Depending on which tee box you’re playing, a prominent Dallas publicist has:
A) Been fired by the Colonial golf tournament’s public relations firm for adhering to CDC guidelines and refusing to attend mandated, maskless meetings at the iconic Fort Worth country club.
B) Fallen temporary victim to a downscaled budget in an economy and sports landscape still curtailed by COVID.
“It makes sense that people suffer consequences for not wearing masks or social distancing,” says the long-time publicist, who requests anonymity for sake of her high-profile business. “But I was fired for following the rules and trying to stay safe. It’s crazy.”
Britt Todd, principal of the Todd Co., countered by saying, “This was a budget cut, plain and simple. Nothing more to it.”
The Todd Co. is as woven into the fabric of the Colonial as plaid jackets and frozen margaritas. A family-owned marketing business run these days by Britt and wife Julie, the firm has marketed the Colonial to the DFW masses since 1965.
As part of its initiative to attract eyeballs, fans and, in the end, revenue to the popular PGA tournament, the company last year hired the Dallas-based publicist to assist with social media strategies, online posts, video projects, etc. Despite a COVID interruption that pushed the tournament’s traditional May schedule into June, the professional relationship worked and a personal relationship began to flourish.
“I loved working with them,” the publicist says. “Julie and I even became Facebook friends. Everything was great.”
Speaking of the publicist, Julie says, “I think she’s fantastic. Brilliant. I love her bright, shining attitude.”
After the tournament, Julie reached out to the publicist in August to inquire about continuing the partnership and signed a contract for the 2021 tournament in January. Julie Todd even informed the publicist to send an advance invoice for the months of February-March.
“It was amazing news,” says the publicist. “I was excited about the relationship.”
But shortly after the publicist began work on Feb. 1, problems arose, ironically, because of social media.
In an attempt to mitigate COVID-19, the publicist is diligently quarantining in a pod with only family members. She conducts business meetings virtually, always wears a mask on her few treks into public and when outdoors stays 8 feet apart from other people.
“I’m hardcore, because I’m taking this pandemic seriously,” the publicist says. “It’s been a real struggle for me. I’ve developed TMJ, broken out in hives. Just very stressful. I’ve seen how it’s destroyed families.”
As a professional publicist always mindful of her personal brand, her own social media posts are overwhelmingly benign: Dogs. Family. Food. Positivity memes. But as an almost therapeutic cry for help, on Feb. 3 she wondered aloud on Facebook if she was alone in her strict adherence to COVID-19 guidelines:
I would love to see a show of hands from those still actively quarantining. As in, you only go out for essentials, you don't dine in restaurants, you don't travel, you don't socialize with people outside of your quarantine pod indoors, etc. Please tell me I'm not the only one.
The post generated 129 comments, almost exclusively supporting her stance.
The next day, however, the publicist received an email from Julie expressing concern.
I saw your post last night about Covid and quarantining, and thought it’s something we should discuss. We will need to have meetings at Colonial. In the clubhouse, people wear masks, but once in the tournament office they do not — at least not last time I was there (early December). We usually have our meetings out in the lobby area. But again, they don’t tend to wear masks. During tournament week, I would assume that there will be more restrictions, but we will be around a lot of people. Give it some thought, and let me know how you’d like to handle.
Despite landing the job in January 2020 and working last summer’s tournament, the publicist had only attended one meeting (her initial interview) at Colonial. For 2021 she planned to attend assorted outdoor promotional events in the lead-up to the May 23-30 tournament, but there were no meetings scheduled.
According to Britt Todd, there is a special entrance at Colonial where staff members are required to wear masks and have their temperature taken. Throughout the office, however, masks are not prevalent.
“I was absolutely shocked … floored,” the publicist says. “You can’t give me a good reason for holding an indoor meeting without masks during a global pandemic. It was just mind-blowing that a tournament like the Colonial would jeopardize infecting its own people. Much less the liability.”
Responding to Julie’s email on Feb. 4, the publicist replied that she was “mortified” that her “most controversial Facebook post of the last decade” might have been upsetting. She went on to assure Julie that she hoped to be vaccinated by May, committed to attend all outdoor events associated with her duties and offered to be present at the planning meetings via Zoom.
"I actually did not expect this!" she wrote. "I haven’t been called in for an in-person meeting by any of my clients during the pandemic, so please excuse my ignorance here … I’m pretty much following all CDC guidelines by the book. If that’s an absolute deal-breaker for the team, there will be no hard feelings if you have to go with someone else."
Still, says the publicist, “It never crossed my mind that being safe would cost me my contract.”
On Feb. 5, Julie emailed the publicist to alert her to a Feb. 8 meeting led by tournament director Michael Tothe.
"I completely respect and understand your position," she wrote, "but we do have to proceed with planning for the tournament. Maybe we can come up with a plan that works for everyone, but need input from Michael to know his preference.
At this point the publicist had never been informed that her contract was tenuously tied to budget constraints.
But on Feb. 9, the Todd Co. fired her.
The email from Julie stated that she would begin handling social media herself, a move necessitated by budget cuts stemming from the tournament planning for reduced revenue because of no corporate skyboxes and only between 3-7,000 fans per day.
"I'm obviously very disappointed," the publicist replied. "I'm shocked that we can't work according to CDC guidelines. I never saw this coming."
Julie wrote back later that day, alluding that the publicist’s reluctance to meet in person did, in fact, play a role in her dismissal.
"I’m sorry you didn’t see this coming, but I did send you an email 3 days after our initial meeting on February 1; and that is only because I saw your FB post," she wrote. "I had no idea that meeting in person would be an issue. That’s my fault for assuming."
Despite the lack of February meetings in 2020 and the prevalence of virtual meetings in 2021, the Todds admitted to a certain uneasiness at the prospect of not having the publicist physically in Fort Worth to help plan the tournament.
“It’s a relationship-based situation and the staff needs to know her,” says Julie. “She would have had to have been there in some circumstances.”
Says Britt, “It was concerning that she was unwilling to come over, because there are times when you can’t have social media if you’re not at the event.”
But also in interviews last week, both Britt and Julie flatly rejected the idea that the move to terminate the contract was motivated by anything other than financial reductions.
“Did her following CDC guidelines play into it?” Julie says, repeating the question. “Ultimately, no.”
Says Britt of the same question, “No, not at all. This was a budget decision.”
The Todd Co. says it holds the publicist in high regard and that it will consider hiring her in the future, possibly as early this spring if COVID restrictions are softened and revenues are free to increase.
“I don’t look at it as if we ended her contract,” Julie says. “We just postponed it.”
Says Britt, “We like her. No hard feelings.”
The experience, however, has left the publicist in limbo. While she cherishes a role in marketing the Colonial’s upcoming 75th anniversary tournament, she has steadfastly done her part to combat a deadly virus that has killed almost 500,000 Americans and 42,000 Texans and remains flabbergasted by those who take it lightly.
“What the Colonial is doing is inconceivable,” says the publicist, who counts multiple healthcare companies among her stable of clients. “It’s irresponsible.”
She’s uncertain how she would react to potential overtures from the Todd Company.
“I can’t say how I’ll feel in the future,” she says. “I was looking forward to promoting this event, and I am incredibly disappointed that this happened.”
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