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— DIANE CLEHANE

They were dining and dishing like it was 2006 today at Michael’s. When I mentioned to one of the regulars that I hadn’t seen the dining room jam packed with so many power lunchers in a long time, he summed up the scene this way: “People are tired of waiting for the official word that we’re out of the woods so they’re trying to act as if we are. In some ways, it’s working.” In other words, denial is the new black.

A few weeks back, my friend Robert Zimmerman introduced me to Melanie Brandman, founder and CEO of The Brandman Agency, and Diana Biederman, managing director of Blackbird PR. I chatted briefly with the two public relations mavens and today we had our own ‘Michael’s lunch.’ Melanie started her all-female agency in 2000 after serving as vice president of corporate affairs for InterContinental Hotels & Resorts in London where she headed worldwide PR for over 3,000 properties in 100 countries. Today, at the helm of her own agency, she specializes in luxury hotels and lifestyle brands and represents top-tier clients including Qantas Airways, Orient-Express Hotels & Resorts, as well as her former employer. As you might imagine, she’s logged “millions of air miles” on the job and in just the past six months alone has visited India, Morocco, and Barbados multiple times. She recently hosted a group of lucky travel writers on a six-night sojourn aboard the uber luxurious Maharajas’ Express, which travels from Delhi to Kolkata. “Absolutely the best way to see India,” says Melanie. I’ll bet.

Last year, Melanie launched Blackbird PR, a lifestyle subsidiary of The Brandman Agency, and asked Diana, who had been working as public relations director of ’21′ Club for eight years, to head up the company. Of the spin-off Melanie says: “It was a natural progression, because we do a lot of work within the lifestyle divisions of our travel clients. I wanted to keep Brandman as a separate entity.” Things are off to a good start with clients like VOS Selections, whose handcrafted artisanal wines are the brainchild of Victor O. Schwartz and Ray Griffiths Fine Jewelry.

Melanie also tells me she just opened an office in Los Angeles so she could “get more business out of Asia” and squeeze in a few more trips back home to see the family in Australia. Where does she find the time?

Here’s the rundown on today’s crowd:

1. Hotshot Hollywood attorney and producer Freddie Gershon with legendary Oscar winning songwriters (“The Way We Were“) Alan and Marilyn Bergman.

2. Peter Brown

3. Howard Rubenstein

4. Allen & Co.’s Stanley Shuman

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