Edelman announces new focus on ‘action communications’ and corporate affairs in wake of COVID-19 and Black Lives Matter

Richard Edelman, CEO of the world’s biggest PR firm, has launched a new mantra for his agency; challenging the comms sector and business in general to focus on action rather than words.

'The way forward for the industry is Action Communications,' says Richard Edelman (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/Getty Images)
'The way forward for the industry is Action Communications,' says Richard Edelman (Photo: DANIEL LEAL-OLIVAS/Getty Images)

Edelman says he now prefers the term ‘action communications’ to marketing communications, in a bid to get corporations to actively change themselves and society for the better.

The ‘action communications’ mantra - a new platform for building corporate trust - will be perceived as a shift in focus back towards corporate advisory work for the PR consultancy giant, while still maintaining its hard-gained strength in brand comms campaigns.

“Five or six years ago I suggested the marketing services business be reclassified as ‘communications marketing’, where PR would be used before advertising or digital to establish a foundation of trust. Now I want to propose a further evolution of strategy for our sector. The way forward for the industry is Action Communications,” he explained in a speech today addressing the British PR industry.

“I’m calling for our industry to move from defence to offence. I want us to get clients to change now, not to wait for a crisis to force it. I want us to be brave enough not to answer the client’s brief literally. I want us to re-consider the strategy and to recommend the action that creates a catalytic moment in time for a business or brand. Only then can we communicate, and that we must do differently as well.”

Edelman told PRWeek that in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis and the Black Lives Matter movement, trust in governments around the world had sunk to the point where business needs to take on even more responsibility; to actively drive change.

“The ebbing of trust in media and the perceived failures of government has left business to manage issues on its own such as return to workplace, out of home eating, safe transportation and production of protective equipment. COVID-19, systemic racism and populism have thrust business into the unfamiliar position of acting in the interests of the broader society,” said Edelman. “Whereas trust has increasingly gone local, with the level of trust in ‘my employer’ rising to 71 per cent.”

When asked by PRWeek whether the firm’s new mantra signaled a shift in focus back towards corporate affairs after years of hiring creatives and planners, Edelman replied: “We have made great headway in creating and running brand campaigns and we’ll continue to build on that. But yes, we want to do more corporate advisory work.”

In his keynote speech at the PRCA national conference today, Edelman said: “My major message today: we need a massive change in what we do and how we add value to clients. This is a time for us to re-evaluate our approach to solving problems, to expand our notion of what effective PR entails. In world forever changed by COVID, we must not only drive sales and advance reputation, we must also increase trust in the companies we support, while instilling confidence in the global institutions that form the framework of our society.”

Back in June, Edelman was forced to announce around 400 redundancies around the world, about seven per cent of its workforce.

One month later Edelman UK hired former MP Chuka Umunna to head the consultancy’s purpose and ESG offer. 

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