Edelman CEO Richard Edelman paid tribute to his father and firm founder, Dan, and Chicago, hometown of the No. 1 independent, during his talk yesterday to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the firm.

Speaking before a packed audience at the stately University Club of Chicago, Edelman called himself a proud Chicagoan who committed “an act of treason” when he moved to New York to head up the Big Apple office. A reason for the shift: “People in Chicago keep calling me Dan,” he joked.

Richard Edelman
Richard Edelman speaks Monday in Chicago. 
Photos: Kevin McCauley
Chicago, according to Edelman brims with creativity and recognition of the importance of client service that make it “one of the best cities in the world for a communications firm.”

Ever the shrewd businessman, Dan saw an opportunity to work with many of Chicago’s ad agencies to extend the reach and creditability of their advertising, said Edelman.

That led to the firm’s collaboration with Leo Burnett to promote the presidential candidacy of Morris the Cat, spokescat for 9-Lives.

Said Edelman: “Believe it or not, Morris had more base name recognition than candidate Michael Dukakis.”

Creator of Media Tour

Native New Yorker Dan moved to Chicago in 1948 as PR director of the Toni Co., maker of the do-it-yourself permanent.

It was there that he created the “first-ever product media tour to capture the attention of news editors and consumers across the country through a 70-city tour featuring six sets of real-life twins,” his son said.

Renee Edelman
Richard Edelman praised sister Renee for the firm's growth in technology.
As the twins traveled throughout the U.S, politicos would line up to get their names in the papers by kissing the Toni twins. “Dan even managed to get vying vice-presidential candidates -- Alvin Barkley and Earl Warren -- to kiss the twins,” said Richard.

He told how a visit to Tulsa resulted in the arrest of the twins due to a local ordinance banning the practice of cosmetology without a license.

When contacted by the Tulsa police, Edelman joyfully jumped at the PR gift and called the Associated Press. The resulting stores about the arrest received huge play coast-to-coast.

Richard said the Toni campaign was the first time that PR, which was mostly dealing with corporate reputations, was so closely aligned with a product.

He said the firm follows Dan’s operating principles of hire the best talent, work hard to retain staffers by offering entrepreneurial opportunities, invest in intellectual capital, expand in new markets through re-investing earnings and avoid debt.

Richard said “as long as you’re independent and family-owned, you’ll serve no one’s interests before those of your clients’.

The 92-year-old Edelman could not attend the anniversary party. He’s been hospitalized since early August.

Into the Future

Golin, Edelman
GolinHarris co-founder Al Golin with Ruth Edelman.
Edelman spoke about the changing communications scene that presents great opportunities for firms that can help clients evolve from “rules-based leadership to principles-based leadership.”

For instance, Edelman said that “instead of waiting for government to respond and regulate, business must address the issues and challenges of our time. It should move from license to operate, to license to lead, setting the agenda on issues like fracking, establishing the context and then proving performance through transparency.”

PR, at its best, can help move business and society forward in a complex world. “Let’s compete not just with other PR firms but with ad agencies and digital firms for budgets and for ideas that are catalysts for change,” urged Richard.

There’s a need for PR to lead under the public engagement framework. “Fittingly, it’s the leadership Dan always believed that PR should have. He believed it sat above advertising in the communications hierarchy,” said Richard.

Personal Thank-You’s

Dan Edelman
Dan Edelman
Richard thanked the many clients in the audience and members of his family. He praised mother, Ruth, “who in every sense of the word has been my dad’s business partner in building Edelman from the beginning. No one believed more or gave more than she has.”

Ruth received a rousing standing ovation.

He commended brother, John, for “starting our human resources function a decade ago, then helping us continue our involvement in the community,” and sister, Renee,” for “championing the technology sector at Edelman, now our second-largest line of business.”

He concluded: “To Dan, it is a rare gift to find work that sustains you, and keeps you curious for a lifetime. But it is rarer yet to share that gift for 34 years with your father.”

Richard expressed gratitude to the audience and “to the city of Chicago for all that you have given us.”