A version of this post was originally published on LinkedIn.
Dan Edelman was elected posthumously Monday to the PRWeek Hall of Fame. There was a lovely ceremony honoring five other leaders in the PR field, from Bill Nielsen, formerly of J&J, to D’Arcy Rudnay of Comcast to Marjorie Kraus who has built APCO into a global powerhouse and Marina Maher, a top consumer products marketer. Ofield Dukes, former president of Ofield Dukes, was also posthumously honored.
I was the final speaker of the evening. A video introduced Dan. I had not heard his voice for nearly two years. It was that impassioned, New York accent, unaffected by nearly 60 years of living in Chicago. He was clear about his hopes for the PR industry. He was also passionate about his decision to keep Edelman an independent, family-owned business. To be honest, I got a bit choked up as I mounted the platform to collect the trophy and pose with editor-in-chief Steve Barrett.
I told three stories about Dan. The first was the well-known tale of the Toni Twins’ arrest in Tulsa, OK on the first stop of their maiden media tour. The cosmetologists of the state were infuriated about the prospect of losing business to a hair permanent in a box. One of the twins did the other’s hair on the air. After leaving the TV station, police ushered the young women to the local jail. A call was placed to the president of the Toni Company, who went down the hall to my father, demanding a solution. Dan piped up, “I am going to call the Associated Press.” The photo of the Twins behind bars went nationwide, and my father flew them to New York City to appear on the Today Show. The media tour was born with a bit of controversy!
The second tale involved my long-time colleague, Pam Talbot, who ran the U.S. company from the Chicago office. She was Dan’s true successor in consumer marketing, a genius who worked with Morris the 9Lives Cat, Orville Redenbacher and Xbox. Dan insisted that she drive his new Cadillac down to a pitch in the middle of Illinois. It was a blazing hot day and Pam had to keep the air conditioning on to avoid boiling to death. She arrived in town in time to drop her bags at the hotel, check in and go to the pitch. As she was signing in, the hotel clerk’s eyes widened and he gasped, “Your car is on fire.” Indeed it was, a total lost cause. She got to the prospect, excelled as usual and rented a car to drive back to Chicago. She went in to see Dan, with her head down. “Dan, your new car burned up when I got to town,” she confessed. His response was classic Dan, “I don’t care about the car. Did you win the pitch?”
The final story was about my dad having passed the torch to me in his inimitable way just after his 92nd birthday celebration in Chicago. He put his hand on my shoulder as we walked the last guest to the door and said, “Son, I think it is time you take over.” I responded, “Dan I have been CEO for the past 15 years. Don’t I run the company?” He said, “No, you have done well. It is time for you to really take over.” He fell ill a month later and eventually passed away after five months in the hospital. It was recognition of my having accomplished my lifetime ambition of pleasing my very driven, deeply ambitious father.
It was a lovely evening. On behalf of my entire family, I want to thank Julia Hood and Steve Barrett of Haymarket for an inspiring and emotional walk down memory lane. I now better understand the power of the old RCA campaign for the Victrola music player, where the black and white dog Nipper is listening to a recording of his master’s voice.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.