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Dan Edelman Reflects on the Birth of a Public-Relations Giant

At 90, Founder Notes Keys to Success Are Good People, Ideas

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"Poor people, poor PR" was Dan Edelman's reason for hiring the best and smartest people.

I guess you could say it paid off. Today, Dan's company ranks as the biggest independently owned PR firm in the world, with offices in 51 countries around the globe and about 3,300 employees.

Dan, who turns 90 this month (see video interview), says things were a lot easier back when he started his PR agency in 1952. He got the Toni home permanent business ("which twin has the Toni?"), then Sara Lee.

"Bang, bang, bang, we knocked off the new business," he said. "It was easier than it was today. There weren't as many PR firms, and we were able to score pretty well in making our presentation." And that's because Dan hired "bright, sharp, experienced people who represented us well with clients."

Dan thinks that one reason PR seems to be prevailing over advertising is that, "for one thing, you're dealing with the CEO. 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 PR firm."

And what advice does he give to the CEO once he's hired? "We tell them, first of all, not to be shy. To be out there and to be telling their story, and we're here for that purpose ... so that the company is being projected all the time as a leader, as a competitive force in your field."

Dan is as enthusiastic about PR as ever. "If you're not enthusiastic, how do you expect the client to be enthusiastic about what you're doing?" he said. "We have never handled a client and not demonstrated that this is a great idea, and we hope you'll follow our suggestions. This is a big chance for a modest price. We're a lot less costly than advertising, and that's a factor that helps us get business and keep business."

What could be better? His three kids, Richard (now the CEO), John and Renee are all in the business.

"It's been a long way from there to here. It's been a wonderful ride. We've had recognition for our company and what it's represented. We haven't sold out. We're continuing to be independent and be on our own. ... I'm just very gratified."

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