Personal Relations

Looking at the secret of Ran Rahav’s success as an Israeli stalwart of public relations

Ran Rahav stands with the flag of the Marshall Islands, of which he is honorary consul (photo credit: COURTESY RAN RAHAV)
Ran Rahav stands with the flag of the Marshall Islands, of which he is honorary consul
(photo credit: COURTESY RAN RAHAV)
Long before the advent of Facebook, Ramat Gan-born Ran Rahav had 3,000 friends.
At least, that’s the number of people who came to his wedding in 1992 at Herzliya Pituah’s Dan Accadia Hotel.
Rahav is one of the country’s most successful public relations executives.
With an impressive suite of offices on the 24th floor of Tel Aviv’s Museum Tower and a magnificent home in the upscale neighborhood of Savyon, he employs a staff of 45, and his 170 clients include some of the country’s leading companies and commercial enterprises.
By the time he and his wife, Hila, who is also his business partner, were ready to celebrate the bar mitzva of their only son, Roee – now an intelligence officer in the IDF – the guest list had increased to 5,000, and the venue was the Tel Aviv Fairgrounds.
But since the explosion of social media into the Israeli lifestyle, Rahav has amassed many more friends, as well as readers of the posts on his private Facebook account, which gets in excess of 1.1 million hits a week. (This is not an idle boast; Rahav passes his iPad across the table to this interviewer to prove the veracity of his claim.) Rahav uses this account to sound off on issues that please or bother him, but also to promote the charitable endeavors of others who are not necessarily part of his social circle. For instance, if he hears of a hairdresser who’s cutting hair free of charge for people who are donating their tresses to produce wigs for cancer patients, he supports the endeavor on Facebook.
Although he can speak English, all his posts are in Hebrew, and many of the responses are from Israelis living abroad.
The 51-year-old Rahav – usually known as Rani – is very family-oriented in his relationships with his clients, his staff and his friends. Everyone is part of one large extended family, and everyone with whom he deals on a regular basis receives birthday greetings and a symbolic gift.
And it’s not just birth dates he keeps; he also possesses a batch of phone numbers that one can’t get from Bezeq. People just give him their private numbers when he asks, he says.
Both his home and his office resemble art galleries in flux. Every wall is covered in paintings both contemporary and classic, interspersed here and there with artistic or historic photographs, such as the famous photo by David Rubinger of Menachem Begin bending down in an airplane to help his wife, Aliza, get into her shoes.
In the waiting area, there is a large photograph of Leah Rabin, widow of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, against a wall of graffiti; the highly visible word over her head is “sliha” – sorry.
At the opposite end of the same wall is a painting of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The flat surfaces in the waiting area are repositories for statuettes and expensive art books, and inside Rahav’s office is a life-size, sunflower-yellow statue of a winged rider on a bicycle.
Rahav sits by the window overlooking the changing Tel Aviv skyline.
He sits at the head of a long table, almost half of which is covered with toy cars of varying colors and sizes. There are also crystal stemmed glasses, alcoholic beverages, and sample packages of some of his clients’ products. Directly in front of him are an iPad and the most sophisticated of cellphones, plus a regular handset phone that rings from time to time. He also has a Bluetooth ear-piece attached to his ear.
Whether in the office, at home, in the theater or abroad, he is always accessible through one or more of his devices.
If he can’t answer the phone without disturbing other people, he will send an SMS to someone on his staff to contact the caller and deal with the problem at hand. His office operates 24/7 – a factor to which he attributes his success.
For Rahav, his clients should never wait. He will go to every length within the law on their behalf, and is known for his tempestuous defense of them when they incur media criticism.
This total identification with his clients has sometimes made him the butt of unkind cartoons and cutting remarks from satirists, but Rahav doesn’t care.
He treats all his clients like family, and enjoys their reciprocity.
When Rahav was in kindergarten, his teacher told his parents that he would be a lawyer when he grew up. Although he may have had the aptitude, he never achieved the bagrut (matriculation exam) scores to study law. As a child, he suffered from dyslexia, which was little known and understood in Israel at that time. His teachers couldn’t understand how someone who was so bright in other respects had so much difficulty reading.
“I wasn’t able to become a lawyer who appears in court,” he says, “but in a sense, I’m a different kind of lawyer, representing my clients in the court of public opinion and before the media.”
His dyslexia did not prevent him from being accepted into the air force when he served in the IDF. He was an education officer with the rank of sergeant, and he received an award for his work.
Part of his success in the IAF stemmed from knowing the right people. When Yigael Yadin, one of the country’s early chiefs of staff and later a famed archeologist, decided to enter politics and founded the Democratic Movement for Change, Rahav, who was in his early teens, decided that he wanted to help.
All he did was stuff envelopes, but while hanging around Yadin’s office he got to meet Yadin’s cohorts, who included leading personalities such as Meir Amit, Shmuel Tamir, Amnon Rubinstein and Meir Zorea. They took an interest in the eager young boy, and when he was in the IAF, he asked them to deliver lectures – and they complied.
It was while he was in the IAF that he started to think about a career in communications, but he didn’t know in what area.
Following his discharge, someone told him that the Dan Hotel chain was looking for a public relations manager.
