Celebrating the Life of Daniel J. Edelman

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Daniel J. Edelman, a pioneer in the public relations field and chairman of the international public relations company Daniel J. Edelman Inc., died at the hospital today of heart failure. He was 92 years old. The announcement was made by his wife Ruth.

Edelman started his company in a small office in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart on October 1, 1952. As a leader in the post-World War II development of the public relations industry, he initiated many of the practices which are now standard in the field. He helped build leading brands including Sara Lee and KFC. Current clients include HP, Microsoft, Pfizer, General Electric, Wal-Mart, Abbott Laboratories, Samsung, Royal Dutch Shell, Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and Unilever.

He was known as a staunch advocate of his profession who established high standards and a code of ethical practices. He also was active in public service. Over the years, Dan Edelman and his company have done work for many causes, including the Global Business Coalition on HIV/AIDS and Save the Children. He also supported The Chicago Project for Violence Prevention and served on the Board of the Committee for Economic Growth of Israel, the Illinois Children’s Hospital and Aid Society, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Northwestern University Music School and Save the Children Foundation. He is a former Chair of the University of Chicago Library Board.

Daniel J. Edelman was born in New York City on July 3, 1920. His interest in writing was evident early. At age 11, he and a friend produced a community newspaper. As a teenager, he wrote a mimeographed newspaper at summer camp.

Edelman attended DeWitt Clinton High School where he was sports editor of the Clinton News. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College in 1940. A year later he earned an MS degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He took a job as sports editor and reporter for Poughkeepsie, a NY newspaper, before being drafted into the Army in 1942.

He was assigned to the Intelligence unit of the 100th Infantry Division, which included the Division’s PR operation. It was his introduction to public relations. While his convoy steamed across the Atlantic, Private Edelman produced a daily newspaper for his fellow soldiers, reporting on the latest developments in the war gleaned from listening to the ship’s radio. Assigned to the Fifth Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company, a psychological warfare unit, he was ordered from London to join the 12th U.S. Army Group in Verdun. “My job was to write an analysis of German propaganda,” he recalled. “I provided information about what they were claiming, so we could answer it with our own broadcasts.” Earning a commission while in Germany, he concluded his military career in the U.S. Army Information Control Division in Berlin.

Upon his return to civilian life, Edelman parlayed his wartime contacts into a night shift position as a news writer for CBS in New York. His career in public relations began when he became a publicist at Musicraft Records, a label that at the time represented stars of the day such as Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, Artie Shaw and Dizzy Gillespie. It was Mel Tormé and the singer’s 15-minute weekly radio show sponsored by the home hair care manufacture known as Toni Company, Edelman always said, that ultimately changed his life.

Hoping to score exposure for both parties, Edelman hit upon the idea of packaging Tormé’s latest records in an album designed to look like the Toni Wave Kit. “I sent it around to DJs, and it got a lot of mentions,” Edelman later recalled. “The ad manager for the Toni Company was impressed, so he put me on the staff of its New York agency.”

In 1947, Edelman was transferred to Chicago to become PR Director of Toni. The company had an advertising campaign featuring a set of identical twins, one with a $10 perm obtained at the salon, the other a set of curls created by Toni’s one-dollar do-it-yourself kit. Women were challenged to select “Which Twin had the Toni.” They couldn’t tell the difference. Edelman decided to bring the Toni Twins to life, launching six sets of twins on a road show to 72 cities, a program now credited as the first modern media tour.

After four years at Toni, Edelman decided to start his own public relations company. Toni became the first client. Sara Lee was next: Edelman secured a story in The Wall Street Journal, bearing the headline “Sara Lee Building Baking Bonanza on Heaping Slices of Quality,” and gained recognition for Sara Lee while establishing his own reputation as a master marketer.

When chosen by the California wine industry in 1966 to promote its region’s wines nationwide, Edelman retained movie star Vincent Price as a spokesman. It was one of the first uses of a celebrity in a public relations campaign.

Edelman booked Price on “The Tonight Show” with Johnny Carson, whose other guest that evening was Zsa Zsa Gabor. When asked if she would participate blindfolded in a wine taste test, Gabor responded, “Oh, it’s no problem. I was veined on vine.” Edelman later recalled that at the time he thought even by losing he would win because California wines were being compared to French wines on national television. “And shockingly we won,” said Edelman. “She picked California wines! It was a great coup, and a turning point for the California wine industry.”

