An Appreciation: Daniel Edelman (1920-2013)

 Source: Edelman

Obituaries are pouring in for PR legend Daniel Edelman, who died on Tuesday, Jan. 15, according to several reports. Edelman, who was the founder of the world’s biggest PR agency (which bears his name), was 92.

Edelman, which launched in 1952, now employs 4,500 people in 66 offices worldwide; Dan’s son, Richard, is president-CEO of the agency. Clients include Microsoft Corp., Pfizer and Walmart. Richard Edelman told The Associated Press that his father died of heart failure on Tuesday at a Chicago hospital.

Daniel Edelman was born in New York City and graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1940 from Columbia University.

He started off as reporter and editor for newspapers in upstate New York before he was drafted into the Army during World War II. During the war, Edelman first honed his public relations skills analyzing German propaganda as a member of a psychological warfare unit, according to the Daily Journal Online (Missouri).

He started his PR firm in 1952 out of Merchandise Mart with just three employees and one client: the Toni Corporation.

Here are excerpts from some of the other obits, focusing on Edelman’s PR acumen:

From the Chicago Sun-Times:

After four years at Toni, Edelman started his own company. Toni was his first client. The California wine industry picked him to promote its wines in 1966, and he retained movie star Vincent Price. According to the firm, it was one of the first uses of a celebrity in a public relations campaign.

From Chicago Public Media:

Advertising Age Editor in Chief Rance Crain first encountered Edelman when he was first starting out as a cub reporter for the weekly publication. Crain covered many companies that were Edelman clients. "He was really good at coming up with innovative angles for stories," said Crain, who is also editor-in-chief of Crain's Chicago Business and Crain's New York Business. "We've got to say that Dan was the father of modern public relations."

From The New York Times:

“When I teach the modules on the history of public relations, I tell my students that Mr. Edelman was one of our pioneers,” said Maria P. Russell, chairwoman of the public relations department at Syracuse University’s S. I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. “Specifically, he helped public relations professionals move away from being order-takers to respected counselors to business executives and government leaders.”

From The Washington Post:

For Butterball, he dreamed up the Turkey Talk-Line used by thousands of overwhelmed holiday cooks. On behalf of Microsoft, he helped promote the Xbox machine as it became one of the world’s most popular entertainment and video game devices.

Follow Matthew Schwartz: @mpsjourno1