The chain had just taken over the Dan Panorama in Tel Aviv, which had gone through different owners, managers and names, and wanted someone to help boost its business. Armed with all the citations he had received in the air force, he went for an interview with the general manager, Haim Shkedi, who hired him and promptly made him a member of the hotel’s executive board.
Rahav was only 22 years old.
He recalls coming down in the elevator and saying to himself, “How amI going to do this without a bagrut and without having studied at Cornell or at Tadmor?” Most Israelis in the hotel management field go to the Tadmor School for Hotel Management, Cornell School of Hotel Administration or both.
But after only two years he was appointed public relations manager not just of one Dan hotel, but of the whole chain, which is now his oldest client.
The connection was never broken, even after he set up his own PR firm in 1991.
Twenty-five years ago, the mega charity events that are such a common feature of Israel’s social scene today were almost unknown.
In 1990, the daughter of former finance minister Pinhas Sapir approached Rahav to help raise money for Micha, the Society for Deaf Children in Israel.
She was thinking of something grandiose.
By this time, Rahav had a long list of important connections, and he agreed to write a letter to them provided that the cosignatories were future presidents’ wives Reuma Weizman, who was actively involved with Micha, and Sonia Peres, who was active in numerous social welfare spheres. The two women agreed, and the letter, printed on a simple letterhead, went out. There was also an organizing committee that met in the three-room apartment where Rahav lived at the time, and the event was a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra at what was then the Mann Auditorium in Tel Aviv. The combined effort resulted in every seat being sold.
The following year, he decided to go into business for himself, but lacked sufficient funds for what he envisaged.
He shared his concept with Israeli-born business tycoon Baruch Ivcher, who has been living in Peru for many years. Ivcher put up 50 percent of the collateral for Rahav’s PR firm, and after two years he gave his shares to Rahav as a gift. Rahav has been expanding his contacts and his interests ever since, but has retained a strong bond with Ivcher.
While still in the employ of the Dan chain, Rahav developed a close friendship with Leah Rabin, whom he met at a dinner that her husband – then defense minister – was hosting at the Dan hotel in honor of his American counterpart.
Rahav, in his usual fashion, wanted to be sure that everything was to the hosts’ satisfaction, and found instant chemistry with Leah Rabin. He became a welcome guest in the Rabin household, and they in his.
Leah Rabin chaired the Friends of Alut – the Association for Autistic Children in Israel, and she got Rahav involved.
He remained involved after her death and is the association’s ombudsman. He was frequently at her bedside during her final illness, and remained close to her family after she died. In fact, five years ago, he and his wife hosted her daughter Dalia’s 60th birthday party at their Savyon home.
His detractors are always amazed at his ability to hobnob with the rich and the famous. They ridicule Rahav’s roly-poly physique and say that he has no charisma. A slight lisp becomes more pronounced when he gets excited, and this, too, has elicited scorn in certain quarters.
But Rahav sees himself as a regular guy and says that his image in that respect was enhanced by his appearance as an adjudicator on the television talent show Rising Star. People stop in the street to shake his hand and pose for selfies with him.
Whether people like him or not, there is great respect for what he has achieved.
The boy who was unable to pass a bagrut is invited to lecture on communications and public relations at universities. In addition, he sits on numerous committees and boards of directors, among them the Batsheva Dance Company, Variety Israel, the Friends Associations of Beit Lessin, the Cameri Theater, the Israeli Opera, and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. He’s a member of the Friends Association of the Rabin Center for Research, the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Sheba Medical Center at Tel Hashomer, the Israel AIDS Task Force, and ALUT – and it goes without saying that he sits on the board of the Israel Public Relations Association.
If all that weren’t enough, the Foreign Ministry approached him six years ago to serve as honorary consul of the Marshall Islands.
Before accepting, he had two questions.
The first was whether the Marshall Islands had an ambassador to Israel, because if they did, he wasn’t interested. The second was whether the republic’s government was pro-Israel.
He was informed that there was no ambassador and that the Marshall Islands consistently voted with Israel at the United Nations. That was good enough for Rahav – though he still had to face a vetting committee that had to be satisfied not only with his affluence but also with the work he did for the community.
Long after receiving the green light, he learned that two of the people on the committee had autistic children, and that his ongoing work with ALUT had influenced their decision.
Rahav is proud of his relationship with the Marshall Islands, whose flag stands at the entrance of both his firm and his home, and he wants all Israelis to know about the island nation.
He would also like Israelis to make greater efforts to show appreciation and rejoice over others’ good fortune.
Israelis are very good-hearted and always ready to help, but they are not gracious, he contends.
“Saying thank-you never killed anyone,” he says. “Being gracious is not a fatal disease.”
Although he deliberately has no political clients – at either the national or the municipal level – he does socialize with politicians from Netanyahu downward. He has no wish to be identified with any political party; he wants to remain on good terms with people from across the political spectrum.
“No one knows or ever will know who I voted for,” he says.
To some extent, he has overcome his dyslexia. He certainly has no problem reading what comes up on the screen of his iPad, but admits that he has difficulty reading books, especially ones with small typeface. Still, if dyslexia hadn’t deterred him from pursuing law school, he might have missed out on becoming the success story he is today.