On a frigid December afternoon, a group of around 100 writers trudged in a self-contained circle outside of HBO's headquarters on Sixth Avenue in Manhattan. They were toting picket signs - "Writers Guild of America on Strike," "Honk if you hate greedy corporations" - and drawing slack-jawed stares from passersby.
Huddled near the corner of the action, near the refreshment table, swathed in a thick jacket and winter hat, Sherry Goldman shivers as she wraps up yet another four-hour shift in the elements.
For Goldman, who runs her own firm and represents the currently striking Writers Guild of America East (WGAE), managing media on the picket line has been just one of the constants since the strike began in early November.
She awakens early on the East Coast and works until colleagues in California are ready to call it quits. She fields cell-phone calls at 2am from reporters in Russia and Japan, politely informing them that the union president is probably not available for an immediate interview. She has not, recently, been getting enough sleep.
After moving from journalism into PR, climbing the ladder at several firms, she opened Goldman Communications Group 11 years ago, hustling for clients. She was a generalist, working with clients ranging from pharma to toy companies, building her list through networking and word of mouth. A friend referred the WGAE to her. They signed her up two years ago in what began as a low-impact role.
"When we were hired, it was like, 'Just a few press releases about this and that,'" she recalls. "In essence [now], I am their outsourced communications director."
But what began as a handful of press releases and some promotions for an awards show has now become a life-encompassing job. The WGAE includes both entertainment and news writers for a wide variety of major media outlets. While the entertainment writers are on strike, the news writers - which operate under a separate contract - recently authorized a strike as well (although no plans have been set).
Goldman is responsible for getting their story out. "This is my first strike," she says. "Trial by fire."
The process of communicating for a high-profile strike is one of quick thinking and reactive strategies. The current writers strike followed quickly on the heels of their contract expiration, giving Goldman scant time to prepare.
While the first days of the strikes were a huge media event, coverage has since dwindled, meaning that communications have gone from simply trying to meet the media demand to trying to maintain the WGAE's high profile.
"That first day on the picket line, there must have been 100 media [members]... It's amazing the international interest," Goldman says. "We try not to turn down anything, to make people accessible. We've tried very hard to dispel the notion that all writers are multimillionaires."
Goldman tells of a reporter from a major New York paper who told her bluntly he was sent out to write a story about "the rich writers." She gave him full access and made introductions; when the story was published, its theme had changed.
The coverage, she says, has been relatively positive, but she believes that it has been a triumph of communications over the media power structure.
"It's been a tough battle," notes Goldman. "That's because the media is owned by the conglomerates we're fighting against."
Despite the lack of sleep, long hours, and impact to her own firm (Goldman has been able to devote little time to new-business leads since the strike began), the thrill of the struggle seems to keep her starry-eyed about the experience.
"I don't think you can ever be prepared for this," she says. "This is totally ad-hoc."
Goldman Communications Group, founder
Rowland Worldwide, SVP
Ruder Finn, account supervisor to SVP