When I think of Edelman’s Founder’s Day I think of two things: Dan Edelman and the deeply ingrained founder culture still vibrant in the firm today embodied through Richard.
While I didn’t work day to day with Dan like others in Chicago did, I experienced and witnessed how he set this firm on the path it’s been on for over 60 years.
Here are five memories of Dan that have stayed with me and inform my actions to this day:
- Dan placed value to client above all else. At general manager’s meetings when some of us were proudly puffing up new strategies, processes or offerings, he would typically ask some version of: “So what does this do for our clients?” It usually stopped everyone in their tracks for a moment, refocused the discussion and thinking with client value top of mind — a healthy reminder that what enables our clients’ success will enable ours. Today, I try to echo Dan’s sentiment when I see us veering too far away from this core mission.
- Dan was exacting. I remember a lengthy proposal we wrote for a prominent university marking a milestone anniversary and passed by Dan for his review. While he was pleased with the submission, he took issue with our use of the word “figurehead” to describe the university president. He said, “No leader aspires to be a figurehead, and if they do – they shouldn’t. Strike it and push the new president to lead from the front.” I was struck by the implication of his words not just for the proposal but for an Edelman leader. (And yes, we made the change).
- Dan trusted his instincts. Dan circled back after we won the account and said “The team did great. Now don’t forget, you only come out of the gate once and after that no one outside of the university community will care.” And he was right. We focused our efforts to hit hard right out of the gate. And then focused the rest of the campaign on communications marketing-like programming to build pride in the community, revamping the school’s magazine, sending out their first all alumni emails and creating an image campaign on campus and across all communications channels, media partnerships. With Dan’s prodding, we made the client uncomfortable and we made an impact.
- Dan was always pushing. When I first became a general manager, I received hand-written comments on my monthly activity report from Dan suggesting ways to expand client relationships and balance our client portfolio. I assumed those notes were special treatment for a newly-minted GM. But his great advice just kept coming. All very specific and actionable and it was really quite remarkable.
- Dan was ingenious. He founded this firm with an idea that caught fire for the Toni Twins (embraced controversy) and used that momentum to push ahead of the curve and build a company known for ingenious programming, brilliantly executed. And it’s an ethos that Richard has expanded smartly into digital, research/analytics, now creative, content and experiences. We are never trying to ape someone else’s ambition but instead embrace our way of doing it while studying the best of the agencies, consultants and media companies, while staying true to ourselves.
So, on this Founder’s Day, I am proud to be a part of this firm and hope these anecdotes give you some context for why our founder culture lives on so strongly today through Richard Edelman, Matt Harrington, Victor Malanga, our local leadership teams and colleagues around the world.
Russell Dubner, president and CEO, Edelman U.S.