I had an interview yesterday with a senior journalist who covers the PR industry. He asked a very penetrating question. “Why do all of the senior team at Edelman feel it is their right to have strong views about the future strategy of the firm? Isn’t it difficult as CEO to manage in that context?” My response was as follows: I want strong-minded leaders who think deeply about the future of our firm. One of our core values is to foster an entrepreneurial spirit and this manifests itself with individuals having a keen sense of ownership of our strategy. Also, I believe that innovation must come from experimentation at the edge, not always from ideas generated by the center. In short, I want organized chaos.
Here are several examples of how this management style has succeeded at Edelman:
Our research business began in our Washington, D.C. office, where the need for insight-driven public affairs campaigns was evident. Leslie Dach hired the first research team in the late 90s from a campaign background. He made insight a centerpiece of the D.C. business. When it became clear that there was demand for this service in other markets, we began StrategyOne, which has morphed into Edelman Berland. More recently, our UK office funded Jonny Bentwood and Jonathan Hargreaves when they saw a new way to measure influence, which became our new tools, BlogLevel and TweetLevel.
Our digital business began in Chicago, when Nancy Ruscheinski had the bright idea to take the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line online in the mid-90s. Our early concept was design and build, with such immortal campaigns as Flea-Mail for Bayer Pet Health Division, to remind pet owners to change flea collars every six weeks. Then Matthew Harrington, running the San Francisco office, used an online information site to update consumers during the Odwalla product contamination case. And Kevin King, head of Edelman Digital, has been the driving force behind turning the Digital practice into the leading social digital operation in the industry.
Our Middle East operation opened on the basis of a single client making a commitment to David Brain, then responsible for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. We needed an entrepreneurial manager; we chose Iain Twine from the UK office, whom some would have said was too young and inexperienced. We put our regional headquarters in Abu Dhabi, while all the others were in Dubai. Now we have a $10 million business, which won The Holmes Report’s Middle East Consultancy of the Year in 2013.
Our business in India has benefited immensely from a unique partnership with a local ad agency, Rediffusion, through which we have established a deep relationship with the Tata Group, the nation’s largest business house. On the basis of a handshake, Rob Holdheim set up new Rediffusion/Edelman teams within existing offices (Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai) as well as seven new Rediffusion/Edelman offices around the country, hired 130 new staff and transformed our business in the market.
There have been several good ideas from the center (I have to defend my role now), including the Edelman Trust Barometer, the global client relationship management program (Pam Talbot, take a bow), the Fellows Program, which cultivates talent with development across the globe and the triangle offense, which offers a flexible combination of geographic reach/skills plus practice expertise and global client oversight. We are just about finished with our implementation of a global financial system.
Our company relies on agility and speed, but we have something else, which is a business model that allows us to build long-term client relationships. I watched a video at a U.S. leadership meeting yesterday. It was Michael Stewart, our European CEO, reflecting on his years as McKinsey’s chief communications officer. For McKinsey, it begins with putting the interests of the client ahead of those of any individual or of the firm, to be sure that the focus is on having an impact for the client. There is insistence on 100 percent to the third power, which means bringing 100 percent of the capabilities to 100 percent of the areas, in which you can help a client with 100 percent of the effort. You must have reach and relevance to put broad networks into play for clients through academia and the communities in which you work. Finally, you must be a trusted peer of the clients you serve.
The Holmes Report this week honored our firm by naming us Global Agency of the Year. In a note to our team, I said that we had made four important decisions. First, we have remained private and independent. Second, we saw the opportunity in digital and went for it. Third, we have reinvested every dollar earned in the U.S. in building a strong global network. Fourth, we have a client-centric approach — we make money in the long term. We have core values from our founder, Dan Edelman, of hard work, integrity, community involvement and excellence. I closed my missive with a quote from the French author Antoine de Saint–Exupéry, “In anything at all, perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add but when there is no longer anything to take away.” We are a long way from that ideal state but we are out there trying every day.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.