because he had the most sophisticated technology of the time – a fax machine! I think back to that very first day, and it was such a great moment. There have been many more great days since then – with my Broadway shows and clients, at the Tony Awards, and at a Tony event with Julie Andrews. She hosted one year with Jeremy Irons, who was wearing a red ribbon for AIDS awareness. She sang a medley from My Fair Lady and had to do it five times in rehearsal for the cameras. But that very first day of my business comes to mind – that’s where it all started.
What are the most important qualities you need to succeed in public relations, especially during challenging times?
I actually have a lot of responses to that! I like to say you need three things: skin of steel; a smart mind; and an open heart. I have another favorite expression: you need the two Ps – Patience and Persistence. When you’re dealing with people, you can’t control their behavior, only your response to it. You have to rise up, to take the high road; you have a choice. Those are some lessons I’ve learned and continue to embrace. It’s how you treat people – it comes back to you. Loyalty is also an important quality. My team and many of my clients have been with me for years. And I love what I do! I know I’m always referencing show tunes, but I have to quote Ethel Merman singing those great lyrics in George White’s Scandals of 1931: “Life is just a bowl of cherries, so live and laugh at it all.”
In your opinion, what’s the best-case scenario for the resumption of business as usual in the theater industry?
Good question, too. Soon is important, but safest is best. We all want to resume, but we’re not in control of that. We need to be safe and healthy, and from there we can figure everything out. I’m an optimist; I spread that and I live that.
I love your company’s motto: “BIRTH, MARRIAGE & DEATH SHOULDN’T BE THE ONLY TIME YOUR NAME APPEARS IN THE PRESS. WE MAKE HEADLINES.” Thank you, Keith, for talking to us, staying active, and keeping theater in the headlines during this unforeseen hiatus.
3 Crazy Tales From a Broadway Press Rep
Having worked in theatre for more than 30 years—and with talents like Liza Minnelli, Mandy Patinkin, and Savion Glover—Keith Sherman shares memories from his storied career.
The Broadway press agent is a crucial, yet often under-the-radar, role in the business of Broadway. But the only reason you can read an interview with Lin-Manuel Miranda or go into the wardrobe room of Wicked is because a press agent bridges the gap between talent, productions, and the media. Keith Sherman, the founder and leader of Keith Sherman & Associates, is one such theatrical press agent and has been since the 1970s, running his own agency since 1989.
He has represented more than 300 Off-Broadway, Broadway, and touring shows, as well as the Drama Desk, the American Theatre Wing, and the Times Square Alliance. He was the press representative for the Tony Awards for 18 years (1987-2004), and his firm expanded to do work for television, movies, music, dance, art, publishing, sports, and the corporate world. He has represented many and varied stage celebrities, among them Cy Coleman, Mandy Patinkin, Liza Minnelli, Michael Feinstein, and Savion Glover, and has had nontheatrical clients like the Olympic figure skating champion Brian Boitano, The New York Times, Marsh & McLennan, and Memorial-Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. And that’s just a partial list.
Sherman fell in love with theatre as a boy, when he saw his first show: 1776 from the back row of the balcony. But as much as he loved theatre, he knew he didn’t want to be onstage. “I knew from a very early age that I had zero talent as an actor. That’s generally the point of entry for most people in arts and entertainment,” he says. But Sherman got a degree in marketing from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. One of his roommates had been taught high school English by Gene Feist, the founder of Roundabout Theatre Company. So Sherman got a job—well, today’s version of an internship—at the Roundabout. Soon, he moved up to director of audience development, but when he left he heard famed Broadway press agent Seymour Kravitz needed an assistant. “The first Broadway production I worked on was the Sherlock Holmes thriller The Crucifer of Blood [by Paul Giovanni], with Paxton Whitehead and Glenn Close,” Sherman says. He also represented concerts with people like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, and Diana Ross. He moved to Solters/Roskin/Friedman, where he worked on the original productions of 42nd Street and Big River.
“The agency also represented Sinatra and Streisand. We launched Whitney Houston’s career. We were handling Michael Jackson during ‘Thriller.’ I had my hand in pieces of all of that,” Sherman recalls. “I was working for Steve Lawrence and Eydie Gorme for a period. And that’s where I started working for the Tony Awards. Then it was time to go out on my own.”
Here, Sherman shares three of the wildest stories from his decades-long career as a press agent:
When Julie Andrews Said, “No.”
Press agents are also on the front lines when things don’t go as planned. In 1996, Julie Andrew starred as the title roles in Victor/Victoria, which her husband, Blake Edwards directed. On the morning of the nominations, May 6, 1996, Andrews’ name was called for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical; she was the sole nominee for the show. “It was a big cause célèbre that year on Broadway. And we got word on the Wednesday morning after the nominations were announced that after the matinée she was going to speak to the audience and she was going to—for the first time in Tony history—refuse the nomination.” Andrews used the phrase “egregiously overlooked.”
The agency for Victor/Victoria invited press to the back of the house to watch this announcement. Sherman was in charge of wrangling the press and then addressing them as the spokesperson for the Tony Awards. “I think at that point everybody lost,” Sherman says now. “Certainly she didn’t win the Award [Donna Murphy won for The King and I]. And I thought the image of the Tonys was slightly diminished because of her action. But we all went forward. Everyone survived. The Tonys are still around. It was just a moment in theatre history.”
Before There Was La La Land…
At the 1991 Tony Awards, Anthony Quinn was announcing the winner for Best Direction of a Musical. He opened his envelope and said, “Neil Simon for Lost in Yonkers.” Wrong award!! Simon was the winner of Best Play that night, but wasn’t supposed to be announced for another 20 minutes.
According to Sherman, it had been an accountant’s error. Quinn had been given the right envelope, but there were notes on the back of the card that Simon and Yonkers had won Best Play; Quinn had read the back instead of the front. He had to turn the card over to read the correct name for Best Direction: Tommy Tune for The Will Rogers Follies. Sherman remembers “scrambling at the Marriott Marquis hotel, at the party after the telecast, looking for both guys, Quinn and Simon,” so they could speak to the press.
“Simple human error that caused a huge uproar. People make mistakes. Even with the best of intentions, sometimes things mess up,” says Sherman. “You talk about the role of a publicist, of a press agent. I was there to work with [reporters] at the time, get to the truth, figure out what exactly happened so [they] could explain to readers and [their] editors what the story is, and report on the facts and the fallout of those human mistakes.”
Creativity in Press Events:
Back when Sherman represented Big River, the musical version of Huckleberry Finn, the agency decided to do something unconventional for the press. “I remember one year setting up a frog-jumping contest to promote Big River and I had to find 20 frogs,” Sherman explains. “We had every single television crew in New York City booked to be in front of the Eugene O’Neill Theatre, and about an hour before our event was taking place, there was a fire at Grand Central Station. And not one journalist showed up.”
It’s today. On Boxing Day, 30 years ago I began my PR firm, KSA, Keith Sherman & Associates.
There have been thousands of clients (some for decades), dozens of employees and more fantastic experiences than a guy can recall. I still very much love my work and know I have a great deal more to give. What a blessing that is.
I’m incredibly proud that my associates Brett Oberman, Scott Klein and Logan Metzler have been working with me for 19, 18 and 11 years respectively.
It’s been an amazing ride, with astonishing changes in life and the media. We’re still going strong. There’s so much I’m looking forward to in the new decade.
With enormous gratitude to so many people I’ve known and worked with for decades……
KSA founder Keith Sherman recently appeared on SiriusXM Radio to discuss his many experiences in the golden age of the legendary nightclub Studio 54. Check out the interview HERE.