Edelman has already been undergoing changes. Under Harrington, Dubner and CEO Richard Edelman, half of the new hires the firm has made in the last year have been diverse candidates, bringing the total to 27% of the U.S. workforce and 15% of leadership. The company is on track to hit its goals of 30% and 20%, respectively, by next year. “So we're determined,” Edelman says. The firm has also reached gender parity in senior leadership globally, and earlier this year, Jonathan Jordan, its Los Angeles general manager, became the first Black man to run an Edelman office.
That momentum was not only integral to Ross’ ascension but also drew her into the fold in the first place. She joined as president of the Washington, D.C. office four years ago, after a career at APCO Worldwide, Ogilvy and in the Clinton administration. “We were not Johnny-come-lately to this,” she says of Edelman. “Our numbers are very good, but they were good before I got here—otherwise I wouldn’t have come.”
The company has also been undergoing an expansion of its capabilities and offerings. Ross led Edelman’s COVID Task Force and helped establish its Racial Justice Task Force after Minneapolis police killed George Floyd last year. The group has counseled more than 400 clients on addressing diversity and systemic racism.
“The pandemic revealed what many people have already known—that there are inequities in healthcare, there are inequities in education, there are inequities in housing,” Ross says. “And our research indicated that, so I think many companies, whether they talk about these issues together, they recognize that they are related, and smart ones address them all together.”
Dubner has spent the last 29 years at Edelman, and in his new role, he will oversee growth investments, alliances and partnerships and the Edelman Trust Institute. “Given that trust has become the foundational currency for stakeholder capitalism, our view is this is the moment for us to go deep and create a center and learning lab for the study of how leaders, companies, brands and institutions build trust with people,” he says. It will build on the work over the last 20 years from the Edelman Trust Barometer, the gold standard measurement of the credibility of the world’s institutions.
In 2019, Edelman was ranked No. 4 on Ad Age’s Agency A-List, thanks in large part to the kind of strong creative work traditionally the domain of ad agencies—and made by some 600 creatives hired by the firm, up from just 25 when Dubner took the reins at CEO. “We built this our own way,” he says. “We're not trying to ape somebody else's strategy.” One campaign for Ajinomoto from early in the pandemic feels eerily prescient with its message of combating anti-Asian bias.