WASHINGTON: The Business Roundtable, a trade association representing more than 160 US CEOs, has hired Edelman as AOR under a one-year, approximately $1 million contract that consolidates PR work formerly handled by six firms.
Previously assisting the Roundtable on various individual issues - including corporate governance, education and the work force, and health and retirement - were the Harbour Group, APCO Worldwide, Porter Novelli, Dittus Communications, the Fratelli Group, and Powell Tate/Weber Shandwick. Business Roundtable executive director of external relations Johanna Schneider said the group issued an RFP in January and the finalists consisted of the Glover Park Group, Edelman, Powell Tate/WS, and PN.
"Consolidating our PR might seem small and tactical, but it reflects what CEOs are going through [with] a huge shift in terms of the emergence through the Internet of stakeholders," including activist investors, NGOs, labor and energy advocacy groups, and more, she noted. "CEOs are on the front lines more than ever, as opposed to being in some kind of ivory tower."
The decision to go with one firm to handle a range of Business Roundtable interests, from education and energy conservation to trade and tort reform, reflects a growing move by corporate executives to collaborate on shared concerns that fall under the broader issue of globalization and how US businesses are able to stay competitive worldwide, noted Schneider.
"We had 10 'siloed' public policy areas that individual companies and CEOs were interested in, so you had your group of education-related CEOs, you had your trade-related CEOs, and so on," Schneider added. "Over the past 18 months, the CEOs have come to us and said, 'We need to work together. The education group and trade group [for instance] have [had] to work hand-in-glove because we're not going to be able to compete unless we have a well-educated workforce.'"
Schneider said Edelman's experience with both new media and working with a range of corporations, including Wal-Mart, factored into its selection.
As part of the new-media push, Edelman is helping revamp the association's Web site to not only include more information, but also make it more conducive for podcasting and hosting videos, among other things. The firm started work with the Roundtable on March 1.
Current Roundtable outreach focuses on members of Congress and their staffs, White House administration officials, public policy experts at think tanks and universities, and influential media outlets.
The Roundtable will continue that work, but, using the results of ongoing Edelman research on globalization issues, the group plans to partner Edelman with its existing lobbying firms, including Mehlman Vogel Castagnetti and the Duberstein Group, to develop a more integrated message directed at lawmakers, the public policy world, and, perhaps most important, employees at the firms themselves.
"Companies are increasingly communicating with their employees and letting [staffers] take some of these messages outward," said Richard Edelman, Edelman president and CEO. "One of the findings from our Edelman Trust Barometer [research] this year that was amazing was how credible employees are - much more than CEOs - in talking to their peers."
Edelman said that businesses today are taking on public policy matters, such as drug prices and disaster relief, which previously were the purview of government only. In fact, executives may carry more influence over such issues, given the greater trust that the public, according to the firm's research, places in corporations and CEOs compared with government agencies and their officials.
"What's so fascinating is that these things move in cycles," Edelman noted. "There was a period in the '70s and '80s when CEOs were sort of statesmen. Then in the '90s, CEOs were like rock stars - larger than life. Then came some of the bubble bursting and scandals, and it was as if this pall came over the CEO class.
"Everyone said, 'The best thing to do is make your numbers and come out as little as you have to,'" he added. "Then about a year ago, it started to change again. You started to see people saying, 'We have to engage on some of these issues.'"