It has taken me two weeks to fully absorb the honor bestowed on me by PRWeek at its annual awards dinner. I am deeply touched by the award. The Edelman people, past and present, who made this possible are the true heroes. So are the clients of our firm, whose confidence and trust has enabled us to deliver business-changing results. And to PRWeek, chronicler of the industry, from Adam Leyland to Jonah Bloom to Julia Hood and now to Steve Barrett, thank you for bringing forward the stories of our collective successes, emboldening PR firms to capture a larger share of total communications spend.
Here are a few observations on how this happened:
- Independence — We did not follow the crowd and sell to the holding companies. That single decision, taken by the family, was fundamental to our growth. We did not reduce head count during the recessions of 2001 and 2008; we just did not make money. We invested in acquisitions, even in challenging periods, to grow our geographic footprint and improve our expertise in markets such as Atlanta or the Bay Area.
- Digital — We were early in this and stayed with it. From the online version of the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line in 1997 to the brilliant work on Samsung Mobile of today, the growth of Edelman is one-half attributable to our digital team. Digital also brought us into creative and planning. I have also benefited by speaking directly to the industry through my weekly 6AM blog since 2004.
- Trust — We started the Edelman Trust Barometer in 2000 after NGOs stormed the World Trade Organization meeting in Seattle, protesting globalization. This annual study has propelled us into important conversations around trust at work, trust in "a person like me," and the mass-class divide. We are now mentioned as a thought leader in the same breath as major consulting firms, such as McKinsey.
- Creative — We have always believed in powerful ideas. But now those ideas must prompt action by our clients. The Dove Campaign for Real Beauty, REI OptOutside and CVS’s decision to remove cigarettes from its stores are all indicative of our Evolve, Promote, Protect philosophy, which asks for tangible steps before any communication.
- The Rise of Corporate — With wins like Walmart and GE, on top of work with Samsung and Johnson & Johnson, Edelman moved from a sole reliance on brand marketing to an even balance with corporate reputation and public affairs. Much of our best work for HP, Starbucks and AstraZeneca reflects the combination of both sides of the house.
- Going Global — We were an American firm sending work to overseas offices. Then we grew in the UK, where we hub Unilever, Shell and GSK. Now we are building up China, France, Germany and India as global hubs. That requires us to have a more multinational workforce in these key markets.
- Stable Top Management — Matt Harrington, our COO, has been at Edelman for 29 years; Vic Malanga, CFO, 22 years; Russell Dubner, U.S. president and CEO, 26 years; Lisa Sepulveda, chief client officer, 25 years; Ben Boyd, chief client strategy officer, 14 years. I also want to thank others, such as David Brain, Michael Morley, Pam Talbot, Katie Burke, Jackie Cooper, Charles Fremes and Kevin King for their unique contributions to our development.
- Community Involvement — We have always tried to maintain a deep connection to the communities we work in. We have done pro bono work in Dallas, Orlando and Charlottesville in the wake of tragedies. And we have also provided our services to communities dealing with natural disasters (Puerto Rico), and issues such as gender equality (Hong Kong) and disease awareness (UK).
- My Father — We worked together for 34 years, the majority of which felt more like I was working with my brother than my dad. He put the scepter in my hand in 1997. He put up with my failed implementation of a new accounting system and a few less than optimal acquisitions. He stayed in the business to make sure that his son did not “screw it up.” At age 90, after I was CEO for 15 years, he put his hands on my shoulders and said, “It’s time that you really take over. You have proven yourself.” And to my mother, one of my most trusted advisors. She was not only privy to the strategy and planning for the agency, but she had a lot of input on the major decisions we made as a firm.
When I became CEO I realized that I was stepping into big shoes, following a founder who had invented marketing PR. I feel that I have been a worthy successor; now it is up to me to train my three daughters to be well-informed owners and hopefully leaders within the firm. Again, thanks to all who have been part of this remarkable voyage.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.