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.
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.