How PR Giant Edelman Made Its Paid-Media Play

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Credit: Edelman Digital

Edelman , for decades a public relations powerhouse, has been expanding its offerings. Now its paid media team has cemented its work in the space with an official name, Edelman Digital Performance Marketing, and a growing list of media clients and leadership talent with pedigrees from the media agency big-leagues.

"It used to be we were getting paid-media assignments as part of our social engagements," says Kevin King, digital global practice chair at Edelman. "Now, we're actually winning and becoming a paid agency of record, and adding other capabilities and things to that. But it's really become a first-line response for us."

The firm got into the social media and digital space in earnest in the mid-2000s, and over a number of years, says King, "we became one of the largest ... social media agencies in the world, managing 850-plus brands in the social media space. As the platforms like Facebook and Twitter and everyone else made that migration from organic to paid, we found ourselves suddenly managing a pretty significant amount of media buying on behalf of our clients in the social space."

Edelman's Kevin King (l.) and Todd Silverstein
Edelman's Kevin King (l.) and Todd Silverstein Credit: Edelman

The company, which now bills itself as a "communications marketing firm," first invested in paid media in 2013 with its hiring of Cassel Kroll, a Mindshare alum, as its exec VP of media strategy. Then, later that year, it hired Chris Paul—who had been general manager for Publicis Groupe's central data and media trading hub Audience on Demand—as its head of global paid media (both have since left the company).

Since then, its hires have included Todd Silverstein, its U.S. head of performance marketing, and others with backgrounds at Mindshare, Razorfish, Maxus, PHD and more, King says. The team currently employs about 60 people.

The clients have followed. The company won Sears' search agency of record business over the summer, and it's also paid social agency of record for Olive Garden and media agency of record for For Volcom and the Dairy Management Institute, Edelman is agency of record, which includes media. The team also does project work for Starz.

Edelman's Florida Department of Citrus team
Edelman's Florida Department of Citrus team   Credit: Edelman

"Half our growth has been organic; existing clients we've expanded into servicing in performance marketing," Silverstein says. "The other half has been net-new, RFP or non-competitive pursuits where we're only delivering performance-marketing capabilities and none of the traditional PR."

But having that PR background, King says, gives Edelman an edge.

"We bring that earned-centric mindset to everything—really trying to maximize spend by working through PR and other channels as well," King says.

Florida Orange Juice/Edelman - banner
Florida Orange Juice/Edelman - banner Credit: Edelman

For Edelman Digital Performance Marketing's work for the Florida Department of Citrus, which was done through Edible, a specialist agency inside the Daniel J. Edelman Holdings company, the team wanted to reach millennial moms, the target demographic and one the client was finding hard to connect with. The firm used Centers of Disease Control data to predict cold and flu outbreaks in specific markets, then served social and banner content to alert that demographic about potential outbreaks to entice them to buy and consume orange juice. Silverstein says as a result of this and their other marketing efforts, sales saw a 13-point uptick year-over-year.

For that kind of work, Silverstein says Edelman's heavy focus on where consumers are searching for information (whether it be on paid or organic search or on somewhere like Pinterest) coupled with engaging content that gives real-time utility give it a leg up.

Jay Pattisall, a Forrester analyst, says integrating public relations and media went hand-in-hand with a rise in native content. He adds that this is part of a larger trend in expanding marketing services across the agency world.

"Expanding their marketing services and their offering not only provides them more revenue opportunities, but it also enables agencies to provide their clients more seamless integrated solutions that marketers are demanding these days," he says.

Florida Orange Juice
Florida Orange Juice Credit: Edelman

Pivotal Research senior analyst Brian Wieser says it's not common for a public relations firm to expand offerings into paid media, but makes sense.

"If I were to look at the most efficient forms of spending on marketing communications services, PR should be the very first thing," he says. He said PR isn't accounted for in the typical media mix model, but that brands could find that if they invested more heavily in PR, they might save on paid media costs.

"I observe that small brands that have one decisionmaker are far better able to integrate communications disciplines, assuming they have access to the resources to invest in," he says. "The biggest marketers (have resources), but they can't integrate. Smaller brands can integrate but they don't have the resources. Somewhere in the middle of that is the opportunity for a PR agency to do more than just PR."

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