Bob Brody
Bob Brody

At about 9 a.m. on April 17, 2008, an executive vice president at Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide asked me to come to her office. I had no idea why, least of all at so early an hour.

But as soon as I entered her office, I had an inkling. Also in attendance was another colleague and, more ominously, someone from Human Resources.

The firm was struggling to get through the latest recession, the exec vp said, and so our office would be reorganizing. A few minutes later, the HR person said, “We’re terminating you.”

Nothing I said in my defense – how, for example, just a few months earlier I had received not only a raise but also a bonus – was going to save me. My departure after more than nine years on the premises was by now a done deal. I had until the end of the day to clear out my belongings.

Another HR person, Dianna, accompanied me back to my office. She brought in empty boxes so I could gather my keepsakes. I packed the photos of my wife and two children, the nine awards the agency had given me, plus clips of all my media hits.

It was slow going – I had accumulated a lot – and I soon realized that deciding what to take could easily take me all day. Dianna must have noticed how forlorn I looked. “Take your time,” she said. “Nobody’s going to rush you.”

Some hours later, Dianna walked me out. I felt as if I were headed to my own funeral. “You’re going to land on your feet,” she promised.

Later that day I emailed Dianna from home. “Thank you for being so gracious today,” I wrote, “and for so warmly wishing me well.”

So went the worst day of my 32-year career in PR. But Dianna, with the sincerely sympathetic expression on her face and just a few words, made it manageable for me.

The list of colleagues I have to thank for making my occupational difficulties more manageable is long. But on this Thanksgiving, let me name at least a few.

I hated my first PR job – it was at a leading global firm – and reached out in desperation to my friend Neal Hirschfeld, then a reporter for the New York Daily News. Neal told his friend Morty, who ran a small PR firm and needed to fill a fresh vacancy.

Mortimer – aka “Morty – Matz of Matz Associates hired me despite my having almost zero PR job experience. “You seem to be a live wire,” he explained. The job served as my apprenticeship.

I shared an office at Matz for more than two years with George Shea. Because I was new to full-time PR, I asked George umpteen questions about anything and everything. Fortunately, he unstintingly came back with umpteen answers.

Today, by the way, Neal is a successful author and screenwriter, George runs his own firm, but is also famous as the master of ceremonies for – and the impresario behind – Nathan’s Hot Dog Eating Contest, and Morty is 98 and still handling clients.

That layoff turned out to be for the best. Two months later, Powell Tate, the public affairs division of Weber Shandwick, hired me as a media strategist and editorial specialist. That job lasted 12 years, the longest of my career.

The other day brought me briefly back to April 17, 2008. Dianna, the HR person who showed me such kindness, sent me a Facebook message. Her mother had recently died and Dianna had chanced across an email about me.

In the course of our exchange, I discovered some surprising details about my layoff. Dianna confided to me that higher-ups at Ogilvy originally asked her to play executioner and deliver the news that I was a goner. But she had declined.

“I just said no,” she said. “Nobody liked it. Certain corporate leaders had your back. I knew it would hit us hard. You were one of the people who made up the soul of our office.”

She had gone the extra mile and then some, the revelation casting my layoff in a different light all these years later. And for that, I once again thank her, but now I do it publicly.

So make it a best practice once in a while to say thank you to those special colleagues – on-the-job EMTs, really – who shepherd you through a layoff or other workplace hardship. If you’re extra lucky, you might find out they're just as grateful to you for getting the opportunity.


Bob Brody, a consultant and essayist, is author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.” He is a former senior vice president of Rubenstein, Ogilvy and Weber Shandwick.