PR people, I'm told, have the reputation of being glad-handers and schmoozers, intent on getting their clients' stories into print or on the air without much regard for how newsworthy those stories are. My opinion is that the good ones consistently come up with great story ideas, and so it's up to me to glad-hand and schmooze them so they won't give their stories to somebody else.
And Dan Edelman -- who founded his namesake public-relations firm in 1952 and ran the Chicago-based company until retiring in 1996 -- was definitely worth cultivating. No. 1, he had great clients that we at Advertising Age (and other Crain publications) liked to write about. Nobody doesn't like Sara Lee, Morris the cat, Colonel Sanders and Orville Redenbacher.
And No. 2, he always came up with good story angles.
As I worked with Dan over the years, and later with his son Richard, who now runs what has become the world's biggest PR firm, I came to realize that their PR firm and our company, Crain Communications Inc., had a lot in common. We both had headquarters in Chicago, not in the media center of New York. (Our HQ is now Detroit but still away from the madding crowds.) And we are both private companies with no intention of selling out or going public.
Another thing: We both rank enthusiasm as high on the corporate totem pole. In a video interview I did with Dan for his 90th birthday, he told me, "There's no question that we had to show that we were enthusiastic and confident that we could do good work for clients. I was relatively early in the PR business, and over a period of just a few years we became a factor in the public-relations business." In fact, Dan pioneered modern PR with his press tour of Toni Twins 60 years ago, pitching what was then a novelty home hair-care product.
As Dan reiterated: "If you're not enthusiastic, how can you expect the client to be enthusiastic about what you're doing?" Dan's pitch in those early days went something like this: "We've never handled a client and not demonstrated that this is a good idea, and we hope you'll follow our suggestions and work toward making it a reality. This is a big chance for you at a modest price. We're a lot less costly than advertising, and that's a factor that helps us get business and keep business."
Dan always believed PR was a higher calling than advertising. I once asked Dan why. He said, "For one thing, you're dealing with the CEO. The structure is established and the CEO hires you. There may be an advertising guy or a public relations director in the company who's involved, but the CEO finally makes the choice of a public-relations firm."
Another way our two companies are on the same wavelength is that Dan didn't pander to his clients, and we don't pander to our advertisers. Dan represented his clients' best interests and we represent our readers' best interests.
At the time of my interview with Dan, BP was in the news because of the Gulf oil spill, and I asked Dan what he would recommend to BP if he had the account. "You have to tell them to continue to do what they were doing before, not to be shy and afraid because of one bad episode. They were very successful. Don't let this ruin their company and force them into being a second-class citizen."
Dan not only gave expert advice to high-powered clients; he also had the common touch with young people just starting their careers. David Snyder, publisher of Crain's Chicago Business, remembers that as a 24-year-old Crain's reporter new to Chicago, "Dan took me under his wing -- ever gracious and never too busy to take a call.
"About a year ago, I visited Dan at his home where he was recovering from a series of medical setbacks," David relates. "Though sometimes confused, he remembered the important things: friends and family -- and even a few snapshots from our longtime friendship. And he still had his trademark smile, that smile that anyone who knew Dan will never forget."
It's been a great privilege to work with Dan over the years and to share our common philosophies of business and life. It's also comforting to know, from another guy's perspective, that doing what you think is the right thing can lead to success.