6 A.M.

The History (and Future) of PR



Sixty years ago today a small PR firm opened for business in the Merchandise Mart of Chicago. It was started by a 32-year-old named Dan Edelman… with a payroll of three and one client—The Toni Corporation—whose offices were situated just down the hall.

At that time, PR was viewed as merely an add-on and something used primarily for corporate reputation or publicity for celebrities. But over the last 60 years that has dramatically changed, as has the world. The classic pyramid of influence with elites at the top and mass audiences at the bottom has been supplemented by an inverted pyramid with passionate consumers, empowered employees and social activists. They are the new opinion formers.

Our profession is now uniquely suited to help business engage in this new world. We have a unique view of the world through a stakeholder lens, valuing reputation over short-term gain. We recognize the connection between brand and corporate reputation.

We help companies decide on policy, and then explain the rationale. Through a breakthrough idea, we spread the word through transmedia storytelling. And we create compelling content that lives at the center.

For our industry, this changed dynamic presents a new role and opportunity; the need for public relations to lead, and to do so under the Public Engagement framework. Fittingly, it’s the leadership Dan always believed that PR should have. He believed it sat above advertising in the communications hierarchy.

As l look to the future, I see five behavioral changes that will be required of us as an industry.

  • Provide clients with advice on what to do, and then how to communicate around the media cloverleaf (social, hybrid, owned and traditional). We believe that business must go beyond the minimum standard of license to operate to license to lead… taking on the major issues of the day and prove performance through transparency.
  • Aim to have the dominant creative idea. The stranglehold of advertising on the marketer is now loosened.
  • Be comfortable with interpreting data and insistent upon using it. On the front end, we must offer our clients fresh insights that lead to great ideas. We can generate true discussions and learn from communities of shared interest. We can find the new opinion formers, the passionate consumers, the social activists and empowered employees in the inverted pyramid of influence. We can use search insights and web analytics to tailor the delivery of content based on time of day.
  • Show, don’t just tell. In a world of increasingly limited attention spans, we need to harness the power of video and photos because they are more snackable, emotive and sharable. We must also provide deeper, more informative visuals, such as infographics, as well.
  • Find the right balance between global and local. We need to help clients shape global reputations, but at the same time remember that PR is inherently local. At the same time, agencies must find the right balance between being a firm with a strong U.S. heritage, and one that is truly global.

As Dan saw from an office in the Merchandise Mart 60 years ago… as we see with even greater clarity today… PR, at its best, can help move business and society forward in a complex world.

Simply put, it is PR’s time to lead.

Richard Edelman is president and CEO. 


  • Amith Prabhu

    Sweet Sixty – Dan is the

    It’s indeed a moment of celebration and pride

    Across the globe for every Edelmanite

    To be part of a special family as it reaches a milestone

    A moment that deserves to be etched in stone

    Thank you Dan for your superb vision

    Of making Public Relations a lifetime mission

    Touching thousands of lives in every continent

    From present and past employees to every client

    Building hundreds of bridges and repairing damage

    Communicating great stories and managing brand image

    Helping clients enhance their
    behavior by creating positive perception

    From Asia to America and Australia to Europe

    You have the world covered and creating hope

    So much has been attained in sixty years

    Because you overcame all kinds of fears

    Here’s to another sixty of flying the Edelman flag high

    It’s been a long ride to get to the top and we still
    continue to fly

    It all began one fine day in the fifties and we shine like
    the sun

    Sixty cheers to you for building a firm that is Number One

    Humbled that I’m an Edelman employee and I am learning to

  • BillSledzik


    As one who has benefited from Edelman’s ongoing engagement with the academic community, let me offer congratulations on your firm’s 60-year milestone. Edelman folks were among the first to recognize this new inverted pyramid of influence, and your willingness to share the wisdom has made us all better PR professionals and educators. Thank you, and good luck on the next 60!

  • Happy 60th!

  • trangdinh


  • Congratulations on a wonderful milestone.

  • Congratulations one a fantastic milestone

  • Susan Doherty

    Thank you. This is a great piece and truly reflective of the
    changes taking place within PR today. As someone who has straddled what many
    have deemed to be two divergent career paths – public relations and video
    production – I’m beyond thrilled to hear you tout the need and room for both in
    today’s digital landscape. At their core, both are simply vehicles for
    storytelling. I often joke that going back to school to study screenwriting was
    a great boon to my PR career (if you can pitch an entire film in two sentences,
    you can pitch pretty much anything to anyone). I love that Edelman is carving
    out such a strong niche in the digital world and staking a claim alongside ad agencies.
    We absolutely should be there.

    Congratulations on your 60-year milestone and thank you for
    leading the way for so many other public relations practitioners.

    Susan Doherty

  • I only pop in occasionally to read your blog – but I still do… Congratulations for the 60th, even a little bit late!

  • Richard Edelman

    Be sure to hone your show and tell skills–visual storytelling is essential. Take economics and engineering so that you can be smart in meetings with finance or technology experts. Enroll in a foreign language course, especially Mandarin or Spanish.

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