Showbusiness agent Jonathan Shalit could be forgiven for going into some sort of “lockdown hibernation”, as he puts it. Shalit has spent the past few months watching the industry with which he is synonymous pretty much grind to a halt.
According to reports, Covid-19 will cost the entertainment and show-business industry $160 (£127) billion in growth over the next five years, hitting advertising and theatre the hardest.
The Office for National Statistics says 68 percent of workers in the arts, entertainment and recreation sector have been furloughed.
But failure is not an option for Shalit. The affable talent manager, who counts Susanna Reid, Dame Joan Collins and Robert Rinder among his clients, has too many people relying on him. He tells me: “Failure is not an option because of both the role of my company and the responsibilities I have taken on in the community. My staff and my clients rely on me and look to me to further their careers and protect their incomes. If I fail, others suffer.”
Shalit has 200 clients and 19 employees across his four companies, under the InterTalent Rights Group, which he founded in 1993. “Being busy keeps my mind active,” adds Shalit, who was awarded an OBE in 2014 for services to the entertainment industry. “If you can keep stimulated, you have more chance of getting through this in a positive way.” And positive he is.
“Winston Churchill said: ‘An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty’, which is how I have approached every challenge. The paradigm will be very different when we emerge from lockdown. But ultimately my life is about creating opportunities for those I work with.”
Failure is not an option because of both the role of my company and the responsibilities I have taken on in the community. My staff and my clients rely on me and look to me to further their careers and protect their incomes. If I fail, others suffer.
But Shalit, 58, who has worked in the industry for close to three decades, knows these are desperately testing times. “If no vaccine is found, this could cost the entertainment sector north of £200 billion. If the worst-case scenario plays out, then more like hundreds of billions. Some businesses will never recover.
“And what we still don’t know is how long Covid will take to overcome and if there will be further spikes. The worry is it’s hard to imagine large gatherings of any kind. Even when given the all- clear, confidence will take time to rebuild.”
If no vaccine is found, this could cost the entertainment sector north of £200 billion. If the worst-case scenario plays out, then more like hundreds of billions. Some businesses will never recover
So how does Shalit, who counts having a cup of tea with Prince and Maria Carey at a post-Grammy party in Beverley Hills among his many career highlights, stay so positive despite the gut-wrenching statistics? “We have to be upbeat and dynamic in finding solutions to the challenges.
“In the next few years, we will see this forced confinement and period of lockdown manifest itself in renewed and re-energised creativity.
I believe one direct consequence of the Covid crisis will be the 2020s being the most creative and defining era of this century. Even now, millions of people are creating and imagining.”
The West London Synagogue member has been supporting both the ‘Jewish Homes Emergency Appeal’ and the ‘National Emergencies Trust’. “Being a British Jew, I felt it important to support both the community and my country.”
In the next few years, we will see this forced confinement and period of lockdown manifest itself in renewed and re-energised creativity. I believe one direct consequence of the Covid crisis will be the 2020s being the most creative and defining era of this century. Even now, millions of people are creating and imagining
He is as reflective when it comes to business. “This is the biggest economic crisis to hit since the Second World War. But we need to put it in perspective. It is a health crisis of a severe and tragic magnitude, but so far manageable.
“I have an overarching view. This crisis will predominantly kill businesses that were already struggling and needed change for the 2020s. Strong businesses will re-emerge with newfound strength, vision and working practices.”
The entertainment industry will need to adapt. Many areas already are. “TV and radio shows are being broadcast successfully from where people live. UK soaps are back in production. Theatre and music have been adapting with their in-audience offerings. And for those embracing virtual and augmented reality, the world can literally come to your home.”
Last year, Shalit was named one of the London’s most influential people in the Evening Standard. He is credited with turning the 11-year-old Charlotte Church into a global superstar before her mum famously fired him. Before showbiz, Shalit had two careers – a stint as an insurance broker at Lloyds of London, and in marketing and advertising at Saatchi & Saatchi.
This crisis will predominantly kill businesses that were already struggling and needed change for the 2020s. Strong businesses will re-emerge with newfound strength, vision and working practices
He then entered the entertainment industry and launched his own consultancy. A big break was working with Sir George ‘Beatles’ Martin, whom he hired to produce a tribute album of Gershwin music featuring Elton John, Sting, Cher and Jon Bon Jovi celebrating the 80th birthday of American harmonica player Larry Adler. Other “memorable moments” include driving through the gates of Buckingham Palace to receive his OBE.
Fast forward a few years and a different world is emerging. Covid-19 has led a dramatic shift to online streaming, with consumers turning to digital platforms for entertainment and “contactless” socialisation. The pandemic has accelerated change in an unprecedented way. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella says they have seen two years’ worth of digital transformation in as many months. “The big winners are absolutely the subscription global streaming services such as Netflix, Amazon Prime and Disney+,” says Shalit.
Even once the crisis passes, the psychological overhang from the virus might mean it takes time for consumers to embrace external consumptions models again. “When video came along and you could watch movies from your home, everybody said it would be the death of the cinema… and I don’t think this will be the death of social activities,” says Shalit.
“As soon as the demise of Covid allows, the world is chomping at the bit to play again and be out having fun. Once people begin to feel confident, the entertainment industry will bounce back strongly. Popular forms of entertainment will very quickly hit record levels of income, and once social distancing is such that venues can fill their seats again, something close to normal will return quickly.”
And Shalit will no doubt have an instrumental part to play in making that happen.