Friday, June 27, 2008

Hiring the man or woman whose name is on the door

Sometime in the 90's, New York City public relations fixture Howard Rubenstein changed the name of his company from "Howard Rubenstein & Associates" to "Rubenstein Associates."

On the surface, this may seem like a pretty artificial change but there was a good reason behind it: anybody who wanted to hire the firm would ask for him personally, and he no longer had the time to field all those calls when he had two sons working at the company. So if you couldn't get Howard Rubenstein, you'd get another Rubenstein.

While it's very common for large corporate entities to hire the mega-names of public relations -- Edelman, Porter Novelli, Ruder Finn -- the client is almost certainly not going to have Daniel Edelman, the founders of Porter Novelli (who are not even mentioned on their web site's history page), or David Finn working on their account.

So what do you get when you hire a company named after its founder?

I bring this up because of the Variety article this morning that Dan Klores, whose Dan Klores Communications is ranked by O'Dwyer's Company Inc. as the #9 PR firm in the country with $21.7 million in revenue, has been signed by HBO to direct a feature film of a documentary he made a couple of years ago. With all due respect to Klores, his name may be on the door, the web site, and the stationery, but he has not done public relations for at least three or four years -- he has been a filmmaker.

Klores has not left the company. He is not chairman emeritus. He is not mentioned in the "About Us" section of the company's web site. He does have a bio on the Leadership section of the web site, but here's how it starts:

Director Dan Klores’ “Crazy Love” captured the 2008 Independent Spirit Award for Best Documentary. A few months later he completed "Black Magic," a four-hour, two-part epic that aired commercial-free on ESPN to tremendous critical success. The New York Times calls the film, “remarkable,” The Washington Post says it “engages the senses,” and The Charlotte News and Observer wrote, “Black Magic” is mesmerizing, harrowing and uplifting.” “Black Magic” tells the story of the injustice that defines the Civil Rights Movement, told through the lives of basketball players and coaches who attended Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's).

The rest of the bio rehashes "Crazy Love"'s reviews and awards, followed by other past film information, a play he wrote last year, and other production work he's doing. You'd never know he used to be a top dog at Rubenstein until he broke away to form his own PR firm, and his own history of a public relations professional.

Now I am sure Dan Klores has an excellent senior management staff running the ship, since they are still raking in plenty of fees. But if I'm a company looking for public relations recommendation, I have to know going in that Dan Klores will come nowhere near my account and probably not even know about it. I'd be getting his capable staff and hopefully assigned to a team that knows what they are doing.

When you hire a public relations firm named after somebody, are you hiring the man or woman who the company is named after, or are you hiring their firm?

I had this same conversation this morning with Jane Cruz, director of Texto & Imagem, a public relations firm based in Sao Paulo, Brazil. She was complaining about some of the companies who go right to hire a "name" in that country -- Edelman, Ketchum -- especially because of their attraction to "English sounding companies." I explained to Jane:

"While you may not have two dozen people to throw on an account, you have you. How many clients can actually say they work directly with their public relations firm's top person? There's no way a large PR firm can replicate that."

Trust me when I say she felt a lot better after that.

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