I was saddened to wakeup this morning to news that Howard Rubinstein, the legendary public relations practitioner, had died. I worked for Howard (Rubinstein Associates) in what was one of the shortest stops in my career –yet one of the most influential.
There are many good obituaries this morning on some of the achievements, shenanigans and campaigns Howard cooked up. But beyond this public persona, there was an intensely focused, talented and competitive man who was singularly focused on helping his clients.
Howard found me through a Daily News reporter I had worked with and with whom I had a strong relationship. When we met for the first time in his spacious office that had an amazing view of Central Park, he wooed me to his team by dangling some of the biggest names in the New York real estate scene at the time who would become my clients (Jeffrey Glick, Marty Raynes, Hank Sopher, Ed Sulzberger, Jerry Speyer, Barbara Fox, etc.) if I signed on. Most importantly, he lavished me with praise, complimenting my work and assuring me I would reach new professional highs in the glamour of Manhattan real estate. He walked me through his office and introduced me to some of his legendary team – Dan Klores, who represented some of the largest celebrity names in the city; Gary Lewi, who had run Al D’Amato’s senate office, Nancy Haberman (NYT reporter Maggie Haberman’s mother), Marcia Horowitz (former NYC Mayor Abe Beame’s press secretary), among others. Very intoxicating for a kid who grew up in Elmwood Park.
From the day I signed on, the ensuing months were a whirlwind of activity that absolutely solidified my media relations skills –and that was the result of Howard’s skill, counseling and at times, prodding. The day I started, one of his well-known lieutenants gave me 12 accounts, four which had already given their 30-notice. He told that my success would be predicated on keeping those accounts. No pressure, uh? Well, we not only kept the accounts, but I ended up carrying a load of a dozen clients.
Howard would beat me to the office even though I would arrive no later than 6:30 am. He was known to be up at 4 reading the newspapers and preparing notes his assignment would send around –in those days they were paper on a pad, with story suggestions. Each Friday, we did report cards, which was a version of the dashboards that we current use here. Howard would take the report cards home over the weekend and markup every single one of them with suggestions, congratulations, needs work, or the most feared—See Me! The best reports were hung in the coffee room for all to see, as were the best hits of the week. When you got summoned to Howard’s office, you never knew who you were going to see or what you would be called into. One of those calls was for me to attend a meeting with Marty Raynes who had decided to convert the massive Lincoln Square residential complex to co-ops. Howard was always a great listener for clients and gave very direct advice. When he agreed with Raynes, he lauded him, when he disagreed, he told him so. You would walk out of a meeting with pages of notes and tons of work to get done.
The environment could only be described as intense. But I did some of my best work there. At one dip in the stock market, I was about to get 18 clients into a Crain’s New York Business lead story on the decline of the industry, which was an agency record for the most clients in one story. For two months, every New York Times real estate column in the Sunday paper was one of my clients. With one client, Jeffrey Glick, we hatched up the idea of erecting the world’s largest sukkah around the Jewish holiday on the old Luchow’s site on 14th Street that he controlled. Every daily, weekly, wire service, television and news radio station in the city carried the event.
I spent a fair amount of time here talking about me, because Howard brought out a part of me that helped me develop and refine my media skills and open new media and professional doors. To this day, I have replicated many of the things I learned from him. The dashboards we use, the clipping and forwarding of articles that might be helpful to our team members, the simple one-page agreement our clients sign and our press release template were all offshoots of my Rubinstein experience. Probably, also my directness about the work we do.
When it was time for me to be moving on, I get a call one day from Howard. He says he heard I was interviewing for a position and “did I really want to leave?” He recounted all the work I had done and told me there was more to accomplish and achieve. As he always did, he was a step ahead of me. I fumbled an answer about not really looking, but that I was approached, to which he responded, “don’t bullshit a bullshitter,” a phrase I have remembered now for nearly 35 years. He was right.
In a fitting close to his legendary life, the announcement of his death was given as an exclusive to the New York Post, as he was the long-time publicist for Rupert Murdoch, and after they reported it, shared with the broader media.
My condolences go to his family. May he rest in peace.