PRWEEK.COM Q&A: Howard Rubenstein

Howard Rubenstein is one of PR's luminaries, setting up his eponymous New York agency in 1954. Today his staff numbers 170, and his client list covers a wide spectrum, ranging from corporate giants to celebrities to the New York Yankees. Below, he answers PRWeek readers' questions on everything from political PR to procurement.

Howard Rubenstein is one of PR's luminaries, setting up his eponymous New York agency in 1954. Today his staff numbers 170, and his client list covers a wide spectrum, ranging from corporate giants to celebrities to the New York Yankees. Below, he answers PRWeek readers' questions on everything from political PR to procurement.

Q. How do formal education programs (master's programs in PR or accreditation in public relations - APR) benefit the PR practitioner beyond learning or honing skills and tactics? In other words, is an APR necessary to move up and forward in this profession? -TD A. It never hurts to gain specialized training for PR, but an advanced degree is not necessary to be successful in the industry. Many of the most skilled practitioners I know do not have formal training in PR. They are, however, bright, creative and very motivated. Q. Being in a position to advise some of the most powerful figures in government and the economy, have you ever found conflict with your own personal political and social views, and how have you dealt with that? -JK A. I've certainly worked with people who have different views than I do. I focus on the message that they want to project, and as long as it's not a reprehensible position, I look to tell their story in a compelling fashion. If it's a position that I feel is just plain wrong, I won't promote it. Q. What significant changes (besides the obvious presence of the internet) have you seen in the media since you started your career in PR? -MS A. Probably the most significant change I've witnessed in my 50-year career is the 24-7 news cycle. It's truly incredible, and is a tremendous boon for the PR industry. Q. Who out there could most benefit from your expertise? Who's PR needs fixing by you? -ET A. Anyone who is looking to tell his/her story, project his/her idea or advocate a position in a creative way. Q. How tough is the New York media to deal with, compared with the media in other cities? -JH A. All cities have great journalists and media professionals, but generally I find that there is more competition for coverage in New York, which in turn makes it tougher to place stories. Q. Why don't you get involved in political PR, such as political campaigns? -RT A. I used to do a lot of it but decided over 20 years ago that I wanted to focus my energies on my corporate and nonprofit practices. Oftentimes political campaigns are all or nothing, and I wanted to stay diversified. Q. What is the longest client relationship you've had, and how have you sustained it? -JE A. Dozens of my clients, from real-estate companies to healthcare institutions, have been with me for more than 20-30 years. Hard work, fresh ideas and constant client contact are the secrets to sustaining long-term professional relationships. Some examples include Rupert Murdoch, Mt. Sinai Hospital, the New York Yankees, the New York Marathon, Tishman Realty & Construction Co., and the Empire State Building, to name but a few. Q. Are there general rules of thumb that you think apply when a celebrity is facing a publicity crisis? -GB A. There is one main rule: never lie. Q. Which CEOs in corporate America do you think are great at PR? -EL A. There are many, but the best view the media not as an adversary, but rather as an entity that can help project messages to a variety of important constituencies including customers, investors, regulators, and whatever other audiences they want to reach. Q. Were you always a good at delegating responsibilities? Or did you have a hard time dealing with the growing pains of your firm? -RR A. I'm a hands-on manager, but I fully realize the need to delegate responsibilities, especially since the agency has grown over the years. Sometimes it's hard to give up a certain amount of control, but if you work with a great staff like I do, it makes it a lot easier. Q. There's always an "issue of the day" such as now with childhood obesity, and HIV/AIDS in the '90s. How do you make your issue, whatever it is, the next most important social cause - can it be done through media alone? Once there, how do you prevent it from falling off the list of social priorities? -LM A. First, an issue has to affect a lot of people to really gain the status of "issue of the day." Constant, creative publicity can help keep it there, but certainly other forms of communication must be leveraged as well - including advertising, special events networking with business/civic groups, etc. Q. We are all hearing about procurement's involvement in agency relationships. What are some recommendations you have for creating a stronger, more productive interaction between the agency and the client, with procurement playing a role? Since they are here to stay, how can procurement maximize their value? -RR A. We don't interact much with procurement departments but, like anything, if they are part of the client relationship, understand what's important to them and try and deliver. If it's concise reporting on activities, make sure you get it done in a timely manner. If it's aggressive pricing, offer it if you can. The bottom line, service the client's needs. Q. Do you think the media is more or less receptive to PR pitching now than, say, 20 or 30 years ago? You could distinguish between broadcast and print if that helps answer the question. -JO A. I think with the maturation of the PR industry, media has become a bit more receptive to PR pitches. Many years ago, "press agentry" was not always viewed very favorably. The number of outlets to pitch has also increased dramatically, therefore providing many more targets. But make no mistake, media receptivity is based on the quality of the pitch, its timelines and its accuracy. The PR person must also maintain his/her integrity and really understand the media process - this is as true today as it was in the 1950s. Q. Are there any young PR people you see being the stars of tomorrow? Anyone who reminds you of yourself as a young pro? -DQ A. Yes, my two sons - Richard and Steven Rubenstein. Q. How do you think PR differs in NY from the rest of the country? -KA A. New York is probably one of the most competitive business environments in the world. The city plays host to a countless number of PR firms that are all vying for coverage for their clients. Couple this with the sheer number of media outlets that are based in New York, and one is faced with a very dynamic environment - different than any other city in the country. Q. Who do you consider your biggest competitors? -CR A. Virtually every large, medium and small firm that emphasizes media relations. The competition is stronger than ever. Q. Do you have any aspirations outside of PR (such as writing a book)? -DC A. No, I've never wanted to write a book. Although I may have some interesting stories to tell, putting them down on paper would compromise the all-important trust I have established with my clients. I will always maintain clients' confidences and would never do anything to jeopardize my relationships with them.

Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in