No, not me — the firm! My father, Dan Edelman, started our business on October 1, 1952, in the Merchandise Mart in Chicago. He had one account, Toni Home Permanents, and ambition enough to take on the big guys such as Ruder & Finn, Hill+Knowlton and Carl Byoir. He opted for Chicago instead of his hometown New York City because he saw the possibility of becoming the market leader in a smaller pond and believed in the rising class of post-WWII entrepreneurs in the food and consumer products categories. He had a comparative advantage with the media tour, which he had pioneered with the Toni Twins, booking them on TV, radio and in local print as spokespeople, offering the credible third-party authority to brands.
Today, we celebrate in Chicago and New York and around the world with the more than 6,000 Edelman colleagues who take this precious legacy forward every day. At the top of mind of every Edelman person (Zeno and UEG as well) should be the founding principles of the business:
- Everybody Is an Account Executive — Make placements, write releases, win new clients. We have no room for bureaucrats.
- Serve the Clients, Above and Beyond Expectations — Surprise and delight them with hard work. Sweat the details. Take nothing for granted.
- Stretch for the Big Idea — Be bold in your thinking. PR can lead among marketing partners.
- Be Part of Your Community — Get out of the office; volunteer your time and your imagination for worthy causes.
- Private and Independent — Remain a family business; the quality of work gets precedence over profits, and all money gets re-invested in growing the enterprise.
As I think about Dan, which I do quite frequently as his photo is on my desk and his portrait over my right shoulder at work, I am reminded of his relentless pursuit of excellence and strong belief in his ability to compete against any foe. He had the dream of building a global franchise, opening offices around the globe, and then going on three-week trips to visit each one. He would write follow-up memos to local managers, commemorating to paper the instructions he needed to issue after hearing about the competition, visiting with clients and dining with media. He built a team that included some of the industry’s first women leaders, managers and executives. He was a tireless advocate for our industry, believing that PR was superior to advertising in that it encompassed management, not just marketing, objectives. He had very specific views on ethical practice, despising front organizations and fake news put out by so-called PR practitioners.
He had my mother, Ruth, as his partner and fellow dreamer. She had humble roots in Racine, Wisconsin, having lost her father at four years of age. She met my dad on a blind date after graduating from college and moving to Chicago. On their second date, my dad wanted to show off his new red Chevrolet, so he asked my mom whether she wanted to drive on Lake Shore Drive. She took the wheel and promptly started weaving all over the highway. My dad grabbed the wheel and asked her whether she was drunk. She replied, “No, I just never drove a car before.” That was my mom; no challenge too big, no adventure unimaginable. She was the glue of Edelman, choosing every meal for managers’ meetings, giving private feedback after every client dinner or encounter with Edelman people, pushing and prodding both my father and me for better and faster. And what a networker, unafraid to walk up to any prospect or VIP, including Dr. Henry Kissinger, whom she charmed and then persuaded to meet my father. My brother John, my sister Renee and I are the grateful beneficiaries of her pluck.
On this anniversary, we are unveiling a new narrative. We believe that in this time of uncertainty and interconnectedness, companies and brands can no longer buy reputation or preference. They have to earn it, through action and peer-to-peer discussion. The goal must be trusted relationships, with consumers, employees, suppliers and investors. That’s why our new mantra is Earn It, a further explication of communications marketing, which is the merging of brand and corporate reputation and houses our ambition to be the lead creative partner, aiming for ideas that have impact and are social at the core. Earn It also captures our entrepreneurial spirit, which allows colleagues to reach for the stars, to fall forward and get up again. It defines how we do business, serving clients first, not shareholders, and recognizing our responsibility to improve society.
In the end, Edelman helps clients to earn trust. This is beyond license to operate toward a license to lead. It is a moment when the private sector must step into a void left by government, which is entangled in scandal or blocked by partisan concerns. In our recent Earned Brand study, 65 percent of respondents said that they would only buy a brand if it took a position on issues of the day. And 75 percent of respondents in our Edelman Trust Barometer said they believe that a company can simultaneously make money and improve the world. In my father’s time, it was having the confidence to tell the board of the U.S. Tennis Association to name the new tennis stadium after African-American tennis great Arthur Ashe instead of naming it after the brand willing to write the biggest check. Or quelling a controversy for the Direct Marketing Association on junk mail by enabling any consumer to get off of a mailing list. I feel his passion and his determination every day; we worked together for 35 years and now I seek to pass the same values on to my daughters, Margot, Tory, and Amanda, who will succeed me as proud owners of our family business.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.