A Monday Morning Memory: Remembering a Teacher

A reflection from president Steve Himmelrich:

One of my first employers, Phyllis Brotman, passed away on Friday. Thirty years ago, every marketing professional in Baltimore – in fact, every business and civic leader in Baltimore – knew Phyllis. Her agency, Image Dynamics, was a big deal. Phyllis was a big deal – her rolodex was filled with the numbers of executives and elected officials who would answer any call, at any time, from her. And at 24 years old, being able to impress people by saying “I work for Phyllis” was a really big deal.

Working at Image Dynamics was a coveted role for any young person starting a career in advertising or public relations. Phyllis gave us incredible responsibility and taught us how to handle it. I was a kid, telling senior executives how to present themselves on camera – with Phyllis whispering in my ear what to say. I learned how to handle all kinds of people, problems and situations; Phyllis included us in meetings and conversations that were usually reserved for PR people much more senior. We won awards for my work while Phyllis let the 20-somethings take full credit although we all knew that the success was only possible because of her wise counsel and her constant checking-in. There was no “kiddie table” at Image Dynamics – we sat with the grown-ups.

Phyllis’ commitment to the community helped shape mine. She encouraged us to volunteer for committees (in some cases, that “volunteering” was a directive from Phyllis) and serve on boards where we could expand our networks and learn how other people navigate “the real world” which we had only recently joined.

I admired Phyllis’ directness. One of my most vivid memories of working at Image Dynamics was a 15-second exchange in her office: after offering a lame excuse why I was unable to get a story in a newspaper, Phyllis stopped what she was doing (probably editing – always in blue – something I had written), looked up and said flatly, “Don’t give me that. Just get the editor on the phone and get the story.” End of discussion. (I made the call and got the story.)  Phyllis’ pet peeve with me was my shoes – always scuffed, always a little too worn. Phyllis didn’t care what shoes I wore; she cared how I presented myself to my clients and to the other people at the firm. She wanted me to know that my success as a professional was not just about the work I produced but was also determined by the way I produced it, including the impression I was making with something as minor as my shoes. I carry those lessons from Phyllis today – just get it done, and pay attention to the detail.

I am grateful to Phyllis for creating an environment where new career professionals could learn and thrive. I hope that I am continuing that legacy.

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