Here, in an exclusive interview to help all of us in the profession usher in the new year with his unique perspective, is the world’s oldest PR person. Though Methuselah Goldstein adamantly refuses to reveal his age – even today, in 2019, he worries about bias against seniors – he readily acknowledges himself to be “somewhat” older than dirt. Our conversation, from his office in a converted Catskills resort hotel, ranged widely across his many celebrity clients, his pioneering crisis management, and the evolution of public relations over the millennia.
Q: Who was your first client?
A: Moses. Even when he was a baby, I knew he would be big. Remember how he parted the Red Sea? My idea. Made all the front pages. As stunts go, it’s considered a classic.
Q: Why and how did you get into PR?
A: Mainly I needed to make the rent. But also our village was running out of water. So I became the first press agent ever. Started a campaign to pressure the local developers to build a new well. Editorials up the wazoo.
Q: Is it true you represented Julius Caesar?
A: That’s no rumor. Got the salad named after him. Suggested the hairstyle, too. Look, here’s a photo of us (Goldstein shown in toga and sandals next to the Roman Emperor).
Q: Was PR tough back then?
A: Tough? Let me tell you about tough. I had to chisel key messages on cuneiform. Okay? Our conference rooms – where I met prospective clients to make new-business presentations – were in caves. Okay? Our internet was a camel. You kids today have no freaking idea.
Q: The stiffest challenge you ever faced in your career?
A: Christ. Jesus Christ. No one else even comes close. What a sweetheart. My favorite messiah ever. But so misunderstood! Took him under my wing early on. B.C., technically. Some job keeping him out of the gossip columns. Talk about crisis management! The Sermon on the Mount? My idea. What a dear soul. Always open to feedback, including media-training. Naturally spoke fluent sound bite. I dubbed him the Carpenter of Nazareth. Catchy, right? He made all the late-night talk shows. Look, here’s our picture together (Goldstein shown with his arm around the Son of God).
Q: How did you come to specialize in celebrities?
A: Strictly by accident. We would team up before they became historical icons. Einstein before he could add. Freud before his first wet dream. They started from nothing, my clients. We took public exposure step by step. Freud would tell me about his dreams. Einstein would start speaking in equations.
Q: What do you think of the progress PR has made over the eons?
A: The advances, the breakthroughs, are spectacular. I mean, I once thought the printing press would be the end-all, be-all. How could it get better than that? Wrong! And then came the fax machine. Wowie kazowie! That’s got to be the ultimate communications device, I told myself. Wrong again! Now everything’s gone digital. Sponsored content and all that jazz. Someday I, too, will probably wind up pixilated.
Q: What are your biggest takeaways about the history of PR and its future?
A: Everything always changes. So you have to adapt. But also nothing changes. So you have to stick to the basics. Know your client. Understand the issues. Trust in the truth. That’s my advice. That’s what I tell my students. But above all, tell me a story.
Bob Brody, a public-relations consultant formerly with the Powell Tate division of Weber Shandwick, is an essayist and author of the memoir “Playing Catch with Strangers: A Family Guy (Reluctantly) Comes of Age.