WhythePR guru sees an up­beat­story

The Jewish Chronicle - - & Finance Business - BY CANDICE KRIEGER

IF IM­AGE re­ally is ev­ery­thing, then Richard Edel­man is a use­ful per­son to have on side. Mr Edel­man, 54, is the pres­i­dent and chief ex­ec­u­tive of Edel­man — the world’s largest in­de­pen­dent pub­lic-re­la­tions firm. The com­pany helped turn­around around ail­ing Wal-Mart — the world’s largest re­tailer — which re­ported a surge in quar­terly profit in Au­gust, top­ping Wall Street’s ex­pec­ta­tions, and con­ducts work for heavy­weights such as Microsoft, Gen­eral Motors and Star­bucks. It was re­cently drafted in by the Abu Dhabi United Group to pro­vide sup­port for their take-over of Manch­ester City foot­ball club.

“We are well ahead of any­body else who is not part of a Sor­rell-like ad­ver­tis­ing hold­ing,” he tells JC Busi­ness, re­fer­ring to WPP boss Sir Martin Sor­rell (one of our Ex­pert View columnists).

“It’s an ex­cit­ing busi­ness be­cause it’s no longer com­mu­ni­ca­tions dom­i­nated by ad­ver­tis­ing. Peo­ple recog­nise that PR has a unique and grow­ing role in pol­icy, as well as to com­mu­ni­cate.”

How would he mar­ket Is­rael? While ac­knowl­edg­ing that fo­cus­ing on the hol­i­day op­por­tu­ni­ties is great as a con­sumer model, he says: “Is­rael has done a very good job with tech­nol­ogy and bio-sci­ence. It would be good to have a few more hero faces, like tech­nol­ogy en­tre­pre­neur Shai Agassi. Make the Is­rael story less about pol­i­tics and more much more about all the peo­ple who are mak­ing real break­throughs in tech­nol­ogy — a busi­ness-fo­cused im­age as op­posed to con­sumer.”

E d e l ma n w a s founded in Chicago in 1952 by Mr Edel­man’s fa­ther Dan Edel­man, now 88. He re­mains an ac­tive chair­man. Mr Edel­man ju­nior, who lives in the United States, joined in 1978, and the com­pany has grown from a $6 mil­lion to $450 mil­lion busi­ness. It has offices in 52 cities and em­ploys more than 2,700 peo­ple. Last year, the firm grew 26 per cent glob­ally to a $376 mil­lion rev­enue.

He says the firm has not been too af­fected by the eco­nomic down­turn. “We are per­form­ing much bet­ter than in ear­lier times of eco­nomic stress. First of all, the dis­per­sion of me­dia and the ac­cep­tance that there is a mul­ti­plestake­holder model: it used to be that you could just talk to con­sumers. It doesn’t work that way any more.

“I don’t think it’s go­ing to be a buoy­ant year, but I think it’s go­ing to be OK.

“There’s cycli­cal and then there’s sec­u­lar. The sec­u­lar trend is away from ad­ver­tis­ing and to­wards things like PR.”

He ac­knowl­edges that busi­nesses are cut­ting their ad­ver­tis­ing bud­gets, but not nec­es­sar­ily their PR bud­gets.

“PR also has the ef­fect of be­ing an in­cred­i­ble mul­ti­plier. If you get it right, it can have a ten-times kind of in­flu­ence, whereas ad­ver­tis­ing might have a three- of four-times in­flu­ence.

“I think the or­der has changed. You have to have some buy-in to a propo­si­tion be­fore the ad­ver­tis­ing can re­ally work and there is such cyn­i­cism and dis­trust of in­sti­tu­tions right now.”

Ac­cord­ing to Mr Edel­man — who cites re­search car­ried out by the com­pany — the num­ber-one trusted source of in­for­ma­tion is peer group, not the gov­ern­ment or es­tab­lish­ment me­dia.

“That’s a huge change. Whether it’s North­ern Rock or dodgy dossiers in pol­i­tics, peo­ple just don’t trust in­sti­tu­tions to tell them the truth.” He says trust in chief ex­ec­u­tives is around 25 per cent in the UK.

The firm has crafted many key cam­paigns, such as the Dove Cam­paign for Real Beauty, which Mr Edel­man cites as one of the com­pany’s top five. Other mem­o­rable ones are Per­sil’s Dirt is Good and work­ing with Heinz on dol­phin-safe tuna in the early 1990s.

Why are th­ese so suc­cess­ful? “Be­cause at their core they have a pur­pose and they are not just triv­ial.” The firm also alerts con­sumers to prod­ucts or prob­lems and suc­cess­fully pro­moted land­ing rights for the Con­corde su­per­sonic jet in the early 1970s.

Still, it has not al­ways been easy. In 2006, Edel­man was at the cen­tre of con­tro­versy in 2006, when the firm was ex­posed for cre­at­ing fake blogs on be­half of Wal-Mart.

On a per­sonal level, Mr Edel­man, was re­cently di­ag­nosed with prostate can­cer. Last month, he suc­cess­fully un­der­went surgery at Memo­rial Sloan Ket­ter­ing Hospi­tal in New York, where he lives. He is keen to re­turn to work. An ac­tive blog­ger — 16,000 peo­ple read his blog ev­ery month — he has been chron­i­cling his ex­pe­ri­ences on­line at www.edel­man.com/speak_up/blog.

As for the main chal­lenges fac­ing PR to­day, he notes: “We still have to get be­yond the stereo­type that PR means me­dia re­la­tions, PR as spin-meis­ter cre­at­ing re­al­ity, and that PR is about at­trac­tive young girls hold­ing par­ties. So, ei­ther we are the ge­nius ma­nip­u­la­tors of the world, or id­iots who send out press re­leases. And I re­ject both of those.”

Edel­man makes much of its claim to be com­mit­ted to eth­i­cal be­hav­iour. In 1999, the com­pany dropped ties with any to­bacco-re­lated busi­ness.

“I felt very good about that, be­cause it was the right thing to do.

“We have re­ally tried hard to have good re­la­tions with civil so­ci­ety, and by and large we have suc­ceeded with that. We are a fam­ily busi­ness and we take our re­spon­si­bil­ity to eth­i­cal be­hav­iour fur­ther than the writ­ten rules of the law. Our fam­ily has been at this for 55 years. Noth­ing is worth rep­u­ta­tional dam­age.”

A Har­vard grad­u­ate, Mr Edel­man is proud of his Jewish roots and those of the com­pany. Prior to es­tab­lish­ing the busi­ness, his fa­ther had been in ser­vice in World War Two in psy­cho­log­i­cal war­fare. He was trained to an­a­lyse Nazi ra­dio broad­casts.

Fol­low­ing the war, he went to work for CBS News, be­fore mov­ing into PR and start­ing his own agency.

Many of their ini­tial clients Jewish en­tre­pre­neur, in­clud­ing Charles Lu­bin, the founder of the Sara Lee cakes range.

PHOTO: JOHN RIFKIN

Richard Edel­man, CEO of Edel­man PR, sees his in­dus­try ben­e­fit­ing as con­ven­tional ad­ver­tis­ing de­clines

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