Being a publicist, especially in busy areas like New York City and Los Angeles, can be very difficult. You are working at all hours of the day, managing your clients expectations to the best of your abilities (while dealing with their egos) all while trying to have a personal life outside of your crazy professional one.
So what happens when you’re usual insane day does a 180 to the point where you don’t know if you’ll recover? Tyler Burrow, a master in his field who has worked with some of the biggest stars and organizations in the world, had this happen to him when COVID-19 took over in mid-March.
His profession, along with many others, are ones that we have highlighted recently in regards to them being some of the ones hit hardest because of this pandemic. The common denominator, however, is that each subject still has hope that things will get better for them in what will more than likely be our new normal.
Check out our exclusive with Tyler below where he talks about life before and during COVID, the surprisingly great things that have happened because of it, and what the future holds for his and many others in his line of business.
What was your daily professional life like before COVID took over?
Before the pandemic, I was working independently as a publicist following over 15 years of agency work. My day would traditionally start by waking up and looking at my phone and responding to emails that came in during the night, even before getting out of bed. I’m one of those “I feel like I have to respond immediately type of people.” Then I would be checking the blogs and online outlets for media placements followed by several hours of writing press releases/media alerts, servicing images, reaching out to talent publicists and managers, etc. Since I’ve been working from my home office, I would break the day up by going to the gym or heading to the East Side River Park for a run.
The evenings were traditionally filled with managing red carpets for events, engaging with the media and photographers and handling the celebrity arrivals. Off evenings would be spent grabbing dinner with friends or drinks at the local bars in the East Village (I usually tend to stay within my neighborhood). Being in my 40’s and living in NYC for over 20 years, if I can’t walk there…I won’t go, unless it’s for a client, lol.
How quickly did things spiral for you and your clients as a result of this worldwide pandemic?
In February I had gone on vacation to Disney and Universal for two weeks with my family. Upon coming back, several friends and I held a memorial for my friend of over 20 years and mentor Joyce Sevilla, who suddenly passed in January. So life itself was already kind of a roller coaster. But with work going well, it was keeping my mind occupied.
My work calendar for March was pretty filled with a mix of retainer clients and one-off projects. When the news started mentioning that the pandemic was heading towards the States, the buzz started swirling and everything started to be up in the air. From moment to moment, it was all different. I went from having one of my busiest months set up to skyrocketed anxiety as I awaited cancellations. By the end of the second week of March, I had pretty much lost it all.
Eventually I managed to get things going again at a steady pace, and am in a pretty good place now, which I’m super grateful for. I spend most of my time in New York City but go down to stay with my parents in Virginia and help them out with every day things, since they’re in their 70’s. They have a nice room that’s fixed up in the basement that I quarantine in for two weeks, even after getting tested, each time. You can never be too safe when it comes to your parents… or actually, you can never be too safe in general.
What has been the biggest peak and pit for you during this chaotic time as a publicist?
I would say the biggest peak for me as a publicist has been the work I have been doing with Project Zero which is a charity organization supported by renowned scientists, business leaders, culture makers, campaigners and ocean experts who are all working to get our biggest weapon against the climate crisis – the ocean – back in shape. Working with the world’s leading scientists, they’ve mapped out a battle plan to secure protection for a global network of ocean sanctuaries, providing funding to them one at a time until there is zero left to do.
It’s been really great utilizing my connections and resources on the multiple initiatives we have brought to life in the midst of all this. In the late spring we launched the “Creating in Captivity” series where people along the likes of Alan Cumming, Austin Mahone, Ronen Rubinstein, DJ Lindsay Luv, Jamie Gray Hyder and Bright Light, Bright Light all made videos of what they were doing to stay busy during quarantine and were shared on various social media platforms.
We also continuously partner with Charitybuzz to help raise funds for Project Zero where we offer up virtual experiences with celebrities such as Zachary Levi, Jack Black, The Chainsmokers and Patricia Field, who have all been very generous with their time. We’re about to kick off a holiday auction with Cody Simpson, Pamela Adlon and Joel Kinnaman that we’re pretty excited about.
During the summer, Project Zero worked to secure a global network of ocean sanctuaries, with a Kickstarter campaign focused on raising urgently needed funds to go towards ones in Sri Lanka and Menorca. The campaign offered backers the opportunity to “claim their coordinate” by adopting a piece of the ocean, with the size reflective of the donation level. Pledges started at just a few dollars, rewarding donors with 500 m² of the ocean. Each ocean backer received an official certificate with their unique coordinates. We had an amazing amount of support from people like Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Chris Smalling, Gabrielle Reece, Laird Hamilton, Bernard Fowler and Alex Lundqvist.
Up next, we have partnered with Boston-based organization Project Paulie, who have named one of their signature hats after me, the Burrow Beanie, where proceeds from the sales will go directly to Project Zero and we’re also putting the gears in motion for something really big in 2021.
While doing this, I managed to quit smoking cigarettes; I had been smoking since I was 17 years old. I also set a goal of abstaining from alcohol for a full year which started on March 11 – when COVID restrictions were put into place in NYC. With everything that was going on in the world, I felt I needed to have some sort of control over something.
I would say the hardest thing as a publicist has been seeing friends and colleagues lose their jobs, having clients not be able to afford paying them and people no longer able to afford their homes. It’s simply heartbreaking. I try and help out where I can, referring business and putting people in touch with one another. I think this industry can sometimes be a bit competitive, but now is not the time for egos, now is the time to help each other out.
How long will it take for your industry to go back to normal or is this situation a new normal?
I’m not sure if we’ll ever 100% go back to normal, eventually we will have to identify what that normal be. I have a tremendous amount of respect for the creative and safe ways people are putting events together, whether it be virtual concerts and fundraisers or all of those movie cast reunions which have been really great. I also admire how the award shows are trying to make things happen. I think we have to be extremely responsible, as well as socially safe and respectful when looking to make things happen within our industry. Supporting one another is definitely a huge component in us finding different ways to move forward and keep our industry alive.