This past Thursday, Jody Donohue, an icon in fashion public relations, died. True to form, no one knows exactly how old she was; I’m just going to leave it alone because I know she would not want anyone to even guess. To the world, Jody was one of the most influential figures in fashion publicity; to me, she was a mentor and the person who gave me my first job when I was -- as another mentor of mine likes to say -- “just a little pisher.”
Those who knew and worked with Jody have remarked they thought she would live forever. She was a constant on the New York fashion scene and a valued confidante to many a designer. Jody knew everyone; designers, manufacturers, media, retailers and pretty much anyone who was worth knowing. While she was not born into “high society,” she very skillfully worked her way into this world with her intelligence, confidence and spirit. Her secret, I believe, was that people not only liked her, they came to rely on her and that became the basis for a very successful public relations company where she reigned supreme.
In 1989 and with no experience whatsoever, I walked into Jody Donohue Associates’ office on East 57th Street to interview for a job answering phones and doing whatever else someone with no experience does. It was a boutique agency, which is a fancy term for small, and had about 10 women working there. The only other male besides myself was the bookkeeper who was hidden away in an upstairs suite out of sight.
Jody met with me herself, which I was not expecting. She was very well-spoken and dressed elegantly however had a very warm and welcoming demeanor. She seemed excited to meet me; why, I do not know. We talked briefly and not really about anything substantive. Looking back, it occurs to me she was more interested in getting to know me rather than quizzing me about my abilities and (lack of) experience.
She thanked me for coming in and sent me on my way. I walked to Penn Station, took the train home to Long Island and by the time I got back there was a message from Jody. I immediately called her back and she asked me to come work for her. Thus began what is now a 27-year career in public relations.
The stories from the four years I spent at Jody Donohue Associates are too numerous to mention, and one is better than the next so I wouldn’t even know where to begin. Suffice it to say, Jody let me very quickly move from answering the phones to working with clients such as Bob Mackie, Salvatore Ferragamo, Revlon, Spiegel Catalog and many others. She let me spread my wings and do things no one should have ever let a “little pisher” do, but she had confidence in me and I learned, grew and got much more experience than I ever expected. It was at JDA that I also worked for Linda Mann, hands-down one of the most talented and skilled professionals I have ever encountered. Linda taught me to write, pitch and gave me the basic skills I needed to ensure I would survive in the publicity game.
Jody’s passing is the end of an era. She succeeded without mobile phones, social media and Wi-Fi. Her success was based on substance, intelligence, ambition and believing in other people. I was very fortunate to have been one of those people.