Richard Edelman

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If you're looking for a sign that Richard Edelman is accorded more respect than most of his public relations peers, consider the heavy hitters who fall over themselves to rhapsodize about him on a minute's notice. Dan Doctoroff, New York deputy mayor for economic development and rebuilding, lauds his determination and focus. Credit Suisse Group Chairman Walter Kielholz checks in from Zurich to describe him as "a truly international American." But the truth is, Mr. Edelman chafes at the description of Edelman, the independently owned company founded by his father in 1952, as a mere PR agency. Rather, the president-CEO has spent the last few years striving to be mentioned in the same breath as consultancies such as McKinsey & Co.

"I think we're now at the table for questions of policy, not just questions of communication. We're being asked what to do, rather than just what to say," he says. "We're aggressive about asking for a greater share [of marketing dollars], and our competitors should be as well."

As consumers continue to turn away from their TVs to alternative media outlets, marketers are seeking affordable and novel ways to reach them, and public relations agencies are helping them do that.

While Edelman realized only incremental growth over the last year (its fiscal 2004, which ended in June, saw revenues rise 3.3%, to $222.7 million), one could argue that the company is one of the most successful holdouts from the consolidation game. It is the PR world's biggest independent.

New clients added since January include Merisant Co. and Veritas Software Corp.; longtime accounts Microsoft Corp., Samsung and Pfizer have increased their PR spending or added new markets.

Edelman's most recent personnel coup was snaring two Hollywood higher-ups to bolster its entertainment offerings. Ferris Thompson, former head of marketing at United Talent Agency, joined as president-entertainment marketing practice. Sandy Climan, previously a senior manager at Creative Artists Agency and now managing director of VC firm Entertainment Media Ventures, entered into an exclusive partnership with Edelman.

As for the future, Mr. Edelman doesn't rule out the possibility of aligning with a global communications behemoth. He concedes that there are pluses but quickly notes that "the notion that being owned by a holding company is valuable for PR firms" has not been proved. "Until it is, I see no reason to change anything."

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