Photo: Richard Shay
Edelman, a native New Yorker born in Brooklyn, worked PR for Edward Gottlieb & Associates after serving in the Army analyzing German propaganda during World War II, and following stints at CBS Radio and Musicraft Records, where he publicized artists like Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie.
Gottlieb hired Edelman to work on the hair styling brand Toni, which was a sponsor of a CBS radio show Edelman worked on and wanted a PR rep near its Chicago base. "Since I was the only single man at Gottlieb, I went," Edelman recalled at his 90th birthday party in Chicago in 2010.
He later moved in-house at Toni and then opened up the firm in a small office in Chicago’s Merchandise Mart on October 1, 1952 with Toni as its first client.
Edelman kept the firm as a family-owned enterprise, fending off overtures from advertising agencies and marketing conglomerates, and recruiting son Richard in the late 1970s to work for the firm.
Richard marked the firm's 60th anniversary in October with a tribute to his father in Chicago, noting Dan brought PR, traditionally associated mostly with corporate reputation, to the product side.
Dan essentially created the first product media tour with six sets of twins touting Toni products on a 71-city sojourn. When a set of twins was arrested in Oklahoma for practicing cosmetology without a license, Dan called the Associated Press and made it a national story.
Sara Lee followed Toni to the start-up PR firm. Edelman secured a story in The Wall Street Journal headlined, “Sara Lee Building Baking Bonanza on Heaping Slices of Quality."
Speaking of his father in October, Richard said, "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."
California Wines, the Direct Mail Association, the Concorde jet, Butterball and Star-Kist were among key clients helping to build the firm’s reputation over the ensuing decades.
The Chicago operation expanded to New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and London in the 1960s, before wider expansion across Europe and, later in the 1980s, into Asia.
Edelman's pioneering tactics, foresight and management led him to become one of the most respected leaders in the field. Asked in 1968 by O'Dwyer's to outline his thoughts on the future of PR, Edelman said:
"For many years, public relations people felt that they were on the periphery of corporate affairs. They found their way to the front of the class in financial public relations and, more and more in marketing public relations. In the field of social responsibility, they are out in front carrying the banner. It is their responsibility to define the problem, relate their company to it to help establish the company's position on it and to communicate this viewpoint to all concerned. The emergence of the new public relations has ended for the public relations man the isolation of the past, and he represents the interdependence of many elements in our society. Here is perhaps the greatest challenge ever issued to public relations people."
Edelman today employs 4,400 staffers across 65 offices with more than $600M in annual revenue. Clients of the firm include General Electric, Wal-Mart, Unilever and Royal Dutch Shell.
Edelman was born in Brooklyn on July 3, 1920 and at age 11, he and a friend produced a community newspaper. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Columbia College in 1940 and earned an MS degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He was a sports editor and reporter for a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., newspaper before being drafted into the Army in 1942.
The Army was Edelman’s introduction to PR. He produced a daily newspaper for his fellow soldiers, reporting on developments in the war gleaned from the ship’s radio and later moved into psychological war operations in London. “My job was to write an analysis of Germany propaganda,” he said. “I provided information about what they were claiming, so we could answer it with our own broadcasts.”
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 VP; 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.
A memorial service is slated for 11:45 a.m. Jan. 16 in New York at Riverside Memorial Chapel (180 West 76th Street, NY, NY 10023) followed by burial at Mount Hebron Cemetery in Flushing, N.Y.
A memorial service is set for Jan. 18 at Temple Sinai (15 West Delaware Place Chicago, IL 60610) in Chicago at 11 a.m. followed by shiva at the Casino Club (195 East Delaware Place Chicago, IL 60611).
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in the name of Daniel J. Edelman to three institutions he was deeply passionate about: The Lyric Opera in Chicago, The Arthur Page Society; and The Columbia School of Journalism.