Edelman celebrates Founder’s Day on October 1. That is the day that Dan Edelman opened the doors of Daniel J. Edelman and Associates at the Merchandise Mart in Chicago in 1952. Dan had been the PR director of the Toni Company, the home permanents pioneers, for four years before setting out on his own, with Toni as the first client. For all of you Edelman people all over the world, whether present or past, here are a few things for you to know.
- The PR Man — He began life as a journalist, at the local newspaper in Poughkeepsie, New York, then at CBS Radio. He was a born communicator, most comfortable at his typewriter, banging out memos. He believed in the superiority of public relations over advertising, that the ability to address multiple stakeholders and manage complex problems was the essential advantage.
- Substance Triumphs — He read four newspapers a day, taking clippings to the office to mail to his colleagues. He was a Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia University, finishing No.1 in his college class. Dan then went on to Columbia’s Graduate School of Journalism. He needed to know and understand.
- Leader — He was president of his class at Columbia. He went on to be the U.S. president of the Young Presidents’ Organization (now YPO). He was also very involved in his community serving on the boards of Save The Children and the Lyric Opera of Chicago. People trusted Dan Edelman because he was selfless and dependable.
- Hard Work — He took notes on the notes that he taken in class…yes, that’s correct, a further set of notes to refine his thinking. He used a yellow pad to write proposals deep into the night. He never wanted to lose because of lack of effort. And if he lost, he learned from the experience to do better next time.
- Champion of Women — He worked with women for his entire career. He put women into senior positions, from CFO to COO. He treated women with respect, most notably my mother who was his true partner in life. He was a genius in marketing brands to women, from California Wines to ReaLemon to Toni, understanding the multiple drivers of purchase from convenience to status.
- Relentless Entrepreneur — He would meet a person from Berlin or Dublin at an international meeting of PR firms. The next thing you know we had an office in those markets. He believed that he could will his way into a global enterprise. Early in the history of the firm, he would take the train between Chicago and Milwaukee, where he had two clients. He would see signs of companies on the route and write cold letters to the CEO, offering his PR services.
- Family Man — He loved his wife and his kids. He never gave up on us, no matter how awkward or challenging the phase of development. He was tough on us. I got a 770 out of 800 on my American History achievement test and his comment was searing: “I thought you were perfect in American History.” But his high standards were consistent and a spur to accomplishment.
- Sports — He was an athletic man who needed to work out almost every day. As he aged, he refused to give in. When he fell playing paddle ball and cut his head, he bought a hockey helmet so that he could get back onto the court the following week. He was a fanatical Chicago Cubs fan. I am sure that he had a huge smile as he looked down on the team winning the World Series two years ago.
- Global Dreamer — He was comfortable in any part of the world, spreading the gospel of PR in interviews from Beijing to Sydney to Milan. His last big trip was to Seoul and Tokyo at age 87, which he insisted on doing by himself, carrying his briefcase with office reports, seeing the staff and the clients.
- Serving Clients — He went to every meeting of the KFC franchisees for 20 years. The night before the convention, my mother had to get a bucket of the Colonel’s finest to serve at dinner, so he was up to date on the product. He worked personally on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, counseling the elders, pushing them to be more public in their storytelling. He led from the front, building relationships with the CEO and CCO, writing long memos to our teams after each encounter so that our work product would improve.
Dan passed away five years ago at 92 years of age. As I sit in his former office in Chicago this morning, surrounded by pictures from his life and case histories of Edelman’s work over 66 years, I am reminded of the special nature of my relationship with my father, who was my best friend and mentor. In this age of merger mania in marketing services (latest is VML with Y&R), Edelman continues on the mission of its founder.
Here are two lines that I remember every day that capture the essence of my father. “Everybody at Edelman is an account executive.” And on learning that we had gotten to the top of the PR ranking: “It is great to be the largest firm, but we must always strive to be the best firm.” Dan, we carry on your work every day.
Richard Edelman is president and CEO.