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2004 Rating: 3 stars

The essence: With the pending sale of Grey Global Group, Edelman stands as the juiciest of the acquisition targets left for the advertising and marketing giants. But the family-owned public relations agency remains resolutely independent in the face of consolidation. A successful 2004 in which the firm shook off the economy-induced sluggishness of the past few years should only bolster that sense of independence.

Net growth: Though the agency doesn't release billings, all signs point toward strong growth. Edelman lost only one major client-it resigned KFC Corp. after a 28-year relationship-and picked up work from marketers like Diageo, Nestle, H. J. Heinz Co. and Chiquita Brands International.

management: Worldwide President Richard Edelman remains key to marketing the agency's independent outlook. The company brought in veteran press strategist Peter Himler from WPP rival Burson-Marsteller to run Edelman's media relations operation.

Creative quality and effectiveness: Edelman staffers worked on major events of 2004, helping to shape the Recording Academy's anti-piracy campaign, handling press for the "9/11 Commission Report," and educating New Yorkers about the post-9/11 rebuilding effort near Ground Zero. The agency's best work employs solid concepts and multiple media, especially the Internet. Edelman was a major cog in Unilever's Axe body spray offbeat promotions, and its crisis communications work was crucial during the listeria outbreak linked to deli meat from Pilgrim Pride Corp.'s Wampler Foods. It helped the company's stock rebound within three weeks.