Family dynasties ensure PR is never boring to follow

How families such as the Edelmans, Finns, and Rubensteins make great PR stories in their own right

Dan and Richard Edelman
Dan and Richard Edelman
They say you can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family and that seems particularly relevant this week on a number of fronts.

There are numerous family dynasties in PR, especially in the agency world - many of which have been key players in the evolution of our industry. Think about Edelman, founded by patriarch Daniel in 1952, taken on by son Richard in 1997, and with a third generation, Richard’s daughters Margot and Tory, already installed as the prospective next generation of leadership at the world’s largest PR firm.

That became topical this week with the news that Mark Hass, US CEO, is departing Edelman after five years. I’m sure there are other theories out there, but one of the reasons suggested for his leaving was that, having already run a firm when he was CEO of Manning Selvage & Lee (now MSLGroup), he couldn’t see an upward path to ever getting the top position at Edelman.

Then there are the New York dynasties, such as Rubenstein Associates, founded more than 50 years ago by patriarch and president Howard, who is also chairman of affiliated agency Rubenstein Communications. Son Steven has worked with his father for many years and is now senior EVP of Rubenstein Associates and president of Rubenstein Communications.

Another son, Richard, started his own firm 25 years ago, called Rubenstein Public Relations. His firm is based in the same building as his father’s operations and still linked, but it was established in part due to his desire to spread his wings a little and prove he could run his own business independently.

One of the most famous, or you could say infamous, of family dynasties is the one that was spawned by the pioneering firm Ruder Finn. Founded in 1948 by Bill Ruder and David Finn, the firm has developed into something of a soap opera since the founding partners let go of the reins.

Ruder decided his children should not work in the business. And even Finn suggested in his 1969 book The Corporate Oligarch that his four children should not follow their father into the business, saying that typically "it didn’t work out."

As we know, all four children did go into the business and David decided, unwisely as it turns out, to give them an equal 25% share in Ruder Finn.

One daughter, Amy Binder, split away in 2001 and set up RF|Binder Partners. Peter Finn formed his own agency, Finn Partners, in 2011. This left his sister, Kathy Bloomgarden, to run Ruder Finn. All three agencies existed under the umbrella of Ruder Finn Group, of which each sibling had a 25% stake, including another sister, Dana Merriam, who works with Peter at Finn Partners.

It was always assumed that the legal task of properly splitting these equal stakes and three entities would be virtually impossible: but it appears that the impossible has been achieved. This week, PRWeek reveals that, as of February 28 this year, the three agencies officially became completely independent of each other, and the Ruder Finn Group no longer exists as a significant entity.

I don’t know how this was done; how the value of each child’s 25% stake was divvied up; what legal clauses had to be signed regarding moving forward; and whether some partners had to buy themselves out or give up rights to other parts of the business. But it seems family pragmatism has prevailed, which I am sure will please father David.

Ruder Finn and Finn Partners certainly seem to be prospering outside the Ruder Finn Group umbrella. Our soon-to-be published 2014 Agency Business Report shows that, last year, they posted revenue growth of 11% (13% globally) and 62% respectively (the latter in part due to acquisitions), up to $37.4 million ($63.2 million globally) and $43 million.

When I last wrote about this interwoven plot, back in 2011, I speculated whether the family gathered for Thanksgiving Dinner, and what fun it would be to be a fly on the wall if they did.

After many years of wrangling and family strife, perhaps this year they finally will get together for that meal – though I suspect they might want to take a little break first.

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