In 2008, PRWeek gathered together four legends of the industry for a luncheon to celebrate its 10th anniversary: Dan Edelman, Al Golin, Harold Burson and David Finn.
The sad death of Burson in January last year meant only one of those legends is still alive – and David Finn celebrates his 100th birthday today.
Reminiscing about that lunch 13 years on, Dan’s son Richard Edelman, who was also present, notes how the quartet quickly adopted their traditional roles: Burson and Edelman were going at each other like they had done for years, Golin was acting as peacemaker – and David Finn was the dove at the table.
“There was always something very classy and genteel about David, and he always appreciated the aesthetic,” added Richard Edelman.
Indeed, in the write-up of the interview from the lunch, David Finn said about the four titans of the PR agency world: “We never disliked each other. We had respect for each other.”
Finn’s classy approach to business and life is borne out by the tributes PRWeek collated to help celebrate Finn’s landmark birthday, which speak to his empathy, creativity, unique ability to mentor and develop individuals and the affection in which he is held by so many who came through the doors of Ruder Finn.
Finn started his agency with partner Bill Ruder in 1948, having served in the military during World War II. Their first client was the singer Perry Como, who paid them $50 a week. Other high-profile people he represented over the years included John D. Rockefeller III and John F. Kennedy.
He represented many Fortune 500 brands, foreign countries, non-profits and pioneered working with clients in Japan and China. Like his peer, Dan Edelman, he also kept his firm resolutely independent.
Finn operated as chairman and CEO of Ruder Finn for over 70 years and in 2015 he was inducted into PRWeek’s Hall of Fame.
But Finn’s exploits go far beyond PR, with his talents as a photographer and an artist and specialisms in sculpture and poetry in many ways outshining his groundbreaking contributions to the communications industry.
Not many people can say that more than 100 books of their photography have been produced by major art publishers. His photos are archived in Washington DC at the National Gallery of Art Library.
Daughter Kathy noted how his photography meant he viewed PR in a very particular way compared to everyone else. “He always took his photography experiences and brought them to the communications industry,” she said. “He would always say, ‘You can take a lens and look at something up close and see it differently.’”
Son Peter highlighted his father’s belief in “the importance of kindness and justice and the potential for people to do amazing things together” – those traits also come through in the 100th birthday tributes.
He once told Ruder Finn alum Scott Schneider: “You don't have to be ruthless to be successful at business. Remember that.” “It really made a big impact on me,” said Schneider. “David Finn was a good person, and he encouraged us to lead with optimism and kindness. He embodied that everywhere he went.”
And daughter Amy pointed out that he pioneered many aspects of the PR industry in the 1950s and 60s that had never been done before but today are accepted, including sponsorship of the arts and the use of research in developing campaigns.
On the same day he very sadly lost his father Martin at 93 – another extremely creative and talented photographer – Triller’s chief growth officer and Ruder Finn alum Bonin Bough described how David Finn was also like a father to him and many others.
“The family he biologically created is beautiful and some of the most wonderful people I have ever had the chance to meet,” said Bough. “However, the figurative family he's created speaks so much to the kind of person David is: A person who saw the greatness in all of us. Who believed every one of us could do anything we put our mind to. He’s a creative, an artist, a dreamer, a maker, an overall fantastic human.”
What a wonderful tribute to a genuine PR legend – happy 100th birthday David Finn!