The day I interviewed at Howard Rubenstein Associates I couldn’t eat, had not slept for over 24 hours, and could not shake my innate nervousness. "This was the big leagues," the headhunter told me. You make it at the most demanding, most respected, most connected publicity shop in New York, you can make it anywhere. I was interviewing with a man we came to call "The Beast," although that moniker was way too tame and could never convey his true brilliance or brutality. His initials aptly were P.R. and he was the purest personification of raw PR media madness I, and many others, have ever experienced. He was Howard’s henchman and he had zero patience for incompetence or foolishness, attributes he detected in most everybody.
By then I heard all the stories that permeated the New York PR world: Rubenstein was a publicity sweatshop that chewed up publicists like wood through a chipper. Newly hired publicists would join in the morning, go to lunch and never come back. Breakdowns in the office, crying fits, incredible mind games and in-fighting. It was all true. In the three years I survived at Rubenstein I saw that and more. I still get together with Rubenstein survivors – and there are hundreds of us in New York – and swap tales of the mortal combat we engaged in at 1345 Avenue of the Americas. Ah, the good old days.
Yet, there is another, undeniable side to this story that Rubenstein veterans freely acknowledge. The headhunter was right. The experience at Rubenstein shaped us, stays with us, permeates all the work we have done since, and gives us value in the market. I went on to work for larger agencies that charged four or five times Howard’s modest fees to essentially do what we did for Rubenstein clients. If you survived at Rubenstein it was because you became an effective media relations professional who earned respect from the journalists you needed to get your “hits” to feed Howard’s insatiable publicity machine. And to this day, no matter what social media mumbo jumbo we bat around, clients will still kiss your feet and up their fees if you get them in the Wall Street Journal, not if you get a marginal blogger to take a picture of her cat with your client’s camera.
All this came back to me – sort of a PR post traumatic stress episode – when I clicked in to the Huffington Post story Howard posted recently on why PR needs to take the high road and be ethical and all that sort of anachronistic PR for PR. The post itself was a curiosity from another era, something you would see in a PR trade rag 20 years ago, familiar themes Howard has expressed in his 53 years in business. But the response was pure Web 2.0: the great majority of dozens of comments were condemning, cruel, degrading, dismissive, vitriolic, mean, rude. It was like a back alley mugging. One representative comment:
“Well, I think the results are in: Public relations is now the world’s most hated profession. If Shakespeare had a blog, he’d write: “The first thing we do, let’s kill all the PR flunkies.”
Welcome to the Internet, Howard, where any schmegeggi with a computer and an axe to grind can hurl insults at a representation of their frustrations. Howard and his ilk get blamed for everything from the Iraq war to the decline of morality in civilization. And all he did was say we should be ethical and responsible and to tell the truth. His firm represents over 400 clients, he has been in the middle of some of the most fractious battles in New York spanning many administrations, and to my knowledge he has never been accused of being less than honorable.
Howard is not Willy Loman, far from it. But attention and respect must be paid for what he has done, what he represents, and what he has accomplished for our business. Dan Klores split from Howard and went on to build a $20 million PR firm. He now makes movies that get great reviews. Lisa Linden, Steven Alschuler, and Lloyd Kaplan worked for Howard and split and built their own respected PR firm. Andy Plesser left Howard and went on to his own PR firm and founded Beet.tv. The senior people closest to Howard have been with him for decades. There are many, many others who owe their careers to him.
I guarantee that The New York Times has already written the bulk of Howard Rubenstein’s obit and it will be front-page news when he passes. I guarantee that every major political, cultural and business figure in New York – black, white, Latino, Republican, Democrat, Jew, Christian - will laud him and remember him as a man who brought people together and actually believed what sounds corny – why can’t we all just get along? Bottom feeders on the Huffington Post accomplish nothing with their drive-by nastiness. They aren’t even qualified to carry the briefcase Howard takes home every Friday full of account executive “hit” reports.
Howard, I am sorry you had to endure this weekend's rant. Thanks for everything.
Mark Rose is editor of PRBlogNews - a web publication focusing on public relations practices in the digital age.
On Thursday, March 8, 2007 at 7:41 AM, Ronn Torossian, President and CEO of 5WPR, emphatically promised that he was going to sue us. No real reason, he was just irritated by our teasing him about getting in bed with pornographer Joe Francis. Anyway, Ronn gave his obscenity-laced word that we'd see the complaint in 72 hours. It's now late by
Kathleen Durazo about A Measly $2.8 Million Goes Missing, Lawsuit Results Fri, Jul 31, 10:58:34 AM Ray Durazo (the founder) sold the company to Dan in 1999. He was not involved in any of this. He (and I) found out about the lawsuit in the LA Times. In addition to embezzling this m [...]