As we celebrate the 68th birthday of Edelman, it is important to remember our founder and his inimitable style. The blue thread (and a bit of Zeno green) that winds through our firm is indelibly imprinted in the memories of so many colleagues and of course family members Reneé, John, Margot, Tory and Amanda. For those of you who did not know Dan, here are a few stories that will inspire and amuse you.
- The Founding of Edelman—Bill Ruder came to Chicago to pitch the Toni Company account. He took my dad and then-girlfriend Ruth to dinner. Not only was his pitch average, he showered far too much attention on my mom. Dan decided then and there to start his own firm, to become the marketing PR firm based on his innovation, the media tour.
- The Squeeze Play—An ad agency executive conducted the pitch for tourism for a foreign country. Edelman won fair and square. Two weeks later, that executive came to my dad’s office and asked for his ten percent commission for awarding us the business. My father told him that he had exactly ten seconds to get out of the office before he kicked him in the rear on the way out the door.
- The Intrepid Entrepreneur—At a global PR conference, Dan met a woman from Berlin who had just started a PR firm in the newly reunited city in 1990. After two hours we had a new office in Berlin. Edelman began its Asian operations in Kuala Lumpur because a woman from our UK office was relocating with her husband. Dan once went to Kunming, a province in Southwestern China, to pitch them on economic development. See the opening of our Tokyo office here.
- Marketing and Public Policy—Dan understood the inextricable link between brand marketing and public approval. He saved the direct mail marketing business, under fire for unscrupulous practices, by offering recipients the ability to opt-out. Or holding a community meeting near John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, New York to challenge residents to identify the noisiest airplanes on take-off, the Concorde SST proved less noisy than other planes, enabling Dan to come to a compromise of going supersonic over the Atlantic.
- The Big Idea—He loved brainstorms, the more outrageous the idea the better. He persuaded 60s-star Eva Gabor to endorse California Wines with the immortal line, “I was weaned on wine.” Then she went on the Today show for a blind taste test and chose California wine over Italian and French. Dan insisted there was no bias in the results.
- Teach, Test and Correct—Kevin Cook, Russell Dubner, Nancy Ruscheinski and others would get detailed memos or handwritten notes critiquing proposals, documenting client meetings and issuing orders for follow-up with clients. The news editor in Dan valued words above all, demanding precision and intent in every document. He would always say, “be the one that holds the pen” as that way you had control over the output of the meeting.
- Dapper Dan—He was always immaculately attired, with a double-breasted suit and a pocket-handkerchief, with spotless shined shoes and natty overcoat. First impressions matter, he said.
- Opera Man—He would come home early on the night of the opera to study the libretto. Then off to the Opera House with my faithful mom, who would shortly after the overture take a profound nap. Dan was entranced by the pageantry, cried as the heroine Aida died in the arms of Radamès. This was the continuation of a life-long love of music which started as a child when he got 10 cent tickets to stand in the back of Broadway theatres for matinees.
- Be the Best Informed—Breakfast time was 90 minutes, enough to consume a bowl of cereal, then in order The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, Chicago Sun Times, Financial Times and Crain’s Chicago Business. Clippings were torn from the papers to send along to his colleagues, with handwritten notes. He was AI before there was AI. After a long trip, he insisted on going through back issues of the papers just in case he had missed anything about one of our clients or prospects.
- Love of His Life—Dan was relentless in so many ways, on the paddleball court, in his work and nonprofit life. But at his core, he was a family man. He was so proud that his three kids chose to work in his company. But the special love was reserved for my mother, Ruth, his life partner, who always had input on hiring decisions, acquisitions and every meal ever served at a company event. She was the soul of the machine, determined to introduce Dan to every important person in the room at a party (I witnessed one such encounter with Dr. Henry Kissinger, whom she charmed and then convinced to meet her “brilliant husband”).
I tell these stories to help you appreciate that you work for a very different company where the objective is not how much money we can make or how much fame we accrue to our own account. It is about the clients and our people, but most of all it is about getting the facts out to the people so that they can make educated choices. We carry on, with his spirit animating his company every day. To the great communicator in the sky, we are doing our best to meet your impossibly high standards.
Richard Edelman is CEO.