What We Can Learn From the PR Maven

I recently attended a meeting where the Rule Number One of personal branding was violated: Never say anything negative about a person or company.

I recently attended a meeting where the Rule Number One of personal branding was violated: Never say anything negative about a person or company.


At the meeting, a woman we’ll call Sue, was asked where she hailed from. A simple question requiring a simple answer. Instead, Sue, had what I sometimes think of as a “reversion to high school” moment, those graceless moments where what should be hidden gets exposed. Sue, in answering the question, threw in the gratuitous information of the name of a former employer and added a dash of negativity about the company. Not only is this totally unnecessary but that type of behavior can put you in a bad light. It’s important to remember that in the end people want to know that they can trust you to say positive things about them and their company.

All of this hit especially home when I read Ken Auletta’s excellent profile of the PR maven extraordinaire Howard Rubenstein in the current issue of The New Yorker

As Auletta writes, “To get Rubenstein to say a bad word about a public figure, you’d have to torture him.”

Now, I am not suggesting that we all need to walk around spouting Polyannish statements. Instead, it comes down to discretion and knowing when to express your opinion and when to keep your mouth shut. Yes, you can be passionate and have strong opinions about issues, people and institutions. It’s just not in your best interest to say anything that can be construed negatively about other people or companies, especially when this pertains to people in your work life. Obviously, if a corporate culture encourages railing against a competitor it is OK to follow suit. The key, however, is to exercise discretion.

Which brings us back to Rubenstein, who has the rare ability to “effortlessly glide” from representing disparate forces like Democrats to Republications and “still remains friends with everybody.”

His secret?


Auletta concludes that Rubinstein is much more than a slippery politician since he is so believable and trustworthy. As Eliot Spitzer is quoted saying in the piece, “His [Rubenstein’s] business is to be sufficiently close and trusted such that when he wants to be an intermediary and wants to say something that is not for public consumption, you will know that he is reliable. It’s because his self-interest is in protecting that credibility, which is his greatest asset, that I can trust him.”

Remember that credibility is your greatest asset as well. No one wants to associate or do business with someone they don’t trust. So the next time you want to say something negative about someone, it’s in your own self interest to kindly shut your mouth.

Wendy Marx • Public Relations/Marketing Communications
President, Marx Communications, Inc. • • www.

About the author

Wendy Marx is President of Marx Communications, an award-winning boutique B2B Public Relations agency known for turning companies and executives, including start-ups, into thought leaders. Follow her on Twitter @wendymarx and on Google+ @