Daniel J. Edelman, founder of one of the world’s largest PR agencies, died on Jan. 15 at age 92. He left a profound legacy for our industry, among his clients, employees—and even among his competitors.
I never met Daniel Edelman, but I competed against him for clients, and—by doing so—I learned a number of valuable lessons. We went head-to-head for clients when I was a partner with America’s largest healthcare-only agency; and again, when I was an exec with the Silicon Valley subsidiary of Fleishman-Hillard. I always made it a point to “know” the competition, and through time, I came to feel as if I knew the man.
Here are some of Daniel Edelman’s lessons. They’ve never let me down.
Integrity: Daniel Edelman was known for integrity. In our business, which many feel is lacking in that essential commodity, he demonstrated that integrity was not only the “right thing to do,” it was also a sound business investment. The first time I went up against his agency, my biggest initial challenge involved proving that my agency had the same high standards of integrity that Edelman was known for.
Involvement: In trying to land Edelman clients, or when trying to out-compete Edelman for prospective clients, I learned very quickly that Daniel Edelman knew the value of personal involvement. No matter how big Edelman had become, he was not “too important” to meet face-to-face with clients or prospects, even ones who weren’t (yet) Fortune 500 clients. He had name-brand recognition, to be sure, but he brought more than his name to those meetings, including a keen creative insight which never failed to impress clients and prospects.
Bottom-Line Creativity: I never saw an Edelman PR campaign that didn’t reflect the distinctive bottom-line strategic and tactical creativity that Daniel Edelman and his company brought to the table. In my experience, he never focused on ephemeral measurements, such as Ad Equivalency, when he could instead point to sales or other more substantive business measurements.
Billing: In addition to serving his clients, Daniel Edelman knew how to create profit for himself, as well as his clients. For instance, while he often met with his clients—generally for strategic creative sessions where his immense expertise added real value—he never traveled alone. He brought his team of senior agency execs, men and women who understood the client’s needs, and each of them legitimately billed for their time. Until I first tried to wrest a client from his agency, I’d never heard of a thousand-dollar-an-hour meeting. Yet the Edelman clients I knew had no qualms about this seemingly astronomic figure, because they always received real and perceived value from these meetings. Following his example, I now bring my team, rather than trying to represent them, and I’ve found that my clients also appreciate this added depth this.
Bottom line: Daniel J. Edelman is gone, but his legacy will continue to shape the PR field in ways that go far beyond the agency he created.
Ned Barnett founded Barnett Marketing Communications 27 years go to provide senior-quality public relations and marketing communications as wel as services in the areas of strategic planning, market research, nonprofit fundraising support, media and investor relations, crisis communications and other services. You can reach him at email@example.com