An agency executive recently told me, "Everyone wants to be like Howard Rubenstein these days."
Even for one as famous as he, Rubenstein's name is popping up a lot. From his agency's 50th anniversary last year, to his chairmanship of the PRSA's annual meeting, to his new role as chair of CUNY's journalism school advisory board, Rubenstein is an even more conspicuous presence than usual.
But fame is not what communicators are after. It goes beyond the iconic "Howard" to the firm itself, which is known for its media connections and savvy and includes scion Steven Rubenstein in its executive ranks. Recent clients include project work with American Express, Kraft, and the launch of the Mini. The firm has sought more and more consumer work, as well.
But knowing how to really work the media relations part of the business, and even more specifically, knowing the New York angles, is the real commodity. And it's still true, even as the definition of "journalist" has blurred and a blogger in Topeka may fundamentally influence a company's reputation with his posting.
Media relations can be a tough job, and some people just don't want to do it, even those committed to a career in PR. Some - too many, in fact - are just bad at it. Others avoid it, or are intimidated by it. But at Rubenstein, there is no room to hide. "You've got to pick up the phone if you want to work here," Howard Rubenstein says. Staffers submit monthly reports on their pitches, hits, and client reactions.
Executives and clients count on their PR counsel to be plugged into the media. And there's seemingly no person more plugged in than Rubenstein. But even with his cachet, he can still get burnt by the media he courts. New York Post columnist Cindy Adams recently penned a snide column about dinner with Rubenstein and Yankees president Randy Levine, just as the news of Randy Johnson's signing leaked. The conspiratorial scene Adams describes is more Sweet Smell of Success than strategic communications.
"[Adams] has been a friend of mine for 30 years," Rubenstein says. "But I wasn't happy with it. It reinforces the negative perception of PR and it's not how I run my business."
World Economic Forum has real PR value
Alan Murray's column about the World Economic Forum in Davos that ran recently in The Wall Street Journal was prescient. "There is a theory that companies whose CEOs attend the World Economic Forum... are headed for trouble," he wrote. "Nursing my theory, I went in search of Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina." Sure enough, he found her.
That portent has not held true for the PR executives who attend (as far as we know). In an interview with PRWeek.com, Jack Modzelewski, president of client relations at Fleishman-Hillard, offered that it is "the ultimate stakeholder conference in the world," offering perspectives that can be applied to PR challenges.
Given the subject matter, Davos is great for communicators seeking perspective. The rest of the crowd has to work a bit harder to convince us that it has value beyond its cachet. How leaders apply the lessons that Modzelewski describes, on everything from stem-cell research to CSR, is still something of a mystery.
For the full transcript of the Q&A with Jack Modzelewski, log on to www.prweek.com.