PROFILE: Richard Edelman, Edelman PR Worldwide - Taking hold of the family firm. Richard Edelman has overseen a recent string of walkouts and a steady growth

Richard Edelman, chief executive of the eponymous PR agency founded by his father 48 years ago, did not intend to follow his father into PR.

Richard Edelman, chief executive of the eponymous PR agency founded

by his father 48 years ago, did not intend to follow his father into


When he graduated from Harvard Business School, he had lined up a job as

a marketeer for Playtex. ’I thought I would be a big company marketing

type. I was all set to go to (Playtex headquarters in) Stanford,

Connecticut, and meet beautiful girls,’ he recalls. But his father

somehow managed to persuade the 23-year-old Edelman Junior to abandon

bras in favour of commodities futures - promoting a client the agency

had just won.

Almost 30 years on, the son is in charge of the agency which, in the

last few weeks, has been hit by the departures of key staff including

its financial PR heads in Europe, the US and Asia-Pacific, while the

father casts a watchful eye from above, as company chairman. Dan

Edelman’s role is open to debate - Richard claims the 79-year-old is

’hands on’, while the buck stops with him. But outside observers say Dan

still controls the agency purse-strings.

It was Dan who rocked the PR agency boat in the US earlier this year by

suggesting at an industry function that his firm - the world’s largest

independent global PR agency - might be up for sale. But Richard Edelman

is adamant this was misinterpreted: ’We’re not selling out,’ he says.

’We’ve not seen any benefits derived from being owned by an advertising

agency. We don’t relish going in as the tail on the advertising dog and

we don’t need the money in order to compete. We’re in a business that

orients to the CEO suite - advertising deals with the board directors. I

like our position a lot.’

This aggressive defence of independence is, in part, justified - Edelman

PR Worldwide’s expected growth for the year ending last June is 17 per

cent. Its 38 wholly-owned offices account for a global fee income of

pounds 106 million, including US-based second-string agency PR21, which

has notched up a fee income of about pounds 3.4 million and clients

including Motorola and CNN’s web site since its launch last year. But

the agency’s financial conservatism - arguably a result of private

ownership - is also seen by some observers as the root cause of its

failure to get beyond its traditional US marketing communications and

corporate PR base.

Financial PR is the firm’s most visible achilles heel. Compounding - or

perhaps resulting from - this weakness, the past six months have seen

the departures of Edelman’s European, US and Asia-Pacific financial PR

heads in rapid succession. Former European financial head Kirsty

Macmaster made her reasons for quitting clear - lack of financial


But this higher-than-average senior staff turnover in recent years has

not been limited to financial PR. Three European presidents have passed

through the agency in four years and the same number of London MDs have

revolved through Edelman’s Haymarket doors in the last five years.

Edelman himself shows a modicum of concern at the departure of his last

two European presidents, Joachim Klewes and Remy Ossard, rationalising

their exit a touch dismissively by saying ’they are fine people but they

just don’t suit my style’. He is less tolerant of Macmaster. ’Kirsty had

a team of six people. I told her we weren’t going to hire six people on

top to make 12 when we didn’t have a great business to support her, but

I’m not going to say anything more, as I’m a gentleman,’ he says.

This is characteristic Edelman. He is undoubtedly bright, personable and

constantly buzzing with ideas and inspiration - his latest obsession is

with the ’dot com’ companies and e-publicity, about which he bubbles

over with enthusiasm. But those who have worked with him say he can turn

brash when things don’t go his way.

’If he slowed down, thought about good manners and tried to achieve half

as much, he’d achieve twice as much,’ says one insider.

But slowing down does not seem to be on Edelman’s agenda. When not

jetting around the world, he is playing tennis with his father, bouncing

on the trampoline in his Manhattan backyard with his three daughters or

swotting up on his Hebrew for 11-year-old Margot’s pending batmitzvah.

Remembering the ’nervous wreck’ he was reduced to at his own barmitzvah,

he says: ’I’m damned if I’m going to be embarrassed.’


1993: President, Edelman Europe

1995: President and co-CEO, Edelman PR Worldwide

1997: CEO, Edelman PR Worldwide.

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