In 1970, when the Direct Main Association wanted to counter the notion that third-class mail was subsidized by first-class rates and bills were being considered by Congress to restrict or even ban direct mail, Edelman created the Mail Preference Service to help consumers get themselves off mailing lists, a service that relieved pressure on the industry and enabled it to continue its dramatic growth.

Several years later, when the markets of the Concorde jet faced opposition in gaining U.S. landing rights due to noise concerns, Edelman stepped in to help reverse the negative perceptions and defeat a half-dozen efforts in Congress to ban the plane.

One of Edelman’s greatest successes has been the Butterball Turkey Talk-Line, the first free consumer hotline which he created in 1981. Today, the Talk-Line fields more than 100,000 calls every year during the eight-week holiday season.

Other high-profile campaigns for which Edelman was responsible included building support in Congress and the media for Maya Lin’s design for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall; helping Advil make the switch from prescription-only to over-the-counter; aiding CBS in winning its lawsuit with Gen. William C. Westmoreland; and the launch of Microsoft’s Xbox.

In 1989, in an early demonstration of his commitment to corporate social responsibility, Edelman partnered with the “green movement,” working on StarKist to change its fishing practices by introducing dolphin-safe nets, which were then promoted on Earth Day.

Edelman expanded his firm domestically throughout the 1960s, opening offices in New York, Los Angeles and Washington, D.C., and in the early 1970s in Canada, with offices in Toronto and Montreal. He opened his first office outside North America in London in 1968, with offices in Frankfurt, Dublin, Milan, Madrid and other European cities following. Edelman continued his global push during the 1980s into Asia Pacific, opening offices in Beijing, Shanghai, Hong Kong, Sydney and Singapore, and in the 1990s he added many more European offices and several in Latin America, including Mexico City, São Paulo and Buenos Aires. The new millennium saw Edelman and his son, Richard, President & CEO of the company, establish outposts in Stockholm, Amsterdam, Brussels, Tokyo, Poland and six offices in India.

Today, Edelman is the world’s largest public relations firm, with 66 offices and more than 4,500 employees worldwide, as well as affiliates in more than 30 cities.. Edelman was named Advertising Age’s top-ranked PR firm of the decade in 2009 and one of its “A-List Agencies” in both 2010 and 2011; Adweek’s “2011 PR Agency of the Year;” PRWeek’s “2011 Large PR Agency of the Year;” and The Holmes Report’s “2011 Global Agency of the Year” and its 2012 “Digital Agency of the Year.” Edelman was named one of the “Best Places to Work” by Advertising Age in 2010 and 2012 and among Glassdoor’s top ten “Best Places to Work” in 2011 and 2012.

Edelman’s position in both the business world and cultural and philanthropic communities was recognized during his lifetime. He received a Junior Achievement award from the Chicago Business Hall of Fame, the University of Illinois-Chicago Entrepreneurial Hall of Fame and the Arthur Page Society Hall of Fame. He was the recipient of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism’s first annual Dean’s Medal for Professional Achievement and Public Service, the first award from the China Public Relations Association, the Publicity Club of Chicago’s first Lifetime Achievement Award and the Gold Anvil Award from Public Relations Society of America, the highest honor accorded in the public relations field as well as the “Communicator of the Year Award” from The Jewish United Fund in 1992. Recently, he was named a member of the Hall of Fame of the International Communications Consultancy Organization.

In addition to his son Richard of New York, Edelman is survived by his wife of 59 years, Ruth Ann Rozumoff Edelman, a mental health advocate and member of the firm’s Board of Directors; a daughter, Renee of New York, an Edelman senior vice president; a son John of Chicago, the managing director of Edelman’s Global Engagement and Corporate Social Responsibility initiative; and three granddaughters, Margot, Tory and Amanda Edelman.

Edelman was a leader and innovator in the development of public relations practices, standards and ethics. “We’ve had a lot of fun, and I think we’ve carved out our own style of how we do things,” Edelman said while celebrating his firm’s 50th anniversary in 2002.

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