R.I.P. Howard Rubenstein

Howard J. Rubenstein

R.I.P. Howard Rubenstein

Howard Rubenstein, the Czar of PR as the tabloids and high brow media alike called him, died on Tuesday, December 29, 2020. That Howard was powerful, well-connected, and elevated the PR business in New York, is well documented. Underneath that, he was extremely demanding, with a work ethic that few could match. He was out jogging before dawn and often attended events after work hours. Every Friday afternoon, dozens of account executives turned in reports to him about the publicity we generated that week for clients. By the time you arrived at your desk on Monday, Howard responded to your report.

It didn’t exactly make for a relaxing weekend wondering whether come Monday morning, you would exult in Howard’s single-word accolade that came back on the status report, scratch your head over his begrudging acknowledgment, or sulk from his ire, usually written in big letters, with a bold hand, and an exclamation point in case you forgot that your only job in life was to GET PUBLICITY! Scouring the PR Blog News archives I came across this:

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 is 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. The rest of the story was published on the now-defunct Strumpette, 07.11.2007

The next day I got this email from Howard:

Dear Mark:

Thanks for your kind post on Strumpette.  I appreciate that you took the time to put together a thoughtful comment.  It’s true that I’ve been espousing the same message for my entire career and I still believe it – that we should hold ourselves to a strong ethical standard and can still be successful by doing the right thing.  I don’t think that the digital world changes that – probably only strengthens it – since the news cycle is constant and our actions are seen by a broader audience.

I’m glad you “survived” your time at the firm and have gone on to be a terrific ambassador for PR.

Best, Howard

The paradox of working with Howard was that his outside persona was far different than what you experienced inside. From my perspective, many years removed, I’ll remember Howard this way:

Manhattan state Sen. Brad Hoylman called Howard Rubenstein the definition of “a mensch. “The word ‘mensch’ in the dictionary should have a photo of Howard Rubenstein next to it,” the pol tweeted. “There are few New Yorkers who’ve played such an outsized role in shaping NYC for the better. May his memory be a blessing.”

Mark Rose

Founder Finsquared, The New Equation in PR.