David Finn remembered as PR legend with integrity, indomitable spirit

PR pros remember Finn’s contributions to the profession and photography as well as his personal style.

NEW YORK: The PR community responded to David Finn’s death on Monday at the age of 100 with respect not only for his professional achievements but also for his gracious spirit. 

In 1948, he founded the firm Ruder Finn with Bill Ruder and for 70 years served as its chairman and CEO. In 2015, he was honored as a member of PRWeek’s Hall of Fame.

Finn represented powerful, high-profile clients such as John D. Rockefeller III, John F. Kennedy, Perry Como and Fortune 500 companies around the globe. PR insiders said his death will be a deep personal loss for his colleagues, friends and loved ones, as well as the industry.

Andy Polansky, chairman and CEO of IPG Dxtra:
“David Finn was one of the giants of our industry. He elevated our profession through integrity, creativity and service to others, and my heart goes out to his family and friends as they mourn his loss.”

Mike Doyle, president and CEO at Ketchum:
“David was truly one of our industry’s founding fathers—an indomitable spirit, a fierce competitor and a man whose commitment to the craft lives on in his family and the many talented people whose lives he made better. Our thoughts are with David’s family, this day and in the many that follow.”

Fred Cook, chairman emeritus of Golin: 
"About a decade ago, I had the pleasure of attending a roundtable discussion with Dan Edelman, Harold Burson, Al Golin and David Finn, who were the four remaining founders of the major PR agencies. For an hour, they shared stories about how they started their respective firms. David was possibly the most modest and self-effacing of the group, but they were all inspiring. With David’s passing they’re all gone, which is a huge loss for the rest of us. But their legacies live on in the great companies they created.”

Finn’s ethical commitments included supporting the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty under the Kennedy administration and organizing the country's largest clean-up and recycling initiative with Glad bags and the Keep America Beautiful campaign.

Brandi Boatner, a digital comms manager at IBM, tweeted “David had a beautiful way of seeing things unseen. #trailblazer”

Elyse Margolis, president at Real Chemistry, who for eight years worked at Ruder Finn, noted Finn’s style and workplace charisma. 

“David was a visionary for our industry, an artist and a born storyteller. I recall that he made it a point to have lunch with all of the new Ruder Finn hires, and during mine, he regaled us with the greatest stories, including memories of talking art history and photography with the then new first lady, Hillary Rodham Clinton. Humble, always smiling, ready with advice and always impeccably dressed, David will be missed,” she said. 

Many people will remember Finn’s talents as a photographer and an artist, with accomplishments including contributing photographs to more than 100 books, and photos archived in Washington, DC, at the National Gallery of Art Library.

Louise Harris Salazar, CMO of Orbis International and a 16-year veteran of Ruder Finn, on LinkedIn described Finn as having “an exceptional moral compass.” She noted his lively conversations about his friend, Henry Moore, the English sculptor and artist.

The Museum of PR also posted a tribute to Finn.

But perhaps David Thalberg, founder of BrandStand PR, summed up the industry’s sentiments, tweeting “Pure class. RIP David Finn.”

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